Those beautiful beady black eyes! When they look at you it seems as if they are staring into the very depths of your soul! Are they judging you, are they trying to tell you the secrets to their universe? What are they trying to communicate?
Your Shetland Sheepdog will stare at you as a way of communicating with you. This highly intelligent breed will stare at you looking for cues of what to do next. They stare when they want something from you, such as attention, or food, or even when they are just trying to show you admiration and affection.
So how do you tell what the different stares mean? Why is it sometimes feel uncomfortable when your Sheltie stares at you so intently? ….And of all things, why on earth does he stare at you when he eats or poops! Consider this article your one-stop shop for winning the Sheltie stare-down!
Reasons why your Shetland Sheepdog Stares
1. Your Sheltie is trying to read your cues
Shelties are often referred to as the most intelligent dog breed out there. Their capacity for learning new things combined with their desire and drive to please makes them exceptionally quick to train.
Once you have created a bond with them they will instinctually look at you. One of the biggest reasons your Sheltie will stare at you is to gather information about the cues you are sending him.
Shelties make wonderful companion dogs who want to be connected to their owners and understand them. Shelties crave the attention of their owners and are very loyal they have the ability to bond with their owners quite strongly.
Dogs instinctually look to their pack leaders for guidance on what to do next, Shelties especially need guidance and direction, and you are their pack leader.
Shelties can be energetic, curious, and workaholics! You will need to establish yourself as a strong and confident leader in their presence. This is the key to teaching them, as well as gaining the ‘Alpha’ status so that they will know who is in charge and not try to overtake the household.
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When they stare intently at you they are looking to you for that confidence and guidance as the alpha member of their pack.
Because Shelties are so loyal they often pick up on subtle things that other dogs might miss. They are good at understanding you and they can often feed off your emotions and know when something is off. They may be looking to you to figure out how to fix it.
They may also be staring at you as they try to decipher your body language and figure out what might be coming next in their daily routine.
Fun Fact: Your dog is not only drawn to look at your eye movement and track your face in order to read your social cues, dogs can use their powerful noses to smell the emotions of their owners. These two amazing abilities explain why our dogs are so great at being a man’s (and woman’s) best friend!
2. Your Sheltie is trained to look at you
When you bring home a new puppy and first start teaching and training it, one of the most important things to teach them first is to look at you.
Teaching them how to sit, stay, heel, settle and all the other important commands is so much easier when your dog first knows to look at you.
Dogs often recognize visual cues much easier and sooner than they can figure out what you want them to do purely by speaking the command. When your Sheltie is trained to look at you are able to see your movements and interpret whether you want them to sit, stay, come, or something else.
So for training purposes, if your dog looks at you a lot that will make your job a lot easier. Take advantage of all that attention and see what fun tricks you can train them to do.
This attentive stare may also explain why your Sheltie looks at you while he’s pooping. He’s not doing it to gross you out, but most likely when you trained him to go poop in his spot outside you gave him lots of praise, attention, and maybe even treats. He may continue to stare at you because he’s expecting more of the same.
3. Your Sheltie wants something
We adore our dogs and want to take the very best care of them that we can. This can sometimes be to our detriment though if our dogs know that we will spoil them and give them anything they want they can leverage those adorable stares to make you give in to their every desire!
If you have found yourself in this trap you may notice your Shetland Sheepdog staring at you with an accompanying whimper or whining. When this happens he’s most likely trying to communicate that he wants something from you.
Learning how to read your dog’s body language can go a long way in helping you bond with your dog as well as helping them to be better behaved.
Your Sheltie how may be asking for you to let them outside to use the restroom, he may want you to play with him, or maybe he is dying for you to share some of your delicious chicken sandwich you are eating.
When a Sheltie stares at you while she is eating it’s because of the ancient natural instinct for dogs (and their ancestral wolves) to look at the pack leader during meal times as a sign of submission and as a way to ask for any scraps that they are willing to share.
Either way, pay attention to not only his eyes but his ears, tail, and how his body is positioned and you may soon discover how to understand your dog’s secret language.
Other Sheltie owners have said that if their dog is staring at them to get their attention then they better give them some attention! If they are on the computer or the iPad and they don’t put it down and pay attention their dog will start getting more insistent with its stares using nose bumps, followed by strange whining noises, and possible barks in the face.
4. Your Sheltie needs a job to do
Shelties are working dogs, they need a job to do! They were bred to herd sheep, and if not given enough exercise and meaningful tasks to do, they can easily get frustrated. This may elicit that all-knowing stare-down when they seem to be begging for you to give them a task to complete.
Some of their favorite jobs to do include, but aren’t limited to the following list:
- find the ball
- fetch things (newspaper, slippers, people)
- help herd kids to bed
- find and put away specific toys
- run an agility or obstacle course
- puzzle toys
- learn to play sports
Shelties are generally workaholics and if not given work to do they will invent it, and believe me the jobs they invent for themselves will not please you. You can expect a bored Shetland to chew things up, lick excessively, bark excessively, dig, get into and eat things they shouldn’t (see this article I wrote about eating rocks, dirt, and poop), and basically cause destruction.
5. Your Sheltie is communicating love
Another reason your Sheltie is staring at you can simply be explained that he loves you!
When a new mother holds her new baby and they look into each other’s eyes it has an amazing effect of releasing a powerful hormone called oxytocin. This hormone is often called the love hormone as it helps us connect and bond with one another.
If you let your Sheltie sleep with you, you may be getting more benefits from oxytocin.
Eye contact is a big thing to us humans, and dogs may be the only species that really understands that. A study shows that dogs and their owners alike both experience an increased release of oxytocin when we stare amorously into one another’s eyes. Dogs are the first and possibly only species besides humans that have been observed doing this.
So even though your Sheltie may at times be wary or nervous around strangers, his bond with you can be unshakeable! This explains why your Sheltie may just be your best and most loyal friend.
This release of hormones will actually help you and your dog build a stronger bond and build more trust with each other.
Here are some other ways to tell that your Shetland Sheepdog loves and trusts you.
- Curls up next to you or in your lap
- Greets you enthusiastically while wagging his tail
- Pushes on you with his nose
- Relaxed body language around you
- Gets excited when he sees you after you’ve been separated for a time
- Licks you or wants to kiss and lick your face
- Sleeps on his back and exposes his belly when he’s close to you
- Leans against you, or lying down next to you
- Sleeping with or carrying around your dirty smelling laundry or shoes
- Wants you to play with him
- Follows you everywhere
- Stares at you lovingly
- Brings things to you
- Wants to lick you all the time
So next time you are feeling stressed and need a pick me up, try having a staring contest with your sweet Sheltie and see if that helps you both feel a bit better.
6. Your Sheltie is confused
If your Shetland Sheepdog is looking at you and you’re are confused as to why that may just be your answer as well. Sometimes we humans do funny and unpredictable things.
If your Sheltie is looking at you with his head tilted to one side and his ears perked at the attention he’s probably confused and wondering what you are doing or trying to communicate to him.
Another sign of confusion in your Sheltie may be licking of the lips or a quick shake of his body. This could show that the confusion is causing a bit of stress in your dog.
Your Sheltie may be asking for more clear directions and understanding of the behavior you are looking for from him.
Unfortunately, as your Sheltie ages and becomes a senior, his confused stares could indicate something more serious such as cognitive dysfunction. If you have an older Sheltie and they are also forgetting basic commands, wandering aimlessly in circles, or having accidents in the house it’s time for a visit to your vet to see what can be done.
7. Your Shetland is being confrontational
Shelties generally get along well with other people and animals, but you will still need to socialize your Sheltie to make sure that it won’t become confrontational with other animals. If your dog has had a bad experience in the past it could cause your Sheltie to become warry or confrontational with other dogs.
Shelties can also be somewhat protective of their owners! If your Shetland Sheepdog is not well socialized as a puppy his stare could be confrontational and a warning that something bad is going to happen.
If your Sheltie has an icy hard stare accompanied by a low growl or baring of teeth, proceed with caution. Shetlands are unlikely to show this behavior to their owners but may do this when feeling threatened.
Situations, where your Shetland might feel threatened, can include:
- Resource guarding a treat, special toy, or food
- Any situation where he perceive his owner is being threatened
- Being approached by a stranger or someone that makes them feel uncomfortable
- An unfamiliar animal that is invading his space
- Any interaction that is unfamiliar, unsettling, or startling
Other signs that your Sheltie staring could lead to confrontation may include a rigid or stiff body, holding very still, tail tucked or not wagging, and ears laid back on his head.
If this is your Sheltie or any other dog that you may be approaching break eye contact and back away. Give your Sheltie some space to calm down and evaluate why he may have reacted that way. You will also want to work on training him to not be aggressive in order to avoid potentially dangerous situations in the future.
Sheltie staring FAQ
Why do Shelties crouch and stare?
Shelties are famous for their crouching low to the ground and their intense stare. Sometimes referred to as the eye-stalk they do this instinctually as herding dogs. Staying low to the ground keeps them hidden from predators as they work to protect and herd livestock. The stare is a result of their intense concentration.
Even if your Sheltie doesn’t work on a sheep or cattle farm this innate instinctual behavior probably still exists. For example, your Sheltie that is the family pet may crouch down when protecting your child from the mischievous squirrels in your yard.
Crouching doesn’t always mean they are staring down a preditor. Crouching can also be a playful or alert behavior. Puppies often do this when playing with their littermates or an older dog.
Your Sheltie may have even zeroed in on you as the target of their crouch and stare particularly if you are eating some delicious food.
Check out this Sheltie’s intense stare at its owner!
Why do Shelties stare at other dogs?
Shelties stare at other dogs for a variety of reasons. It could mean they are curious or playful, or the stare could be confrontational, and warning of an impending fight. It’s important to read your dog’s body language to understand what the stare is conveying.
Generally, if a dog is staring intently at another dog and they both are making eye contact it is their way of trying to establish dominance over one another. The dog that looks away first is likely the more submissive dog and states that they are willing and open to follow the other dog’s lead.
When a stare is a warning: The time to be worried is when neither dog looks away and if their bodies go still and rigid. No tail wagging, raised hackles (hair), and low growling are all warning signs that a stare-down is about to become aggressive!
Soft eyes and a glance or two towards another dog with relaxed ears, loose non-frantic wagging tail, & curious sniffing indicate that a dog’s stares are more friendly than confrontational.
What is a Sheltie hard eye?
Sheltie’s hard eye refers to the look of a Sheltie’s eyes when they are about to become aggressive. It can be described and a glassy or glazed look, lacking any warmth. It is a very intense and hardened stare. This hard eye acts as a warning that the dog feels threatened.
This can also happen if a dog is guarding its resource such as a treat, favorite toy of bone.
As stated above there are other body language clues that you will notice along with a dog’s hard eye. If you notice this happening you should break eye contact imediately and slowly back away or try to diffuse the situation that is making your dog uncomfortable.
This is also a good reason why you should never stare down a dog you haven’t met before. In general, it’s a good idea to avoid eye contact with a dog unless it is very familiar and friendly with you.
Why is my Sheltie staring at the ceiling, or staring at nothing?
The most likely cause for your Sheltie staring at the ceiling or nothing at all is that they hear or see something that you don’t. Their incredible hearing may tell them there is a mouse or critter hiding up there, or they may notice subtle changes in shadows.
If your dog is bored it may be staring at the ceiling looking for something to happen. Puppies love to stare at ceiling fans.
Less likely, but still possible staring up at the ceiling may indicate a more serious issue for your Sheltie such as epilepsy, or Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome. If your dog doesn’t move from that spot, seems unusually disoriented or spaced out or has any other concerning symptoms you will want to contact your vet.
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So next time your Sheltie is staring you down, and your first reaction is to think about how creepy it may be, or that he’s judging you and found you unworthy, think again. Most likely that intense stare means that your dog is your lifelong companion ready to please and protect you no matter what.
Check out these other great articles all about your Sheltie!
While we strive to give the most accurate and helpful information about your pet’s health that we can, this article is meant to be informational only and not medical advice. Never disregard, avoid or delay in obtaining medical advice from your veterinarian or other qualified veterinary health care provider regardless of what you have read on this site or elsewhere.