Does your dog walk up to you, turn his back on you and sometimes even nudge you with his hind leg as though he’s pushing you out of the way? You have probably noticed this behavior and are maybe puzzled by it. In human interactions, if a person turns their back on someone else, this is seen as impolite. Is this the case among dogs as well? A few decades ago, dog trainers interpreted dogs turning their backs on people as a sign of aggression or fear. But new information shows that dogs showing you their back is normal behavior that should not worry you. Over the years, dog experts have gathered data and advanced some theories to explain this behavior. We discuss these theories in detail below.
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The Root of the Behavior
Some people take dogs turning their backs to mean aggressiveness. But this explanation is inaccurate and only stems from people trying to interpret dog body language as they would human body language. But though humans and dogs might have some similar behaviors, the interpretations might be on opposite sides of the social spectrum. For humans, giving someone your back is seen as rude, no matter where you are in the world. Among dogs, giving someone their back means they have good social skills. After years of observing and filming dogs, evolutionary biologist Roger Abrantes says that dogs giving people their back is a dog's way of showing affection. He calls it a hip nudge. The hip nudge is not limited to dog-human interactions. Dogs turn their backs to other dogs during the mating ritual, as an invitation to a potential suitor.
Other possible theories that explain why dogs show people their backs are advanced by certified dog trainer and consultant Sherry Woodard. Her first theory is that your dog is greeting you in the only way he knows how. Dogs greet other dogs by showing their backs. So, they could be doing the same thing with you because they think humans greet each other in the same way. Second, your dog could be itchy or just wants you to scratch him because it feels good. Third, your dog knows that when he offers you his head, you will grab his collar to try to control him. Since you don’t do this with his rear, he will offer you his back because he knows you don’t control him from the rear. Other experts refer to hip nudging as pacifying behavior and a show of trust. When hip nudging is done to other dogs or your guests, it shows that your dog is relaxed and does not intend to attack.
Encouraging the Behavior
You should not discourage your dog from turning his back on you as discouraging the behavior or ignoring your dog when he does this will damage his confidence and cause him to withdraw. He might come to dislike it when people touch him and even react to it with fear or worse, with aggression. When your dog gives you the hip nudge, offer him a scratch on his back or rub his back affectionately. You could also offer him his favorite toy, play with him on the floor or enjoy some couch time with him. All these things will make him feel secure around you and other people and to enjoy being touched. Do not however be afraid to ignore the gesture sometimes if you are too tired and are not in the proper state of mind for play.
If you see your dog giving other dogs his back, do not panic; your dog is not about to get into a fight. He is having friendly interactions with his mates. One thing that Sherry Woodard recommends is spending time with other dogs to help you better understand more about dog interaction and communication. You will see what aggressive behavior looks like and witness trainers using methods like positive reinforcement to teach such dogs to play nice with others. More importantly, you will see that behaviors you thought as strange are common among all dogs.