Humans are lucky to have dogs that are smart, intuitive, and can learn a plethora of verbal commands. But, even though they can even learn to understand and remember names, dogs still have a very different and unique way of communicating with other dogs.
Furthermore, while a behavior like crouching or laying down may look like the same thing to humans, to dogs it can communicate several different things depending on their body language. Is their body relaxed or are their hackles up? Are they staring uncomfortably hard at the other dog, or is their butt slowly moving into a play-bow?
So what exactly is going on when your dog crouches when they see other dogs? Why does your dog lie down when they see other dogs?
Your dog crouches or lays down when they see other dogs most likely because are initiating play. A crouch or playbow is dog language for initiating chase or rough-housing, especially if you have a herding or hunting breed. Some dogs also crouch when they are acting submissive, fearful, or tired.
Most dogs crouch or lay down when they see other dogs because they are trying to play. Throwing in crouches when they have the zoomies makes the purpose of the crouch obvious. However, there are subtle body cues that will help you learn whether your dog is happy and excited laying down when they see other dogs or they are crouching out of fear, submissiveness, exhaustion, or instinct.
Why Does My Dog Lay Down When They See Other Dogs?
Part of our responsibility as pet owners is to be able to read their body language cues that let us know what they are thinking and how they are feeling. Small body freezes, especially in a crouch or down, when a dog is approaching another dog or playing is very normal canine body language. Here is a great guide from Loyola University that can help you picture different body language cues.
But just because your dog crouches when they see another dog does not mean they are trying to play. Not wagging their tail is not their only way to communicate something is not right.
Let’s take a look at what is happening when your dog lays down when they see other dogs, and what sort of cues you should look for to decide whether your dog is being playful, submissive, fearful, or something entirely different.
Reason 1. Your Dog Is Trying To Play
Crouching or laying down when your dog sees other dogs often indicates a play behavior that communicates a lot more than “let play.” Your dog is essentially making themselves smaller than the approaching dog so they know they want to play and are not being aggressive. An aggressive dog will try to make themselves appear bigger, not smaller.
Playing keep away by crouching when they see other dogs before taking off and turning it into a game of chase is a fabulous way for dogs to initiate a play session. Play can become rambunctious and rough as the dogs get more comfortable with each other and their play styles.
Other signs that your dog is relaxed and wants to play besides laying down when other dogs approach include a relaxed body, soft eyes, a slightly open mouth with a lolling tongue, a wagging tail, and of course, a wiggling behind that turns the down position into a play bow!
Laying down is one way for them to take a break and remind each other that they are simply playing, not fighting.
Reason 2. Your Dog Is Being Submissive
Dogs do not only make themselves appear smaller when playing. They might lay down when they see other dogs to appear smaller because they are submissive or uncomfortable with the approaching dog.
While the alpha theory in dog training has been debunked, dogs still show appeasement signals not only to humans and to other dogs by crouching when they see them. Once already in the down position they might flip over to expose their stomach to show they are not a threat.
Besides laying down, other signs that your dog is uncomfortable or showing appeasement when they see other dogs include:
- Turning their head
- Avoiding eye contact
- Tucked tail
- Lip licking
Laying down when they see other dogs show appeasement does not always mean your dog is uncomfortable, but many dogs that are unsure around other dogs will start with appeasement signals. If they start yawning, shaking, or sneezing, the new dog might be stressing them out.
Panting is another way a dog shows they are nervous. So if they lay down while panting or any of the other body language cues mentioned above when they see other dogs, let your dog greet (or not greet) the other dog at their own pace.
Reason 3. Your Dog Is Stalking
If avoiding eye contact translates to appeasement in canine body language, then intense or hard eye contact translates to a dog extremely interested in an approaching dog. Especially if the dog crouches and stares when they see another dog. This dog has now begun stalking the approaching dog in their crouched position.
Whether or not the crouched dog has friendly intentions, stalking, and hard eye contact can make the other dog very uncomfortable. The other dog might show appeasement behaviors or become defensive.
This video shows a dog appropriately tell off a dog that is staring too hard at it.
Whether they are trying to engage in a threatening way or a playful way, a stalking dog does not understand the best way to be around other dogs and is likely over-stimulated.
Dogs that have not been well socialized often do not understand that hard eye contact is not a good way to engage with another dog. Whether their intentions are friendly or otherwise, you should not let your dog stalk other dogs. If your dog likes to pull, stalk, or creep when they see other dogs on the leash, we have put together a great guide to help you walk strong dogs.
Reason 4. Your Dog Is Fearful
We have discussed your dog having poor social skills and coming on too strong when they see another dog, but what if they have not been socialized around other dogs and are laying down because they are fearful?
By crouching to make themselves look smaller, they are also making themselves look less threatening if they are scared when they see another dog.
There are several reasons your dog might flinch and lie down when they see another dog. Dogs that have been under-socialized rescues with unknown pasts, or dogs who have had a bad experience interacting with other dogs will crouch when they see other dogs to make themselves seem smaller and to avoid a confrontation.
If your dog lays down and hides behind you when they see other dogs on a walk, they are likely fearful of other dogs. Other signs your dog is scared of other dogs include shaking, lip-licking, and staring. Be an advocate for your dog if they are scared and remember they do not have to say hi to every dog or person. A fearful dog that is pushed too far might growl, nip, or bite.
Kikopup has a great video taking care of your fearful or reactive dog out into the world.
Reason 5. Your Dog Is Tired
For the same reason your dog might lay down when they are going for a walk when they are tired, they might lay down when they see other dogs because they do not have the energy to interact.
We mentioned earlier that dogs will crouch during play sessions to not only show that they are still playing but to give each other a reprieve and catch their breath. A dog might also lay when they see another dog to let them know that they are too tired to engage.
Signs your dog has been playing or exercising hard include heavy panting, sweaty paws, and laying or collapsing into a relaxed down. This communicates to the other dogs they see that they are too tired to play.
Many dogs have no self-preservation and will play or exercise until they crash into exhaustion. As a responsible dog owner, it is your job to understand your dog’s limits and not over-exercise them, especially in the heat or when they are puppies.
Are Some Breeds More Likely To Crouch When They See Other Dogs?
Some dog breeds are much more likely to crouch when they see other dogs because of instinct. Herding dogs were bred to lay down and stalk livestock and hunting dogs were bred to crouch and stalk prey.
Naturally, these instincts are a part of their play style. Have you ever noticed how dogs like Border Collies and Australian Shepherds like to herd other dogs (or even people)? Usually, they began their play pattern by crouching when they see the other dog, kind of like the border collies in the video below.
Hunting dogs also enjoy stalking other dogs. They instinctively crouch to hide from prey, especially when they are hunting smaller creatures like birds. Laying down when they see other dogs not only is fun for them but helps them practice their hunting skills.
Popular herding and hunting dogs that might instinctively crouch when they see other dogs include:
Australian Cattle Dogs
German Shorthaired Pointer
How To Stop My Dog From Laying Down Or Crouching When They See Other Dogs
A dog who crouches or lays down when they see another dog as an appropriate communication tool to let other dogs know they are playing or taking a break probably does not need a new behavior. This dog has been socialized and understands how to let other dogs know what their boundaries are and how to read body signals from other dogs.
However, if your dog lays down when they see other dogs because they are nervous or scared, or crouches because they are stalking, what are some things you can do to stop this behavior?
Socialize Your Dog
Proper socialization is the best way to build confidence and raise a puppy into a happy adulthood. While the best window for socializing puppies is before 16 weeks, you can help build your relationship with your adult dog by carefully introducing them to new environments, people, dogs, and places.
Socialization does not mean you force your dog into uncomfortable situations. Going at your dog’s pace with praise, treats, and toys will help reinforce a positive connection with new things and faces. They will learn to crouch or lie down when they see other dogs only when it is appropriate.
Remember, you are your dog’s advocate. If there is a situation that is too scary, stressful, or overstimulating for them and they crouch or lay down when they see a dog, it is your job to remove them and help them feel safe.
Teach Your Dog A New Behavior
If your dog was not properly socialized, does not understand other dogs’ body language, or has a very strong instinct to lay down or crouch when they see other dogs, you might want to train a replacement behavior.
Training a different behavior will help your dog disengage and replace the crouching behavior with a new more desired behavior. The more desired behavior is up to you, but it could be tugging a toy, chasing a ball, or looking at you instead of the approaching dog.
Here is a video to help train your dog to look at and focus on you instead of laying down or crouching when they see another dog.
Give Them An Outlet
Unfortunately, the instinct to crouch when they see another dog is so ingrained in certain herding or hunting dogs that it can make it very difficult to replace with a different behavior.
Instead, try giving your dog an outlet for the behavior. You do not need a flock of sheep or train your dog to become a gun dog. There are still a lot of fun dog sports that will give your working dog a mental and physical outlet so they do not feel the need to lie down and stalk other dogs they see. Agility, barn hunt, FAST Cat, rally obedience, and even teaching tricks are some of people’s and dogs’ favorites.
And for those who live in the city and would like to try herding, treibball is a great way to train your dog to herd in an urban setting. As you can see in the video, you do not need a herding dog to be successful and have fun!
A well-socialized dog usually excels at communicating with other dogs whether they want to play or be left alone. Laying down when they see other dogs is a good behavior to let the other dog know whether they are feeling playful, tired, or submissive. Crouching makes them appear less threatening and indicates they want to start a game of chase.
Not every dog wants to play when they see other dogs, and laying down along with other body cues like avoiding eye contact are clues that they want to be left alone.
Some dogs do not understand other dog body language very well. They might get over-stimulated and try to stalk other dogs, especially if they are herding or hunting breeds that innately crouch or lay down.
If your dog lays down and makes uncomfortable eye contact when they see other dogs, try training a new behavior. Replace the unwanted behavior with making eye contact with you, or try more mental stimulation with training dog sports. Even Great Danes can be successful at sports like agility!
As a dog owner, you bear the responsibility to understand canine body language and what it looks like when they are relaxed, excited, overstimulated, or feeling threatened and nervous. Uncomfortable dogs need to be taken out of situations where they lay down or crouch when they see other dogs. Your dog will learn not only to trust you but will know that you will keep them safe.