Is It Bad To Stare Into A Dog’S Eyes?

The eyes are often called the window to the soul. Humans make meaningful eye contact to connect with each other. But what happens when you make eye contact with your canine companion? Does your dog understand the meaning behind your gaze?

Recent research has revealed fascinating insights into how dogs interpret and respond to eye contact with humans. Prolonged eye contact activates the “love hormone” oxytocin in both dogs and owners. However, eye contact means something different to dogs compared to wolves. And factors like breed and training influence how individual dogs react.

This article explores the science and significance behind staring into your dog’s eyes. Discover what experts say about forging connections through eye contact while avoiding miscommunication. Understanding your dog’s perspective allows for bonding built on mutual understanding rather than misunderstandings.

History of Dog Staring

The origins of the belief that it is bad to stare into a dog’s eyes date back thousands of years. In early human societies, prolonged direct eye contact was seen as a challenge or threat. This was true for interactions between humans as well as between humans and animals like wolves or dogs. Staring was a dominance display, so intense eye contact was avoided in peaceful situations.

According to canine experts, this view persists today in folklore about dog behavior, despite our closer bonds with domesticated dogs. Many people still believe that looking a dog in the eyes will provoke aggression. However, research shows that direct eye contact and staring into a dog’s eyes does not necessarily constitute a threat or challenge.

Dog Communication

Dogs use eye contact to communicate in several ways. Prolonged staring or direct eye contact from a dog can often be interpreted as a sign of aggression or dominance, especially toward strangers or other dogs (Rover). On the other hand, brief moments of eye contact in a relaxed context are a way for dogs to bond with humans and show affection.

According to PetBucket, dogs generally view direct eye contact as confrontational. Sustained staring from a human can make a dog uncomfortable. Dogs will often break eye contact first to diffuse tension and avoid escalating an interaction. However prolonged staring from a dog toward a person or animal can be an assertion of dominance. It’s important for owners to discourage this behavior.

While dogs don’t maintain eye contact with each other the way humans do, they do use brief eye contact and gazing as part of non-verbal communication. A soft stare often signals friendliness or interest. Natural dog behavior involves frequent glancing rather than locked eye contact. Owners can apply this when bonding with their pet by using brief, calm eye contact and gaze aversion to help a dog feel safe and connected.

Human Interpretation

Humans tend to view eye contact with dogs differently than dogs do with each other. Whereas dogs use eye contact to communicate and gather information, humans often misinterpret a dog’s intent. Direct eye contact from a dog can be seen as a challenge or act of dominance by people [1]. However, this is generally a misconception.

Dogs do not place the same meaning on prolonged eye contact as humans typically do. There are several possible reasons a dog may stare at their owner, including confusion, trying to understand what the owner wants, attempting to bond, or even just feeling relaxed and comfortable [2]. Most experts agree that steady eye contact from a dog does not equate aggression or a challenge.

Overall, the tendency for humans to interpret direct eye contact from dogs as threatening or dominant results from a difference in communication styles between the two species. While uncomfortable for people, sustained eye contact from a dog does not necessarily indicate a problem by itself. Understanding canine communication patterns better may help resolve some of the common misconceptions around dog staring.

Breed Differences

Certain breeds are more prone to staring than others. Herding breeds like border collies, Australian shepherds, and German shepherds often engage in “eye” as part of their instinct to control the movement of livestock. Sight hounds including greyhounds, whippets, and Afghan hounds also tend to stare more as hunting dogs that rely on vision and speed.

On the other hand, some breeds like pugs, shih tzus, and bulldogs have relaxed, wide-set eyes that give them a soft, friendly appearance. These brachycephalic (short-nosed) dogs tend to stare less intensely due to their facial structure and temperament.

In general, working dog breeds that need to closely observe objects or prey in order to herd, hunt, or guard are more likely to engage in staring behavior. Non-sporting and companion breeds often have a less focused, penetrating gaze.

Puppy Development

Eye contact plays an important role in bonding between a puppy and its human caretaker. According to an article by Rover, “Dog eye contact triggers the release of oxytocin, the hormone responsible for love and bonding, in both humans and canines (one study found that dogs experience a 130 percent spike in oxytocin levels when making eye contact with their owners)” By establishing eye contact, a puppy learns to look to its human for guidance and reassurance. This helps build trust and a strong relationship during the puppy’s critical early development stages.

Puppies that avoid eye contact may have difficulty bonding with their human family. It’s important to gently encourage eye contact through training and play. For example, hold a treat close to your eyes to lure the puppy’s gaze upwards. Praise and reward the puppy when it makes eye contact. This positive reinforcement helps the puppy associate eye contact with rewards and affection from its caretaker.

While prolonged staring may be considered rude or threatening by dogs, brief reciprocal eye contact with a puppy supports healthy socialization and human-canine bonding. By making eye contact a positive experience during puppyhood, owners can establish lifelong attentiveness and connectivity in their dog.

Dog Training

Eye contact is an important part of dog training, as it helps establish focus and attention from your dog. Used properly, it is a positive way to connect with your dog and reinforce desired behaviors.

To teach eye contact, start by holding a treat to the side of your eye and rewarding your dog when they make eye contact. Say “watch me” or “focus” as you do this so they learn the cue. Gradually build up the amount of eye contact required before rewarding. Always keep sessions short and positive.

According to dog training experts, eye contact should be used to check in with your dog during training, not stare them down. Prolonged staring can seem threatening. It’s important to break eye contact and reward intermittently. You want your dog to choose to maintain focus on you, not feel forced.

Regular eye contact training establishes you as the focus of your dog’s attention. It allows you to give cues, reinforce calmness, and notice signs of anxiety or aggression before they escalate. Experts recommend consistent short sessions to develop eye contact skills for effective training.

Source: Pay Attention! Teaching Your Dog Eye Contact – Golden Paws Dog Training

Potential Dangers

While brief eye contact is normal between dogs and humans, sustained staring can sometimes lead to aggressive behavior. Dogs may interpret prolonged direct eye contact as a challenge or threat (Dog training nation, 2017). Staring contests should be avoided, as they put the dog on edge and provoke a reaction.

According to the AKC, staring down a dog can trigger a fight-or-flight response (AKC, 2022). The dog may react defensively to the perceived threat. Direct eye contact is considered rude behavior in the canine world, so sustained staring can be seen as an act of aggression. Some dogs may react by growling, snapping, or biting.

Staring should especially be avoided with dogs that are fearful or anxious. Intense eye contact can cause them to feel threatened and escalate reactive or aggressive behavior. It’s best to blink normally and glance away periodically when interacting with any dog (Quora, 2017). Prolonged staring is uncomfortable for most canines and risks provoking an aggressive reaction.

Expert Opinions

Dog experts have varying perspectives on the meaning behind dogs staring into their owners’ eyes.

According to dog trainer Andrea Arden, “Dogs will stare at their owners for a variety of reasons. It may be that they are seeking attention or food. But there are other reasons too. Dogs will stare to solicit play, petting, or to manipulate you to get something. Dogs with a strong bond to their owner will stare simply because they enjoy looking at them…there is no threat in this behavior.” (source)

Veterinary behaviorist Dr. Lisa Radosta explains, “When a dog stares at their owner it could mean a number of things. Staring is one way dogs communicate their current state of mind. It could mean the dog is aroused, frustrated, assertive, playful, confused, angry, etc.” She recommends owners look at the entire body language to understand the meaning behind a dog’s staring. (source)

According to certified dog trainer Cesar Millan, “Eye contact is a very powerful form of communication that has many possible meanings based on the situation. Dogs may stare at their owners as a sign of affection, especially when the owner is providing something like petting or food. However, excessive staring directly into a dog’s eyes can be confrontational or threatening to some dogs.” He advises starting positive eye contact training early with puppies. (source)


In conclusion, staring into a dog’s eyes can be interpreted differently depending on the situation. Prolonged staring or eye contact can be seen as threatening by dogs, especially if there is no blink. However, brief eye contact while playing or training can help strengthen the human-animal bond. The key is being able to read the dog’s body language and react accordingly.

When meeting a new dog, avoid direct staring and instead glance periodically at the eyes and around the face. Let the dog approach you first. With your own dog, you can make more eye contact, especially during training or play. Just be sure to blink regularly. If your dog breaks eye contact first or turns away, take that as a sign to divert your gaze.

While eye contact can reinforce commands, don’t force it if your dog seems uncomfortable. Pay attention to their reactions. With patience and proper acclimation, most dogs can learn to tolerate human-style eye contact without feeling threatened.

In summary, brief eye contact with dogs you know can be beneficial, but prolonged staring should typically be avoided, especially with unknown dogs. Learn your dog’s reactions and respect their boundaries. When in doubt, divert your gaze.

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