In general, dogs use eye contact to gain information and understand what their human wants them to do, says Philip Tedeschi, professor and researcher on the human-animal bond with Rover.
In especially good news for pooch parents, science confirms that dogs use eye contact to express affection. How do you tell if a dog loves you? Well, if he stares at you, it’s a good sign!
Eye contact is actually not a natural instinct for dogs, but over time they learn that eye contact can often lead to attention or food from their humans. So, if you see your dog looking to the side, or notice he’s staring at you in a classic, cute, looking-up puppy eyes kind of way, it probably means he wants something.
If your dog sees another dog while you’re out for a walk, he might look at the other dog briefly to catch the dog’s attention, but when two dogs stare at each other it’s actually a sign of hostility.
“When dogs are defecating, they feel like they are vulnerable, so he’s looking to you to protect him and for safety cues as he goes,” says Tedeschi. Most dogs also learn that if they go to the bathroom outside when and where they’re supposed to, they will be rewarded with a treat, so they stare at you to make sure you know that they are doing their business. Yes, it’s a bit awkward, but you can reassure your dog by saying something soothing instead.