Among the variety of odd things dogs do, a dog walking in a U-shape is one of those behaviors that make us wonder what on earth may be going in Rover's mind. As with any odd behaviors in dogs, it's always important to evaluate whether the behavior is one of those things dogs do in certain specific contexts or if perhaps it's a behavior that may stem from an underlying health problem and that therefore warrants a trip to the vet. As usual, behaviors that are unusual for a specific dog, and that start out of the blue, should raise a red flag.
A Greeting Behavior
Some dogs will curve their bodies when they are greeting you such as in the morning or when you come home from work. With the head and butt facing you, ears back and tail wagging, your dog is likely celebrating your return and letting you know you're special.
This U- shape walking is just temporary and in context with these greetings and other happy moments. At other times, the dog walks normally.
Why does the dog assume this typical U shape? Most likely it's the dog's way to present both his face and anal area for inspection as a sign of friendship or in more technical terms, a willingness to engage in affiliative behavior.
As we have seen in a previous article, dogs engage in different dog greeting behaviors, and often these entail mouth and rear end investigations.
A Sign of Apology
Dogs cannot tell each other "excuse me" or "I am sorry" the way we do. Instead, they must rely on their body language to prevent misinterpretations and potential conflict. Well-socialized dogs are often pretty good in resolving conflict, sending and acknowledging messages that have a pacifying purpose and show an intent to not cause harm.
It could therefore happen that an incident takes place that could potentially appear as a challenge and lead to misunderstanding, when it is not. In this case, the dog may adopt active appeasement signals to prevent possible conflict that could lead to aggression. A dog may also assume such signals with the owner upon noticing signs of the owner being upset or angered.
Walking around in a U-shape, C-shape or banana shape may be therefore a dog's way to send an "apology" or calm down another dog or owner. Typically, the dog approaches in a crouched posture with the ears back and tail low and between the legs (Shenkel 1967).
The tail wag may involve the whole rear end area. If with another dog, the dog may also nudge his muzzle towards the other dog's face and give several brief licks geared toward the mouth or lips. According to Shenkel these appeasing signals are reminiscent of the days when dogs were young pups engaging in infantile food- begging behaviors.
A dog who in walking in a U- shape or a dog walking in a curved C-shape can sometimes be suggestive of a medical problem. For example, a dog who walks curved may be experiencing back problems, such as IVDD, a progressive deterioration of the discs in the spine, but it could also be a sign of a dog with some digestive issue or even gland problems.
If your dog is suddenly walking in a U shape with an arched back and curved body and it doesn't seem like it's part of greeting behavior or an appeasement signal, please see your vet to determine if there may be something medically going on. Dogs can be quite stoic in not showing signs of pain, and the only signs of dog pain we may see at times is limping or an unusual posture.
"When a dog arches the back the way your dog is doing is because of pain either in the abdomen (belly) or in the back (pinch nerve or pulled muscle)"~ Dr. Peter
- Schenkel R. 1967 Submission: its features and function in the wolf and dog. American Zoologist 7. 319-329
- Aggressive Behaviors in Dogs, James O' Heare, 2007 Dog Psych Publishing Ottawa Canada p 86.
- A vet examines a dog in New York, Archivist1174 - Own work, Photo of New York State Assemblyman Dr. Stephen M. "Steve" Katz at the Bronx Veterinary Center.CC BY-SA 3.0