You and your dog have been pals a long time. You go for long walks in the parks, play fetch with his favorite ball, enjoy car rides with his ears flapping in the wind, and binge watch your favorite TV shows together. You two are the best of friends and you’d never turn your back on each other, figuratively speaking. But literally, you’ve noticed that your dog does. Whenever you sit down, he puts his back towards you. And if you have friends over, he puts his back towards them too. Your dog is well trained and socialized, so why is he giving you and others his back? Is your dog being rude or is it something else?
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The Root of the Behavior
Dogs and humans speak two different languages and messages get confused unless we learn to understand our four-legged friends. When a human turns their back on someone, it’s an indication they don’t want to talk or be bothered and is often considered rude. However, when your dog gives you his back, he is saying something entirely different and, in fact, he could be saying a few things with this behavior. When your dog turns his back to you, he is showing you that he’s friendly and trusts you. In the animal world, turning your back to someone puts you in a vulnerable position. Your dog is trusting that you won’t attack him from behind. When his back is to you, his teeth are farthest from you, which makes it hard for him to protect himself. The great bum rush dogs have when greeting each other is so they can gather information. Dogs sniff each other’s bums upon greeting because for them it is full of information from pheromones. By giving you his back, he’s letting you know he’s open to communication and you’re free to sniff as needed.
Your dog might also have a selfish motive when he gives you his back. Just like us humans, there are places on our bodies we can’t scratch and we go to great lengths to fix that itch. We rub against walls, contort our bodies into crazy positions, or use long wooden spoons to scratch that one spot on our back. Your dog, however, has a better way. He puts his back in front of us and waits. By putting his back in front of you, he is asking politely for a good scratch in that one spot he can’t reach. He has probably rolled around on the floor, not only the carpet and tile but the grass, and he is still stuck. He is trusting you to cure his bothersome itch.
Encouraging the Behavior
This is one behavior that you don’t need to worry about. Most of the time, it is friendly and endearing. You’re one of his pack, a pal, a family member. He wants you as close to him as possible. You guys belong together. And if you could solidify that relationship with a back scratch, that would be great too. Don’t take offense when your dog does this and definitely don’t reprimand him. He’s talking to you in his language and while we don’t have a Dr. Doolittle, most animal experts agree that this is a positive behavior.
Dogs do a lot of things that humans don’t do, like bring you toys as a sign of respect and sniff each other’s waste. Dogs are not meant to act like humans and they don’t know that turning your back is a negative behavior in human speak. When your dog turns his back on you, his social habits are safe and appropriate. If you have a dog who likes your friends and gives them his back upon meeting, encourage your friend to scratch your pup for a moment. If your friend is unwillingly, it’s okay for them to ignore his bum. However, it’s an opportunity for your guest to quickly bond with your dog.
Other Solutions and Considerations
If your dog makes people uncomfortable when he greets them, you can take him to a trainer to learn how to meet new people. The trainer can use commands like “sit” and “stay” to teach him when it is appropriate to come over and when he needs to stay calm. If your dog has his back to you and starts guarding you, you should take him to a trainer because he might be object guarding, you being the object. Other indications of protecting you include barking at passersby, growling when others approach, or demonstrating a stiffened body language, all indicating that he is being protective. While it’s nice to know your dog will protect you, it’s up to you to determine when this is and isn’t appropriate.
Think of your dog’s behavior this way: if he gives you his back, it means he loves you. Appreciate that he trusts you and respects you enough not to attack him, and if you’re so inclined, scratch that spot he cannot reach for him. He will be eternally grateful and will love you even more.