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Canine Behavior/face talker


I have a 5 month old shih tzu female.  While sitting down on the couch she tries to get so close that she can be as close as possible to my face. I don't ever remember rewarding this behavior in fact I can pretty confidently say in the first instance I probably pushed her away. I'm wondering why she doesn't this. She isn't a dominant type. It's not after I've eaten so she isn't smelling what I've eaten. Or for attention cause I usually move her.
When I'm sitting she will actively try to get as close to my face as she can. Even staring into my eye which I thought dogs didn't like.  Not only I but my partner to.
It's like she is trying to communicate however she does this on most occasions even after being fed so I don't see it being for food.
It's not to much of a problem I was more curious as for answer than anything else.

Hi Tanya,

Thanks for your question. I've decided there are enough points of intricacy and interest in it for me to respond to your remarks, so I'm taking the time to respond and I trust you'll kindly take a moment of your time to rate my response when you read this.

A lot of thoughts come to mind as I read your submission and evaluate it.  

First, I'd like to dispel a myth that dogs who take space from us or who look into our eyes are expressing "dominance." "Dominance" is a term bandied about too often by trainers who are, usually, beginners in canine and/or other animal behavior to explain why dogs do such-and-such or this-and-that who don't truly understand canine behavior. Since "dominance" in interactions with people is generally viewed as a negative trait, it can result in very incorrect and, ultimately, potentially dangerous training techniques for both the dog and the humans involved being applied which can have serious fallout for both and also seriously damage the relationship. In addition, dominant behaviors are normal in many contexts, and dominant behaviors themselves are contextual and a description of specific, contextual behaviors with specific humans or other animals which have a specific goal for the animal expressing those behaviors. Dominant behavior in dogs only becomes a problem when dogs learn to control humans in specific ways using those behaviors which include inappropriate aggression towards the human, or another animal. This is a short but concise explanation which, if you type or write out on an index card and carry around with you to refer to whenever you think you're observing "dominant" behavior will greatly help you understand it. Now, dogs "train" us humans to do things for them all the time, which is fine (as dogs do need things and we get mutual enjoyment, both the dog and us, from doing these things; however, that does not mean that the dog is behaving in a "dominant" fashion.

Second, I'm wondering if you might have a natural service dog in the making. Do you have a medical issue to which your dog may be alerting, such as diabetes, low blood sugar, seizures, or something else? This may be a Longshot, but I have a dog who became a service dog specifically because he learned to alert me to sudden and potentially blood sugar drops, and he learned to do this largely on his own as a puppy, although I cultivated this skill as soon as I recognized he had it.

When dogs stare at us, they are definitely trying to communicate something. What is your Shih Tzu trying to communicate? Since the behavior you describe occurs after she eats, she may be trying to alert you that she needs to go out to eliminate, since most dogs need to within five to 20 minutes after they eat, after they've been napping, after playing, and, of course, first thing in the morning and last thing at night before bedtime.

Teach her that the word "out" or the phrase "do you need to go out?" means that she gets potty time. Then, immediately after saying it, take her out for a potty break.  

If it's not potting she wants (and, sometimes it may be, and other times she may be staring at you for another reason), try to figure out what she wants or needs otherwise. Is she being trained? Maybe she needs a few minutes of brain stimulation through training a few times a day.

And, still, some very polite dogs will stare or look at you in order to ask if they can cuddle with you, looking for permission. Again, I have a dog who does this. He's very polite and 'asks' me before he takes space for my permission. He's always welcome, but he asks anyway, a true gentleman. :-)

Since your Shih Tzu pup is already exhibiting the staring behavior, it is a perfect time to do this: teach your dog to respond to her name, which is an important and fun first training exercise.

Try to catch her BEFORE she looks or starts staring at you, and say her name. The object of this training game is for her to look into your eyes when you say her name. When she does, pop her a tiny, but tasty, treat. I use very small pieces of hard cheese, chicken, or store bought treats, and for a dog as small as a Shih Tzu I cut the store bought ones into even smaller pieces.

When she looks at you, remember to tell her "yes," and pop her the treat after you have said it, which "yes" communicates to her that she did the right thing.

If she won't look away from you, distract her by throwing a couple of treats on the ground and saying "Find it," and saying "yes" again when she does. Before she lifts her head again, say her name to get her to look at you again. Shanpoo, rinse, repeat, in other words!

If you determine the staring serves no purpose but has simply become a habit for her (I doubt it, but such habits do develop), the training above will help to put the behavior 'on cue,' and she will learn to do it only when you 'cue' her to do so with the training game.

It would be nice to geta followi_p in a few weeks so I can hear how it's going, but not required. In the meantime, please remember to rate my answer.

You are also invited to join my Facebook page, NY, NJ and Florida Metro Areas Dog Training, where you will see a link to your question and my response once it's published, and also be welcome to post pictures of your pup and ask other questions or share information with me and others about her.

Best regards,
Madeline Friedman, M.A.
Hoboken NJ Dog Trainer
Edison NJ Dog Trainer
Montclair NJ Dog Trainer
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Madeline S. Friedman, M.A.


I respond to public questions only. I'm not a veterinarian & do not respond to medical questions.Suggestions: Submit a question in one area of priority, as what I am able to address in this venue is limited. Provide as much detail re: the behavior & issue as you can. Tell me how & if behavior is a change from previous behavior & when the changes occurred. Let me know what you think may have triggered such changes & what you have tried so far to resolve it, & what the results were. Let me know what you want help with & what are your concerns & questions about the behavior. I have set up a payment/donation to myself for responding to questions. I donate most of it to animal shelters & rescues. I keep a small portion for my time. The minimum donation is $25.00 on PayPal. When I see that a donation has been made, I will respond to your question. You will be prompted to make the donation before submitting your question. When you have read & rated my response fairly, which must be at the time you read it, I will refund $5.00 back to you IF YOU REQUEST that I do so in your rating comments. If I ask for more details, please respond as a "follow-up" & not as a new question. If I don't respond to your question, I will refund your donation less $5.00. DO rate me fairly at the end of our exchange. I will be pleased if you DO nominate me for volunteer of the month - why not, if I was generous in my response? I may suggest something you were not necessarily ready to hear, but I am honest in the interest of helping your dog, & that is my goal. Please keep that in mind. Please do NOT contact me privately about Allexperts questions through my e-mail or website unless I have invited you to do so. That is an invasion of my privacy - thank you for respecting it. If you would like to contact me for actual dog training & behavior consulting, you may contact me through my Web site.


Own & operate dog training & behavior consulting businesses, Hoboken Dog Trainer, and ny-njDogTrainer, in the NYC & NYC Metro areas since 2002. Work with thousands of dog owners & their dogs, & shelter & rescue dogs. Active volunteer in dog shelters and rescues (rescues being "no kill" and shelters being municipality-run urban shelters that can and do euthanize dogs). AllExperts volunteer in "Dogs, Category 701" and "Dog Training" and "Canine Behavior" since 2006. When you submit a question, please make sure it's being submitted in the appropriate category as I volunteer in two different categories. Make sure you agree to the Virtual Contract (the instructions I outline for question submissions) and agree to read and rate my response when I answer in the body of your question. I make donations to various animal non-profits based on YOUR ratings. If you don't rate my response, or rate it unfairly, you have just denied a dog rescue org or shelter a donation. Keep that in mind.

Professional Member of APDT for five years Founding Member of Animal Behavior Associates Behavior Education Network Former Board Member of IAABC, appointed by Founder Former Member of IPDTA in Canada Founding member of Behavior Education Network

Chronicle of the Dog (APDT, peer publication, numerous articles) Popular Dog Series magazine, numerous entries AOL in Tonowanda News Morris County News Vermont News Boston NOW New York A.M. Polo Trace Newsletter The Dodo AOL

Counseling Psychology, Caldwell College Animal Science, Rutgers University Master of Arts Degree Permanent New Jersey State Teaching Certification (teach public school and university level) Numerous workshops, lectures, and seminars on dog training and behavior Ongoing self-motivated study in my area of expertise

Awards and Honors
Best Canine Coach Award, 2006, Rondout Valley Instructor's Training Course Society of Illustrators, second place international competition Jellybean Photographics, second place international competition Fashion Institute of Technology "Commitment to Illustration" award

Past/Present Clients
Testimonials from a number of clients appear on my Web site at under "Reviews." My customers include: Puppy owners wanting to get their puppies off to the best start; owners of mature dogs who want their dogs to have more obedience skills; fosters and owners of rescue dogs or shelter dogs; customers with special needs who need to train or retrain their dogs; housetraining and housebreaking; owners who have behavioral issues with their dogs such as house accidents, aggression towards humans, aggression towards other animals, inattentive dogs, unmotivated dogs, overly-exuberant dogs; and, more.

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