It’s not an unusual sight: a dog watches another dog walk by, his look is fixated on the dog, then, he lowers his body assuming a stalking posture that mimics the creeping as often seen in predators. Stalking behaviors are sometimes seen more in certain dog breeds than others, but they can be seen in many other dogs. The sight may be funny in certain contexts, but there are cases where the stalking behaviors may be worrisome, especially when there seems to be an intent to harm incorporated in the behavior.
A dog’s stalking behavior can be strikingly similar to that seen in other predator animals we may have watched in some wild animal documentaries. However, nowadays dogs have been domesticated and their natural predatory sequence (eye, orient, stalk, chase, grab/bite, kill/bite, dissect, consume) has been morphed through selective breeding so that they could work with animals without harming them.
Dogs with a history of having high prey drive include those within the herding group. These dogs will stalk, crouch and creep, run and sometimes even nip, but their predatory drive doesn’t encompass the final consummatory phase, explains veterinary behaviorist Dr. Nicholas Dodman.
This of course is important, otherwise more than herding sheep, dogs would be eating them!
Stalking and herding behaviors may be so strong in certain dogs that, if not provided with an outlet, they will seek other ways to redirect it. For instance, a border collie without sheep to herd may stalk and chase people on bikes or running children, explain Emily Weiss, Heather Mohan-Gibbons and Stephen Zawistowski in the book “Animal Behavior for Shelter Veterinarians and Staff.”
Did you know? The behavior of crouching down and leaping in the air can be seen in puppies when they pounce on their toys and then shake them, pretending they are prey. This behavior seems to have an early start. According to dog trainer Arden Moore, it first starts to surface at around 5 weeks of age.
Some dogs incorporate stalking and other predatory behaviors into their play sessions with other dogs. Dogs may stare, stalk, chase, nip, grab, and wrestle in play. They often takes turns playing predator and prey roles.
Rough play is often preceded by a play bow, which is a meta-signal that tells the dog that what comes next is just play.
When it comes to stalking, a dog may stare another dog intensely, start stalking and, then suddenly pounce followed by a game of play biting, wrestling or chase. In these “play ambush” games both dogs playing look loose, bouncy and overall happy.
Stalking may therefore sometimes be appropriate when dogs give frequent meta-signals to communicate their playful intent or when dogs know each other well and are familiar with each other’s play styles (think play mates or dogs sharing the same household).
Stalking though becomes risky when it’s exhibited among unfamiliar dogs. Sometimes the dog who is aware of being stealthily approached (the “stalkee“) may appear somewhat vigilant or worried about the other dog showing a stalking posture directed towards him. He may walk cautiously keeping an eye on the stalker as if he knows he’s a target, and when the stalker pounces, he may just freeze while the other dog sniffs over him or he even may act defensively.
Repeated stalking can become a form of bullying when the dog being stalked appears intimidated by the behavior and hides. For those who frequent the dog park, this is definitely a behavior to keep an eye on.
Sometimes, an intense stare and stalking behavior can be a sign of big trouble when the behavior is exhibited by a large dog targeting a smaller dog or some small, furry pet.
Some sight hounds, may see any hare-looking animals as fair game, and this may sometimes include small dogs, explains David Ryan, a Certified Clinical Animal Behaviourist in the book “Dogs that Bite and Fight.”
Dogs slowly creep towards their target, stalking silently as predatory behavior is usually quiet. If the dog is growling or barking, it’s likely not predatory behavior, The only exception would be if the dog is held back from performing the predatory behavior and starts barking, but this would be from frustration, further points out David Ryan.
“Preparatory behaviors (eg, sniffing, scanning, searching and stalking) belonging to the prey drive system are under the influence of a positive feedback mechanism that makes their performance mechanism that makes their performance intrinsically reinforcing for dogs. ” ~Steven Lindsay
Some dogs may do the whole stalking/hunker down/creeping behavior when they see another dog on walks. This behavior may be frowned upon by other dogs and dog owners as they may not understand whether the dog’s intent is friendly or not.
It is important not to use aversive methods (leash pops, collar corrections, spray bottles, shock collars etc.) to correct this behavior as this can lead to the dog associating the corrections with the sight of other dogs which can lead to further exacerbating problems down the road.
Instead of correcting the behavior through fear or intimidation, it would be best letting the dog know what to do instead. It’s best to guide the dog into performing a more appropriate behavior (eg. watch me) before he sets on the intense stare as this behavior may be difficult to interrupt once initiated for a good reason Patricia McConnell calls it the “locked and loaded” look!). If your dog is showing worrisome stalking behaviors consult with a force-free dog trainer/behavior consultant.
“Dogs that pull on leash often approach other dogs with a lowered body posture (as they put their weight into the leash) combined with “choking” on the leash. This can be interpreted by some dogs as a stalking-like behavior and makes the other dog nervous.”~Lore I. Haug –Veterinary Behaviorist
Just for Fun: What Bored Border Collies Do When They Clock Out
- Pet Place, Understanding Hunting & Predatory Behavior, retrieved from the web on June 26th, 2016
- Animal Behavior for Shelter Veterinarians and Staff, edited by Emily Weiss, Heather Mohan-Gibbons, Stephen Zawistowski, Wiley-Blackwell; 1 edition (July 7, 2015)
- Off Leash Dog Play: A Complete Guide to Safety and Fun, By Robin Bennett, CPDT and Susan Briggs, CKO, RB Consulting; 1st edition (January 1, 2008)
- Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training, Procedures and Protocols, edited by Steven R. Lindsay, Wiley-Blackwell; Volume Three edition (June 15, 2005)
- The Dog Behavior Answer Book: Practical Insights & Proven Solutions for Your Canine Questions, By Arden Moore, Storey Publishing, LLC (November 8, 2006)
- Dogs that Bite and Fight, By David Ryan PG Dip (CABC) CCAB, lulu.com (September 17, 2013)
- Dog Behavior Q and A with Dr. Lore Haug, retrieved from the web on June 26th, 2016
- Blue merle Border Collie pup at 15 weeks starting to use the eye. Photo by Elf, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0
- Border Collie (Roy) en plein travail, Jean-Michel Castelan/Design Madeleine, CC-BY-SA-3.0
Gopal Aggarwal, Dog Body Language: Aggressive Stalking, Flickr, creative commons, CC BY-NC 2.0