What does it mean when a dog sits before his owner, looks into her face, and stares? Is this an act of submission, pure canine concentration, or some act of contrition? Within a dog's intense stare lies a universe of psychological musings, more convoluted, more unfathomable than to be understood by the average folk.
Let's start to analyze this phenomenon of a dog's stare, not from the experience of a dog trainer, which I am not, but just from general impressions I have gained as a human companion and from being at the receiving end of this behavior.
As I prepare my dinner plate, the dog suddenly awakens from his death-sleep that not even a cat soaring past on Mercurian feet can arouse. Suddenly, his keen ears detect, like submariner radar, the salt shaker's teensy-weensy sound flavoring his human's plate of food. Stewie, on high alert, sits up as I sneak past him with the repast I had been dreaming of since breakfast. Alas, the dog has discovered my delectable possession--a plateful of spaghetti-- and he is determined to commandeer it much as he has my sofa.
As I arrive at the couch, the dog stepping on the back of my heels, I shout, for the thousandth time in the day, "NO, Stewie! NO! Get away! This is mine, not yours!" I remind him. "You had your dinner!" But my yelling, my insults, my whimpers, my begging, do absolutely nothing to distract my Irish wolfhound puppy from wanting my meal.
My elbows out to the side like an airplane's wings, I dip and whirl around, balancing my plate of food, all to avoid the canine nose that has honed in, as on a target, on my plate. Then, I drop into the sofa seat and begin to wolf my food before the real wolf can steal it.
Suddenly, it happens--very deliberately and decidedly. The silence is palpable. I look up, my chin stained with sauce, and I sit back, entirely mesmerized by what's going on before me.
My fork drops into my plate, and I stare, enchanted. My dog is sitting squarely before me: calm, quiet, and intent.
He cocks his head, looks at my brimming plate, then looks back at me. And I am held, spell-bound, by his gaze, by his deliberateness, by his cool. What is he thinking? Why isn't he after me? Why has he stopped pestering me for my dinner? Has he discovered that bullying me is useless? Has he devised another, more devious method of acquiring my spaghetti, one that has never been fathomed by any human or beast?
He holds my gaze--staring, staring deep, straight into my soul. I cannot eat--appetite quelled--for the eyes hold me, have me in a spell like that of some time-wise sorcerer, one against which I cannot summon strength.
Then, the hound with the magical eyes, casts the last straw.
He tilts his head and blinks again.
I wince. I feel weakness in my legs. Am I having an attack of some kind?
Then, he blinks twice, the eyes holding me steady.
Such pitiful, hungry eyes.
Head cocked to the other side, he blinks again.
Poor thing--so downtrodden, famished--poor starving animal. All he ever gets to eat is that dry, cardboard-looking kibble.
He blinks once, and then the sides of his mouth pouf out--very lightly, such a small pouf of air as to barely snuff a candle.
But it's there, the icing to the blink.
Almost unconsciously I place my plate of pasta on the floor--my offering to this soul of poverty and deprivation, my benefaction to the paltry one.
For a split-second more, Stewie holds my gaze, and then, when he figures the plate is his, he dives into it.
In seconds the plate is licked clean. And in seconds I realize that Stewie has out-witted me and that I have lost round two.