Monday, May 28, 2012

Why Do Our Pets Stare at Us?

By Linda Cole

For most pet owners, the best way to get your dog or cat's attention is to head for the cabinet where you keep their CANIDAE food or treats, or make yourself something to eat. No matter where they are, they can smell whatever it is you have. I'm also convinced their supersonic hearing can pick up the crinkle and crackle of a food bag from miles away. Then there are the times when you think your pet is sleeping only to see them staring when you look their way. Dogs and cats stare at us for a lot of different reasons.

Pets are masters of the “stare,” especially when they want something. Making eye contact is the best way for them to get our attention. There's the sideways stare where you see the whites of their eyes. In my household, that stare says, “I'll get back to you on that.” Or “You talking to me?” There's the “Why are you yelling at me?” stare that attempts to convey how innocent they are. The sad looking “I'm sorry” stare from behind a chair or table and all you can see are the eyes and top of the head. The defiant “I don't wanna do that” and the playful “Let's have some fun” stare. Last, but not least, is the “So, you gonna eat all of that?” stare. I'm sure your pets have their own stares that are special to you.

We are always sending subtle signs that cats and dogs can read in our body language. My dogs watch me all the time, even when I think they're asleep. It's like they're always on duty, and they probably are. There's not much that gets by them. Outside noises and scents we miss can get our dogs attention. How many times have you seen the “Did you hear that?” or the “What's that smell?” inquisitive stare?

I'm always waking up to one of my cats lying nose to nose beside me or on a pillow, staring at me. There's no drifting back to sleep when your cat is gazing at you with wide, innocent looking and unwavering eyes saying, “Hey, you're awake. You might as well get up and feed me NOW.” I guess the good news is the sun is up and I managed to sleep through the 5 A.M. breakfast call. My cat Jabbers gives me love stares when he wants to have a conversation, which is all the time, and Figaro gives me an intense look just before he leaps up on my shoulder – his favorite perch.

Pets stare at us to get our attention and you have to admit, a cat stare is a much better wake up call than having them sit on your face. Pets watch us to see what we're doing, and as a way of saying “Let's play.” Some dogs stare at their owner to get their ears scratched or for comfort when they feel unsure of themselves. Looking at us gives them a feeling of security and when they see us acting like nothing is wrong during stressful situations, it helps them stay calm.

The next time your cat stares, slowly blink your eyes and raise your eyebrows at the same time, or smile. Facial movements help a cat focus on your face, and get her attention. A “cat kiss” with your eyes may garner a like response back. She might roll over on her back or stretch her paws out in front of her acknowledging your affection. If your cat stares at you, it may simply mean she finds you rather intriguing.

Dogs watch our face to see what kind of mood we're in. They are capable of reading our emotions and know how we are feeling. It's called left gaze bias. Canines watch us waiting for instructions or some well earned praise. When working with your dog during training sessions, you want his full attention and teaching him to look at you is a good way of distracting him from a situation that may upset him and helps you keep him calm and under control.

I love sitting with my pets and staring into their eyes. It's a fun game my dogs enjoy and they can only hold out for 15 seconds or so before they start wagging their tail so hard their entire body moves. Of course, you should never give a strange dog direct eye contact. He could take your friendly stare as a challenge.

Pets enjoy our company and the sound of our voice. Their world really does revolve around us and they're not about to take their eyes off of us, just in case we might need them. My favorite stare is when they look you straight in the eyes and you see their unconditional love. That's the best stare of all!

Dog photo by Eddie Van 3000
Cat photo by Quinn Dombrowski

Read more articles by Linda Cole


  1. I love how a dog loves me!!! I can't live without that love!!! Zoie is wonderful at giving me her love!! She is a big love machine!!!

  2. Great post. My cats stare at me but not the dogs so much. One of the dogs will stare at me outside when she wants to play. And they do read my body language.

  3. Oh, how very true! Mom is working on a post for tomorrow that will reference this post. We have the Master of "the stare" here. Can you guess which one it is?

    Happy Memorial Day!

    Woos - Phantom, Thunder, Ciara, and Lightning

  4. I always find love and affection in my pets' eyes. When they stare at us, they tell us that they love and care about us.

    I love your point that they stare at us because they study us and find out what our mood is.

    Great post!

  5. My Ernie sits and STARES at my mom... every evening.. and it drives her crazy beclaws she doesn't know what he WANTS.. She tries everything and he just comes back and sits and STARES at her some more. I (Frankie Furter) think it is all really funny.

  6. Ms. Julia what a lovely post about the adoring eyes we make at our 2 leggers. Mom said she once read slowly blinking at your cat was like saying I love you and every time she does it to me we have a blinking contest. I just love what mom calls our 'blinky-blinky' talks.
    Hugs Madi

  7. You haven't lived until you've exchanged meaningful looks with a cat! Loved this post and so true :)


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