For those of us that want to ensure our dogs are well socialized throughout the puppy years and into adulthood, knowing how dogs politely greet one another is important information. It helps us keep our dogs safe, secure, and happy when faced with the unknown. So how do we know when our dogs are greeting one another in a healthy way?
In this blog, I'm going to go over some various dog-to-dog greetings, what they look like, and what is behind the physical information our dogs are giving us when engaging in good greeting behavior.
Take a look at the two dogs in the center of the attached picture. The ears are drawn back and relaxed. The lips are long in the muzzle of both dogs. And the eyes are partially closed (squinting). Their tails are waving gently to and fro, and not held straight up in the air or down between their back legs - they're at a sort of half-way position. You'll notice (and this is important) that the dogs are not directly in front of one another. Instead, they are slightly off-side to ensure there is no misinterpretation of this particular greeting between them. The paw lift on the dog to the right is also indicative of a friendly hello!
This sideways greeting is both polite and friendly. Everything here is as it should be. The dogs are not in a face-to-face or head-on position. The eyes are narrow, and they are not staring one another down. The tails (though quite short) appear relaed. Ears are low and relaxed, as are the jaws on both dogs. There is no tension in body, face, or movement. This wonderful body language indicates that neither dog is threatened by the other and represents a healthy, happy same-species greeting.
The picture to the left is something a little different. Notice the rounded back on the smaller dog, and the face-to-face greeting between them both. The smaller dog has tail tucked between the legs, indicating insecurity about the larger dog whose posture is much more direct. Chances are this scenario won't result in any reactivity from the smaller dog, but it is quite obviously not comfortable with the situation. Also notice the position of the leash on the small dog, up and over its head. The dog has no room to move, or anywhere to go. This lack of autonomy can also be part and partial to the discomfort the small dog feels.
There's no getting around it. Having a solid understanding of the body language our dogs use to communicate with one another and with us is a critical aspect of being a good dog owner. Ensuring our dogs not be overwhelmed by the social situations they find themselves in, and not forcing them to engage in activities they are clearly uncomfortable with, are important to the development of a well-rounded, secure animal. Watch your dog, listen to the cues he is giving you. You may find that your dog tells you more than you ever realized, while never saying a single word.
A dog in a stalking posture is an amazing thing to watch. Indicating a dog in predator-mode (and yes, all dogs are predators in some sense), what each dog does after the stalk is unique and individual. Stalking has a few physical and behavioral components that I'm going to outline below, so you know when to recognize stalking in your dog. Keep in mind, stalking can be used for hunting and for play.
Once your dog has chosen his target, you may see one or all of the following:
The Point. Your dog becomes perfectly still and focuses his eyes on the target. The head is up, the tail is up, and often a paw is lifted as well. Pointing will usually happen at the outset of a stalk, and some dogs don't point at all. This is an upright position. Look for prolonged stillness here before your dog goes into motion. This is usually the first indication of stalking behavior about to begin.
The Approach-Stalk. The pace is slow, deliberate, and measured. Every step is carefully calculated and gingerly alighted upon. The body is held close to the ground, and the head is low and level with the body. For some dogs who are particularly dramatic about it, it will appear as if they are crawling along the earth.
The Motionless Stalk. The dog freezes in place. The head and tail are down, and the ears are up and rotated forward. The body is often low to the ground, even so far as the belly is brushing along the earth.
Once in stalking mode, your dog is likely to move through these three positions until he is close enough to take a charge at the object of his focus. Key here is to keep an eye on your dog's mouth when engaged in stalking behavior. Is it open or closed? In a "soft stalk", the mouth is usually open and relaxed. The closer the dog gets to the "prey", the more the mouth will close. It may or may not open again at the end of the stalking sequence just before the dog grabs his prey. You can determine if your dog is more "serious" about the stalk if the tail is quite low. If the tail is high, your dog is indicating some playfulness and lightheartedness.
Stalking is a natural, normal behavior for dogs. Learning how to recognize it before and as it is happening lends us a deeper understanding of what stimulates and interests our dogs. This knowledge can only lead to us being better educated, better prepared dog owners and handlers.
Camille Salter is the founder of All Dogs Toronto and a certified, knowledge-assessed dog trainer (CPDT-KA). She is the author of two books on dog behavior: Pandemic Puppy, Decoding the Dog Park, and the Big Book of Dog Training.