Why Does My Dog Stare at Me?

Why Does My Dog Stare at Me?

When you were younger did you ever call out to your Mum because your sibling wouldn’t stop staring at you? Staring makes most of us uncomfortable, so you might be a bit creeped out if you notice your dog has taken to staring at you lately. It may make you start wondering what he is thinking behind those big eyes and if it’s good or bad – could he be plotting against you? (Probably not, after all he isn’t a cat!) But there is a reason behind that stare…

Stare VERSUS Slow Blink

First, you need determine, is my dog really staring? Chances are you are not staring back at your dog while he is creeping you out, so it may be that he is not really staring but is rather “slow blinking.” A dog’s body language includes the use of his eyes – not just where they are looking, but how they are looking. A dog who is slow blinking – blinking the eye lids slower with longer time in between blinks – is conveying relaxation and that they are not a threat. So, your dog may not be staring at you, he may just be relaxed and happy and letting you know!

IF YOUR DOG IS TRULY STARING…

That being said, dogs do stare. And it is vitally important to understand the difference between their stares.

Is he HARD STARING?

If your dog (or any dog!) is giving a hard stare (also known as a hard eye), you should stop what you are doing and assess the situation – DO NOT approach the dog! In dog body language, a hard stare is a sign that the dog is agitated and wants whatever it’s staring at to back off. Reactivity – including lunging, barking and biting – can follow a hard stare if it’s ignored. If you see a dog with hard eyes at the dog park or while on a walk, it’s time to disengage and not continue approaching, for the safety of every being involved.

But Chances Are, Your Dog Is Not “Hard Staring” at You … so what is he doing?

Learned Behaviour

Since staring is not a nice thing in a dog’s normal language – chances are your dog staring at you is a LEARNED behaviour. Yup! We impolite humans tend to stare at dogs’ faces A LOT. Especially overly cute dogs or ones with unique features such as a blue eye or speckled markings.

For some young puppies, this staring is enough to create a reactive dog – which is why many trainers teach dogs to be okay with a human stare by teaching a “look at me” or “watch me” cue. This cue literally teaches your dog to stare at you and then get rewarded. So, your dog could be offering that behaviour in the hopes she will get something good.

Conditioned Behaviour

Even if you haven’t intentionally taught this cue, your dog could have learned staring gets him something he wants through conditioning. Whenever we give our dogs a cue, we generally stare at them – whether it’s a sit, down or heel, which is then rewarded. In this case, staring becomes a precursor – something happens before you ask them to do something that gets them a reward. Again, a dog may sit and stare at you hoping you will give him a cue so he can earn a reward.

Your dog could have been conditioned to stare during his normal day to day life as well, no training required. Maybe you look at your dog in the face as you feed him each meal, or when you give into her begging and feed her a treat from your plate. Dogs are masters of body language and quickly pick up what works to get them what they want – if staring has earned them rewards, they are going to keep using it!

And, being intelligent creatures, dogs quickly learn to adapt that new language. So now he starts to stare at you if he wants anything, not just a reward. Maybe his water dish is empty or it’s time to go outside for a potty break. Maybe she is hoping for a belly scratch.

So basically, you are the annoying sibling that stared all the time until your dog, instead of calling for mum, figured out how to use staring to his advantage. Which shows you just how smart and adaptable they are at living with us. So next time your dog stares, just know you aren’t going crazy, he really is trying to tell you something…figuring out what, however, may be the trick.

 

How to Teach Your Dog to Load in the Car

How to Teach Your Dog to Load in the Car

If you have a little dog, this may not be as big of a deal, but anyone with a larger dog that just won’t jump in the car knows the struggle is real. Or maybe your Great Dane puppy is easy to hoist up…now. But wait a few months. Having a dog that willingly gets into the car on a cue makes getting ready to leave a breeze. It’s also helpful if your arms are full of other things, no matter your dog’s size.

BEFORE YOU START TRAINING THIS – YOU MUST ELIMINATE THESE CAUSES FIRST

Some dogs are not willing to get into the car because they are fearful of it – they may even get car sick, which means your car has a negative association. If that is the case, check out this blog on helping your dog get used to the car and getting over car sickness first.

The other thing could be pain. Especially if you have an older dog, they may not want to jump in your car because it hurts them physically. They could have a leg injury, a bad back or arthritis causing their hesitancy. If there is any reason to suspect a medical reason, have your dog checked by your vet first before proceeding with training.

If you have cleared these reasons, then it’s time to train!

There are a few ways we can go about teaching your dog to “load” on cue. You could stand by your car door and hope that he will offer to jump inside, and then reward. Or you can reward for each step toward the car your dog takes (called shaping). But if your dog has no interest in the car at all, these can take a while.

It’s easiest to use luring. To lure, you are going to use a piece of your dog’s kibble or a healthy treat. Hold the food very close to your dog’s nose and move it the direction you want to go (in this case, toward the car). When he takes a step, give him the food and praise him.

At the beginning, start close to the car, otherwise it might take you half an hour just to get to the car! Start far enough away that your dog has room to manoeuver his paws to jump or step up into the car, but not more than a couple steps away.

If your dog has never lured before, you will want to start by rewarding for every step at first. If your dog has, you may be able to have him take two or three before you reward. Just remember you always want to reward before your dog disengages, better to reward too often at first, then to lose your dog’s interest and have them turn away. (If that happens, go back to where you started with your dog and try again, rewarding sooner.)

Don’t move the lure so fast that your hand ends up ahead of the dog’s nose – most dog’s will stop following the lure if it gets too far out.

MY DOG WON’T FOLLOW THE LURE: If that happens, it may be that your treat is not high value enough, try something else. Or, it could be your dog is more fearful of the car than you thought, in which case you may need to revisit desensitization first (see above link to the other blog post!). Have a toy dog instead of a foot dog? You can easily use a toy as a lure as well!

Once you have lured your dog into the vehicle, big party! Give her lots of praise and a treat or the toy…you can even play a small game of tug or fetch in the car, to make that space a fun space.

Then, reset. This time, try increasing the number of steps your dog takes towards the car before getting the lure. The point is to try and get rid of the treat/toy lure as quickly as possible, so your dog is just following your empty hand to the car.

TIP: IF you use the lure too many times, it can be hard to get rid of it. Only have your dog lure a few times before “testing” to see if he will get in the car without it.

If he jumps in, give him a reward.

If he won’t jump in, use the lure couple more times and try again.

Repeat this process until your dog is only getting reward when they are following your empty hand all the way into the vehicle.

Then, you will gradually move your hand away from your dog’s face, so you can simply point, and your dog will load into the car.

ADDING THE CRATE

We firmly believe your dog is safest when he is confined to a crate in the vehicle, and crash tests back that up. So, once your dog is loading into the car, you can add going into this crate as part of the cue. To do this, use the luring method again to lure your dog into the crate. Once he goes into the crate just by pointing, start back outside the vehicle, and point. If your dog goes all the way into his crate, big praise party! If he doesn’t point again (do not reward until his is in the crate).

At this phase, you can add a verbal cue by saying a word such as Load, Car, Up, whatever you wish, right before you signal with your hand. Eventually, your dog will start to respond to the verbal before you signal with your hand, that’s when you know he has the verbal down.

Follow these steps, and you will have a self-loading dog that will make car trips a whole lot easier.