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I've noticed that some dogs have a tendency to always turn their heads to look up at their owners, i.e. even when walking. I assume this is instinctive behavior, looking to the alpha of the pack for instructions/approval.

  1. Is this genetic or trained, and if genetic, what breeds tend to do this?
  2. What is this behavior, and what does it mean about the dog? Are such breeds particularly friendly, eager to please, and trainable?
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Really it is impossible to say for sure since we can't ask the dog. Healthy and astute dogs and cats that are well bonded to their humans are aware of and respond to your emotional state and behavior. When they look you in the face or the eye they are observing you, just like you might watch another person to see how they are feeling or reacting to something.

Eye contact in the animal world (including humans) can be viewed as aggressive in some contexts and animals often approach this with caution. You may notice some dogs make eye contact by giving a quick, humble-seeming glance then look away. This is a normal sign of respect / subservience. Other times you may see a small dog that is frightened of you and it stares at you and barks incessantly, exhibiting very aggressive behavior. Then just as with people there are the odd ones that just don't follow the norm and may stare at you in an adoring-seeming manner for hours like the breeds thought to be more people-pleasing like labs.

Some dogs and cats will look you in eye more than others. Staring can be aggressive or a sign of strong bonding so it is hard to answer question #2. If you are wondering about a particular dog you should be able to get an impression of their personality just by watching them.

Like most behaviors is is probably influenced by both learned and genetic factors.

This can be studied by observing sibling pets that were raised together, the same way. Differences in behavior suggest genetic factors at play (while similar, siblings have different genes and can behave and look differently). The learned behavior side of things can be explored by training a dog to look at you more or less by rewarding them following the desired behavior.

  • This looks like a good answer. Can you improve it by adding some supporting references? – James Jenkins Jun 4 '14 at 12:09
  • It would take me hours to dig up good references sadly. If someone is interested they could look at a college animal behavior text book that will discuss the various thoughts and research on eye contact, dog / human bonding and the basics of nature vs nurture. The last 2 paragraphs are biology 101, and basic post-grad experimental design principles. I think everything else I mention is just readily observable (e.g. a dog barking at you). If someone wishes to substantiate anything they read on the internet a vet is an excellent person to ask the next time they take their pet in for a visit. – Beo Jun 4 '14 at 12:35

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