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.