You walk into the room and find your pup just staring at a wall. Or, you’re on a walk with your four-legged companion and then they suddenly stop and stare. This might not be normal for a human, but is it normal for a dog? Should you be worried? The behavior could be normal or not; it all depends. Here are some things you should know to assess your pup’s behavior.

1. Pointers: That’s Normal

Pointers are a handful of dog breeds that were bred to help human hunters spot prey. In order to be helpful, they needed a way to point out the prey to their human. So, they developed a behavior where they stop, stare, and use their whole body to “point” to the prey. If you have one of these dogs, you’ll quickly see the pattern in this behavior and know it is nothing to worry about.

2. Aging Dogs: Cognitive Decline

Unfortunately for older dogs, sometimes pointing is a sign of cognitive decline or another health issue. Dogs who are confused may stare off into space, particularly at walls. There are other signs of cognitive issues and especially of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS) that you and your vet can look for, including disorientation, odd sleep, relieving themselves in the house and unusual interactions with people.

3. Any Dog: Sensing Something

While humans have great vision, dogs have us beat in hearing and in smell. There are many noises and smells that dogs can pick up on that we remain ignorant of. If your dog is staring at seemingly nothing, they may actually be taking a moment to listen to something you can’t hear or memorize a scent. Maybe a neighbor has turned on a new appliance, or maybe there is a bug in your walls. Either way, this staring episode should be short-lived.

4. Any Dog: Other Health Issues

There are other health issues that staring may implicate. One of the major possibilities is a stroke. Just as a human might stare off when suffering a stroke, a dog may too. Seizures may also present as unusual staring episodes. Both strokes and seizures may not have other symptoms, at least not at first, so if you notice staring episodes in your dog it is wise to call the vet.

5. Compulsive Behaviors

Dogs may suffer from disorders that cause them to perform compulsive behaviors, much like a person with OCD may need to check a light switch multiple times. It is rare, but a dog may develop staring as a compulsive behavior. If so, a trainer may be able to help you with this behavior, or you may choose to see it as harmless.

When In Doubt, Call the Vet

While staring isn’t always a serious issue, it certainly can be a major health problem. If you’re not sure whether your dog’s staring is okay, but you’re concerned, trust your gut and call your dog’s vet for professional advice.