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Why Does My Dog Stare at Me When I Sleep?

 
By Ricardo Luis Bruno, Veterinarian and ethologist. January 5, 2021
Why Does My Dog Stare at Me When I Sleep?

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Have you ever woken up to your dog staring at you? Most guardians won't be worried. In fact, we might feel protected to have our faithful canine stand vigil as we sleep. There might be some who are confused by this behavior or may even think it is strange. Some may even wonder if a dog staring them as they sleep has any bad intentions.

At AnimalWised, we ask why does my dog stare at me when I sleep? We explain all the possible reasons and highlight any issues this canine behavior might represent.

You may also be interested in: What Does It Mean When a Dog Lifts a Front Paw?

How dogs communicate with humans

Over the long period of domestication, dogs and humans have worked to form a common language. Although dogs cannot speak like we can, they can use other methods of communication. One of the most important is body language. This is a series of nuanced facial expressions and body positions which convey their emotions and intentions.

A dog's eyes are one of the most important tools for communication, but can also be difficult to understand. When they are narrowed they may mean they are angry, but it also may mean they are confused. When they are wide it may be a body language sign which means they are happy, but it can also mean they are scared. For this reason, we need to look not only at the eyes, but the whole context.

We can look at the rest of the dog's body to interpret the meaning of a dog's stare. For example, if a dog's eyes are narrowed, their body is tense and their ears are flat against their head, it is likely they are aggressive. Conversely, if the dog has narrow eyes, but their ears are relaxed and their body is loose, they may simply be tired.

The shape of a dog's stare isn't the only way we can interpret their mood and intentions. The dimensions of their eyes (whether they are round, slanted, etc.) are controlled by the eyelids and are in some way voluntary. However, a dog cannot control their pupils. If they are large or small, it is something which is a response to their emotional well-being in the moment. Of course, the amount of light will have an affect on pupil dilation also.

Permanently dilated pupils in dogs are not usually a sign of emotional problems. It is more likely they have a physical problem which should be checked by a veterinarian.

Another important way we can understand what a dog's stare means is by looking at the context of a situation. If you have just come back home and are opening the groceries, you might see your dog stare at you in anticipation. This could be because they think you may have bought them a treat and are excited at the prospect. If you are with a stranger to them and the dog stares at you, it could be they are wary of the new person and want to protect you.

All of these factors are important to understand why do dogs stare at you. Now we can look more specifically at why your dog stares at your when you are asleep.

My dog looks at me when I sleep, what does it mean?

It can be a little difficult to understand why a dog stares at us when we are asleep because we won't be aware of it until we wake up. At this point, the dog may change their demeanor. However, there are some general reasons why dogs stare at you when you are asleep:

  • Hunger: you most likely feed your dog first thing in the morning after you wake up. Since dogs are creatures of routine, it is possible they will stare at you while you sleep because they are hungry and want to be fed. Some dogs may even go as far as to wake you up themselves when they are hungry enough.

  • Walk or play: since there are many activities a dog cannot do while you are asleep, they might stare at you because they want to go out for a walk or play. This may happen in particular when you sleep in. If they expect you to exercise with them, but you are breaking their routine, they may come to stare at you to encourage you to get up.

  • Boredom: if don't you give your dog enough mental and physical stimuli, they may stare at you because they are waiting for some sort of engagement. Boredom in dogs is dangerous as it can also lead to serious behavioral problems. You may find your dog doesn't stare at you while you sleep if you given them enough attention when you are awake.

  • Loneliness: if a dog likes to be around other people, they may be staring at you while you sleep because they want company. This is similar to boredom, but is particular to the individual dog.
  • Protection: wild dogs live in packs and they all have specific roles within it. Although they live in a hierarchical social group, all the dogs should be looking out for each other. One way they protect each other is to stand guard against predators and other dangers while others in the group sleep. This is especially the case for puppies Due to domestication, our dogs see us as one of the pack and may be standing by the bed to help keep us protected while we sleep. This is something we can see especially when dogs are protective of babies.

  • Perceived danger: if your dog suddenly starts staring at you while you sleep, but didn't before, it is possible they have heard a noise or seen something which they see as a threat. Whether or not there is an actual threat, they may be staring at you to ensure you are OK or to find out what is the problem.

  • Love: another reason why a dog may be staring at you while they sleep is simply because they love you. When a dog has a strong bond with their human guardian, they will want to be by their side all the time. They know they can't disturb you while you sleep, so they may watch you instead. This is because they reciprocate love and feel it just being around you. However, we also need to be careful the dog doesn't become over-attached as this can lead to separation anxiety when you are not around.

In rare cases, the dog might have a problem with you which leads to them staring at you. However, this is not likely something they will do when you sleep. If a dog is poorly socialized, has received emotional trauma or has any reason to be angry with you, they can stare you down. It is not likely they will stare at you while you sleep for these reasons.

Read our article for mor general information about why dogs stare at us.

Should you stop a dog staring at you while you sleep?

The only reason we should stop a dog staring at us when we sleep is if the reason is problematic. For example, if the dog is indeed bored and stares at us because they want attention, then we need to relieve their boredom. This isn't for our benefit, but for theirs. If the dog stares at us because they are hungry, we might try to change their meal schedule to better meet their dietary needs.

However, in many cases, it shouldn't be a problem for a dog to be near us when we sleep. It shows that we have a strong bond which can be strengthened by the dog being near us. Only a dog which loves us and treats us as one of the family will be able to sleep next to us, whether or not they are staring. For this reason, it can be beneficial to make the dog feel secure.

On the other hand, if a dog feels insecure when they are not around us, this is an unhealthy sign. It can lead to behavioral problems such as barking all night when we're not around and even becoming destructive. When this is the case, we need to help the dog feel safe when they are on their own.

Lastly, you may not want the dog to be around you while you sleep for personal reasons. They might not be the most hygienic canine or they may simply take up too much space in a small bedroom. If this is the case, the best thing you can do is keep your bedroom door closed. You will need to be consistent, however. If you let the dog sleep next to you some night and then kick them out others, they might be confused.

In our video below, we explain more about why dogs sleep next to us and how we can decide whether it is a good idea for us:

If you want to read similar articles to Why Does My Dog Stare at Me When I Sleep?, we recommend you visit our Basic education category.

Bibliography
  • Lorenz, K. (1999). When man found the dog. Eds. Tusquets editors.
  • Morris, D. (1996). Guide to understand dogs. Ed. EMECÉ.
  • Lorenz, K. (1985). Considerations on animal and human behavior. Ed. Planeta-Agostini.

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