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Have you ever watched dogs crouch when seeing other dogs? If so, you may have wondered what this peculiar behavior is all about and what triggers some dogs to do this. You may therefore find it interesting to learn that the behavior dates back to a dog's ancestral history, most likely even prior to being domesticated. This natural behavior was then further refined through selective breeding in certain dog breeds. 

A Look Back in History 

We know that some type of extinct wolf is a dog's ancestor and that wolves and dogs diverged from each other some 15,000 to 40,000 years ago. This means that wolves and dogs share several similarities (99.9 percent of their DNA is the same), although dogs and wolves also have many differences, to the point that many experts claim that comparing dogs to wolves is the equivalent of comparing humans to chimps!

One particular trait that dogs have retained from their ancestors is the tendency to crouch, a behavior that is often seen when dogs take notice of something moving fast their way such as another dog, but it can also be a car, a jogger or a person on a bike. This behavior is likely reminiscent of the older days when their ancestors used to hunt. 

When wolves work together as an entire pack when hunting large prey, they follow a distinct sequence that is referred to as the "predatory sequence". This sequence entails locating and spotting prey animals, stalking and creeping up, confrontation, possibly encompassing a quick spurt towards prey or a chase if the prey takes off, and finally the kill (Zimen, 1981). 

In particular, the function of the stalking and creeping up is to hunt down the prey in a stealthy way, without being heard or seen so that they can afterward make a rush to attack and go for the kill.

A wolf's stealthy move

A wolf's stealthy move

As Seen in Herding Dogs 

Among herding dogs, stalking and crouching behaviors are particularly evident in sheep dogs such as border collies. 

It can be said that border Collies have undergone strong selective breeding for the exaggeration of the "orient >> eye >> stalk /crouch>> chase" component of the canine predatory sequence, while considerably decreasing the confrontation and killing components so that they could work with farm animals without harming them. 

When border collies herd a flock of sheep, they may be therefore often seen eyeing (basically staring at the sheep to control them) and crouching down towards the sheep carrying their head low, hindquarters high, and tail down. 

Just like staring, stalking helps control flocks of sheep because it mimics predatory movements. After stalking, border collies will spring into action employing a variety of herding styles such as rushing to the front of the flock to turn or stop the sheep's movement or gather them into a group so to move them towards the shepherd. 

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Even though many herding dogs are no longer used for herding to the extent of before, the strong instincts to herd are often alive and well in these dogs, to the point of them wanting to eye, stalk and creep up towards anything that moves and captures their attention, and often this includes other dogs, vehicles and people too!

A Matter of Play

Many dogs love to incorporate hunting moves into their play. You'll therefore often stumble upon young puppies and dogs borrowing stalking and crouching behaviors in their repertoire of playing behaviors. If you watch dogs play, you may therefore recognize these behaviors before a dog launches into chasing another dog. 

You may even notice the other dog appearing a bit worried (often playfully!) about the stalking, slow-motion behavior. Perhaps the other dog will lick his lips as he carefully observes the stalking dog or may decide to walk gingerly towards the dog in lowered position as if not sure of what will happen next. Will he be ambushed?

Or perhaps the creeping dog will approach very, very slowly and get closer and closer until a play bow will take place and next follows a game of rough chase. 

Stealthy postures such as crouching or approaching cautiously can also be seen in play 

Stealthy postures such as crouching or approaching cautiously can also be seen in play 

Dogs Crouching Down When Seeing Other Dogs 

If your dog does the whole stalking/creeping behavior upon spotting another dog on walks, consider that this behavior may be frowned upon by both dogs and dog owners due to the fact that they may not understand your dog's intent. Is your dog just wanting to play or is he trying to attack?

In any case, one thing is for sure: this behavior can make other dogs uncomfortable and even defensive. 

Often this form of crouching stems from a herding dog's personality, making them prone to being control freaks. Herding dogs such as border collies can be highly impulsive to the point of being socially inappropriate which can lead to problematic encounters with other dogs. It goes without saying that this behavior should be discouraged so to prevent potential problems. 

Now That You Know....

As seen, dogs have their own reasons for crouching and it may stem out of play or more serious, controlling behavior. Play stalking and crouching is usually nothing to worry about as long as both dogs are having fun and meta-signals are being incorporated to ensure each other it's all play and nothing to worry about. Serious stalking directed at other dogs on walks though can be problematic and often needs to be addressed. Following are some tips. 

  • Keep your dog under threshold. Often this entails giving your stalker distance from other dogs so that he doesn't feel the need to engage in the behavior. Therefore work on finding that sweet spot where he isn't overwhelmed by other dogs being too close and where he's more responsive to your cues. 
  • Scan the environment looking ahead. When on walks, pay close attention to your surroundings and work on maintaining that distance. If another dog is approaching and you cannot give your dog enough distance, make an emergency u-turn
  • Train your dog an alternate behavior to engage in. Since many herding dogs are naturally predisposed to wanting to stare, how about training him to stare at you while walking when another dog walks by? Make sure to add a release cue to inform him when to stop though!
  • Avoid using aversive training methods such as leash pops, collar corrections, spray bottles, shock collars etc.) as this can lead to the dog associating the corrections with the sight of other dogs which risks further exacerbating problems down the road.
  • If you own a herding dog breed, enroll him in some fun canine sports. In particular, herding trials are great as herders get to do what they were bred for, but if there are no sheep in your area, the sport of Treibball (where dogs get to herd large balls) can be equally satisfying. You can also find some herding balls for dogs online that your dog can play with in the yard. 
  • Did you know? 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

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