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It can sometimes feel like our dogs are doing things completely at random. From licking weird parts of the house to barking at who knows what it can be a struggle to figure out what our pups are trying to tell us.
But sometimes, all that barking or growling at seemingly nothing turns out to make perfect sense and your dog was simply aware of something that you weren’t.
Which only makes us even more committed to figuring out what our dogs are so interested in! One of the more confusing behavior to figure out is when dogs suddenly seem fixated on something above them- whether that’s the ceiling or the sky.
So what’s going on here and what’s happening when dogs keep looking up? Why do some dogs keep looking up?
There’s a huge range of triggers that cause dogs to fix their attention above them ranging from a simple ceiling fan to complex medical conditions. In other cases, dogs are focused on hearing something, and looking up is their way of positioning their ears in the right spot.
We’re going to take a look at all the major reasons to explain dogs that seem super interested in something above them, including some possible medical explanations and you can use the table of contents below to skip around.
Now let’s get started!
Sensory Reasons Why Dogs Look Up
The most common explanations for why dogs look up, whether that’s the sky, ceiling, or anything else, will usually revolve around your canine companion’s powerful senses.
But it’s not all about what your dog sees and any of their senses can contribute to your dog looking up.
Your Dog Sees Something
I know, this explanation sounds pretty obvious but exactly what your dog sees could surprise you.
While dogs are known for their superior senses, and that’s mostly true, that’s not exactly the case when it comes to their vision. According to Not A Bully advisor and veterinarian Georgina Ushi Phillips, “Most dogs have 20/75 vision which means that they have to be at 20 feet to see what humans can see at 75 feet.” Additionally, dogs aren’t able to see nearly as many colors as we can and Dr. Sophia Yin has a great example of what this looks like here.
Combined, these differences mean that something on the ceiling that seems completely uninteresting to us could pique our dog’s interest as they try to figure out what it is. Whether it’s a ceiling fan, a bug or just a stain dogs may stare upward as they try to figure out what the heck they’re looking at!
But this doesn’t just apply to dogs that look up indoors and your pup could be trying to figure out what they’re looking at when they see a bird flying or a critter in a tree. While it might seem obvious to our full color and 20/20 eyes, but it isn’t always so clear for our dogs which can lead to some longer looks into the sky.
Your Dog Smells Something
Your dog might not be looking up at all!
Instead, they could be tilting their head up towards the sky in order to get a better scent. Sure, it might appear as though they’re looking up but they’re really just trying to catch a smell.
Sniffing into the wind is a classic of any nature movie where a wild bear or an experienced human sniffs the air to catch a scent, but you don’t have to go into the wilderness to see this in action. Just think about the last time your dog was on the couch and caught a whiff of something interesting in the kitchen.
They didn’t immediately turn their head to the ground and start tracking but instead they probably tilted their head back to get a better smell before making their way into the kitchen to ask for a taste!
If your dog is looking straight up into the sky, this explanation probably doesn’t make sense. But if you and your dog are anywhere with a lot of interesting scents and your dog seems to be constantly looking slightly up then catching a scent could be why. Paying attention to your dog’s nose will help you figure out if they’re focused on scents or sights.
Your Dog Hears Something
If I leave my house early enough, there’s a good chance I’ll hear the neighborhood owl hooting away. I can never seem to actually see him but as soon as I hear him, I look up and start trying to track him down.
What does this have to do with your dog?
Your pup may react in a similar way and they may not see anything at all (yet) and instead they’re trying to visually locate something they just heard.
But your dog’s upward gaze could also just be a coincidence and your pup may be trying to concentrate on locating the source of a sound with only their ears. In other words, dogs may not be looking at anything but instead staring upward at nothing as they focus on the sound.
It’s something that humans do too and it’s similar to the idea behind turning down the radio when you’re lost. You’re trying to reduce sensory information as much as possible and your dog could be doing the same thing by looking at nothing.
Finally, your dog could be moving their gaze upward as a way to put their eyes in a better position for hearing the sound. Just as dogs tilt their head to one side in order to better locate the source of a sound, they may tilt their head up.
To figure out if this explanation makes sense for your dog, pay close attention to your dog’s ears as they look up. Dogs have 18 muscles that control the ear (compared to just six in humans) and you should expect to see them all working to perfectly position the ear if your dog is trying to locate a sound.
Medical Reasons Why Dogs Look Up
Sensory explanations are the most likely but they aren’t the only reasons that dogs look up and there are a wide range of medical explanations too. While it’s important to not jump to conclusions and assume the worst if you suspect there’s anything medically wrong with your dog it’s always a good idea to consult your veterinarian.
Even if your dog seems fine, any sudden change in behavior is cause for concern and a good reason to see your veterinarian.
Spinal Or Neck Issues
Any sort of traumatic injury of the spine or neck could cause dogs to look up. Most owners will be very aware if their dog had any major injury to the spine but a soft tissue strain, knot or another injury could cause dogs to tilt their head upward as well.
Syringomyelia is a condition in which a fluid-filled cyst forms in the spinal cord and slowly grows over time. Depending on the location and the impact of the cyst on the spinal cord, it could cause dogs to start looking up.
However, that’s just one of several conditions that could explain dogs that appear to be “stuck” looking up and it’s always best to turn to your veterinarian.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder can affect dogs but what makes this disorder so confusing is that it can look completely in each individual dog. Some dogs may feel the need to obsessively lick anything from the floor to your legs while others may turn to barking, chasing their tail, or staring upward.
While difficult to treat, Prozac has been found to help many dogs with obsessive compulsive disorders and similar issues. Dogs suffering from this condition will usually be extremely focused and difficult to distract but your veterinarian can help you figure out if this explanation makes sense for your dog.
There are a wide range of neurological issues that cause dogs to look up for long periods of time. Oftentimes, dogs will also snap at the air trying to catch flies that aren’t actually there.
Sometimes called fly biting syndrome or stargazing syndrome, these neurological abnormalities could be caused by tumors, seizure activities, or even age-related cognitive decline. Dogs may feel compelled to look up or they may be hallucinating things that aren’t there.
You can see exactly what this looks like in the video below which shows a dog suffering from fly biting or fly snapping syndrome:
While it might be surprising, one study found that 60% of dogs evaluated for stargazing or fly biting syndrome improved after being treated with a milder diet and antacids to help settle their stomach. Further research suggests that there’s a connection between gastroesophageal reflux disease and dogs looking up.
It seems that dogs try to minimize their stomach discomforts by looking up in order to stretch out their neck. Biting, licking, and snaping also seem to be part of this process and can all easily appear like a neurological issue instead of a gastrointestinal one.
That just goes to show how complex something as simple as looking up can really be when it comes to the medical side of things!
Why Do Dogs Look Up At The Ceiling?
When it comes to dogs staring up at the ceiling, it’s likely because dogs have seen or heard something that interests them. In some cases, it could be something inside the ceiling that you can’t actually see including mice, rats, or termites. However, medical causes should also be considered.
Yes, dogs can hear and smell termites in the wall! So just because you can’t see what your dog is reacting to doesn’t mean there’s nothing there or that your dog has a medical issue.
It’s also possible that your dog is reacting to something that you can see and it’s simply not as interesting to you. The ceiling fan is one of the more popular targets of canine interest which can definitely be confusing for humans.
As always, consider the context of what your dog is doing. If they’re barking or growling then there may be a critter in your walls!
Why Do Dogs Look Up At The Sky?
When it comes to dogs looking up at the sky, the most likely explanations are that they see something, hear something or smell something. Dogs may be reacting to birds, planes, and even stars! Medical causes could be at play too so look at your dog’s overall behavior to figure out the cause.
While dogs may not be able to see as much as we can, the anatomy of their eye tells us that most dogs can actually see stars better than we can. That doesn’t mean your dog will find the constellations interesting but it does go to show that dogs have a pretty good grasp of what’s going on in the night sky which means helicopters and planes could catch their eye as well.
Of course, during the day dogs will be interested in the occasional flying critter and some dogs will be more perceptive than others.
Why Do Dogs Look Up At Me?
Just as there are dozens and dozens of reasons to explain why dogs look up in the first place, there are just as many reasons to explain why they look up at you.
It could have something to do with the way you smell or a sound you made
In most cases, it’s a sign of affection, and dogs experience a release of oxytocin when they stare into our eyes which is the same chemical that’s released when a mother stares at her newborn baby. In other words, it’s a big deal and all those warm fuzzy feelings provide plenty of motivation for dogs to keep looking up at us.
When Should You Worry About Your Dog?
Most of the time, there’s nothing to worry about when your dog looks up. This behavior is usually related to some kind of sensory stimulation- whether that’s something they’ve seen, heard or smelled.
But in rare cases, there’s a medical explanation for this behavior and we’ve seen that everything from a cyst on the spine to age and obsessive compulsive disorder could be at play.
Context will help you figure out what’s going and if your dog looks up at the sky for a few moments then moves on to their usual sniffing then there’s probably nothing to worry about. But if instead, your dog looks up at the sky outside, then inside, and then all the time then there’s likely a much bigger problem at play.
If you’re ever unsure it’s always a good idea to consult a veterinarian.
Even though looking up seems like a pretty basic dog behavior, and it is for the most part, there were probably more explanations for this behavior than you would expect! Everything from hearing a termite inside the wall to complex neurological conditions could explain this behavior.
Context will help you figure out which explanation makes the most sense but in most cases your dog is suddenly interested in something around them- even if it’s not something you can see.