Why Does My German Shepherd Stare At Me?

german shepherd starting at owner

German Shepherds, like all dogs, are not able to speak our language and thus they have other ways of communicating with us. One of those ways is through direct eye contact. To a dog, the eyes are not only a window into the soul but also play an important role in doggy communication. Despite how subtle it can be to us humans, a dog’s eyes can say a lot.

But what might it mean when your German Shepherd stares at you?

It’s generally a normal part of body language and communication and nothing to worry about. Your German Shepherd may be staring at you because he wants something, has been trained to stare on cue, you signaled him to stare at you in some way, or, rarely, he is threatening you by using his eyes.

There are many reasons as to why your German Shepherd may be staring at you, but we’ll look at some of the more commonly discussed reasons below. We’ll look at the reasons behind why your German Shepherd may be staring at you, as well as when the staring is normal and when it’s a cause for concern.

We’ll also look at how you can teach your German Shepherd to stare at you on cue, how you can stop your German Shepherd from staring at you, and what to do if the staring is a result of aggression.

4 Reasons Why Your German Shepherd Is Staring At You

Our German Shepherds can communicate with us in a variety of ways, but the eyes are one of the more subtle ones. When your German Shepherd is staring at you, the reason may be one of the following:

Reason 1: They Want Something.

If your German Shepherd is staring at you but is otherwise not doing anything else with their body or mouth, then it’s likely they are trying to tell you they want something from you, or they want you to do something or get something for them.

This is especially true if your German Shepherd is also repeatedly glancing away towards a specific object or item, such as a toy or the door, before they return to staring at you.

Because German Shepherds cannot really say what they are wanting, they will often use much more subtle body language to indicate that they want or need something, and this absolutely includes the use of their eyes!

If you determine that your German Shepherd is staring at you because they want something, the next step is trying to figure out what it is that they want. Are they glancing toward their favorite ball that is lying next to you? Or are they repeatedly glancing towards their leash hanging by the front door in hopes you will take them for a walk?

If you’ve figured out what exactly it is that they want, then feel free to let them have it! However, be mindful of how often you “give in” to your German Shepherd’s staring.

If it makes you uncomfortable, or if your German Shepherd is displaying other behaviors that make you uncomfortable, giving them what they want might inadvertently be reinforcing those uncomfortable behaviors.

Reason 2: They Have Been Trained To Stare At You.

One of the more popular dog training behaviors is the “Watch” cue. With this cue, you are asking your German Shepherd to obtain and maintain eye contact with you.

This behavior is not only a cool party trick, but it also helps redirect your German Shepherd’s attention away from something else and can be used as a request to your pup that you want their attention focused on you so you can provide them with additional behavior requests.

If you’ve taught your German Shepherd the “Watch” cue (and it was probably pretty easy, considering how smart your pup is!), you may notice that your dog becomes very enthusiastic about it and will repeatedly stare at you at various points in the hopes they get a treat, even when you do not give them the “Watch” prompt.

This is a normal part of the learning process for any behavior and is just your pup figuring out that the staring behavior will only get a reward when it is cued, and no reward (or only praise) is offered when they stare at you without being given the “Watch” prompt.

Reason 3: They Are Threatening You.

Dominance in dogs is a highly contested issue, and while science has disproved the idea that dogs need to be dominated and misbehaving dogs are trying to dominate us, there is still an element of social hierarchy at play in some households between a dog and who they perceive as a threat to their resources or comfort.

This “dominant act”, which is really not dominance at all but rather a dog who has either not been taught otherwise or who was unknowingly reinforced for particular behaviors, can include direct staring from the dog.

Direct staring in dogs is often seen by other dogs as rude or threatening, particularly if the dog’s eyes are hard, the facial muscles are tense, and they are displaying other stiff body language. This discomfort with direct eye contact is one reason why most dogs don’t enjoy being stared at by their owners- or cameras for that matter.

If a German Shepherd is staring directly at you, and the staring is accompanied by tense facial muscles, hard eyes, or the dog is making any kind of low vocalizations such as a growl, then he may be asking you to “back off”. Check out the video below for an example of what this may look like:

This subtle threatening body language is your German Shepherd’s way of asking you to step away because you are making them uncomfortable, they are afraid or anxious, or they are trying to guard something. If you do not heed these threats, then the next step would be for your German Shepherd to tell you to go away by lunging, snapping, and potentially biting at you.

This type of behavior can be very tricky to deal with, so if you suspect that your German Shepherd is staring at you in a threatening way, it’s best to back off for the time being and then reach out to a reputable dog trainer who specializes in aggression issues so they can evaluate what is triggering your German Shepherd’s threatening behavior.

Do not punish your German Shepherd if you think the staring is a threat, as this will only escalate the behavior.

Reason 4: They Think YOU Are Communicating Something!

Dogs are very perceptive and pick up on every small movement, sound, or expression that we make. German Shepherds are also known for bonding with only one person, thus they will likely be paying even MORE attention to their favorite person.

Body language is one of the primary ways a dog communicates, so if you catch your German Shepherd staring at you it could be because you did something with your body that “asked” him to look at you.

His staring at you may be him waiting for any follow up directions and to make sure you aren’t going to “ask” or “tell” him anything else with your body.

If you do nothing after a few seconds, your pup will probably look away again and go about his business.

Changing your facial expressions is a fun way to see how your German Shepherd responds to different things, too! Try smiling gently at your pup or yawning at him and see how he responds. Chances are your four-legged friend will respond in some way!

Is It Bad If My German Shepherd Stares At Me?

In general, it’s not a bad thing if your German Shepherd stares at you, provided you (or others) are not uncomfortable with it and there is no other worrisome body language your pup may be displaying.

If you feel your German Shepherd’s staring is obnoxious or disruptive (the staring can also often be accompanied by intense whining), or it is threatening and accompanied by other tense body language, then you can reach out to a local dog trainer who can help modify those unwanted behaviors and determine the root cause of any threatening behaviors.

What Do I Do If My German Shepherd Is Acting Aggressively While Staring Directly At Me?

If your German Shepherd is acting aggressively towards you while staring directly at you, or they are giving off other subtle threatening body language, it’s safest for you to remove yourself from the situation slowly and carefully and avoid any confrontation with the German Shepherd.

Do not punish your German Shepherd if they are displaying this sort of body language as it will only escalate the situation and could result in a bite.

Once you are safely away from your German Shepherd and your German Shepherd is no longer displaying any threatening or aggressive body language, think about what could have triggered the aggression.

Was there something the dog was resource guarding or protecting? Were you doing something that your dog felt was a threat to them in some way?

Reach out to a professional dog trainer within your area to schedule a behavioral consultation. This type of behavior needs to be nipped in the bud before it becomes worse, so working with a trainer who specializes in aggression issues and can help you set up a behavior modification plan is ideal.

How Do I Teach My German Shepherd To Stop Staring At Me?

Before you can teach your German Shepherd to stop staring at you, you must first determine why she is staring at you in the first place.

If the staring is threatening and your dog is also displaying hard eyes, tension in the face and muzzle, or other concerning body language, then it’s safest to reach out to a reputable local dog trainer who is experienced in aggression issues and can help you come up with a behavior modification plan to change the behavioral issue.

If the staring is more annoying than threatening, then you can teach your German Shepherd to stop staring at you by turning your face and body away from her whenever she is staring at you. Turning away from a dog indicates you want to be left alone.

Once your German Shepherd stops staring at you and starts doing something else (such as laying down or going to her bed), you would then immediately turn back towards her and praise her.

You can also provide her with whatever it was that she was wanting in the first place (a walk, her ball thrown, or a piece of the steak you are eating!) as long as you are rewarding her when she’s no longer staring at you.

As with most dog training, you want to reward the behaviors you like and ignore or redirect the behaviors you don’t want.

Can I Teach My German Shepherd To Stare At Me On Cue?

You can absolutely teach your German Shepherd to stare at you on cue! This is called the “Watch” cue, though you can also see it referred to as “Eyes”, “Watch Me”, “Look At Me”, and so on.

This behavior is more than just a neat trick but is beneficial in a variety of situations and can help redirect unwanted behaviors.

To teach “Watch”, you would hold a treat between your thumb and forefinger and bring it to your German Shepherd’s nose. Once your dog realizes you have a treat in your hand, you would then slowly guide your hand back to your nose or the space between your eyes.

Ideally, your pup will follow the path of the treat. As soon as they make eye contact with you (even if it’s just half a second) praise and reward them with the treat.

Repeat this several times, only rewarding when your German Shepherd makes eye contact with you. Once your pup is consistent, you can start adding in a verbal cue (like “Watch Me”) just before dragging the treat towards your face.

Eventually, you’ll also be able to remove the treat lure and use just your fingers, or even just the verbal cue. Over time, you’ll be able to increase the length of time your pup has to make eye contact with you, and you can also start adding in distractions or distance away from your pup.

Closing Thoughts

If you catch your German Shepherd staring at you, most of the time it’s probably harmless and just a simple act of communication.

Other times, the staring may signal an underlying behavioral issue in which the help of an expert should be utilized.

You can work to decipher the message and determine why your pup is staring at you, leading to better communication between you and your four-legged friend.

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