Dog owners often think their dogs are pushy or impolite when they turn their backs to them, sometimes even pushing them. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
A hip nudge is a behavior a dog shows when it nudges another with its hip or rear end. Dogs often use this sort of behavior towards people, typically during greeting ceremonies when we show the dog passive friendliness by crouching down to it. The dog will walk towards us and turn round. Then, it will either nudge us gently with its hip or rear end or stand passively with its back turned to us.
This dog shows a half hip nudge, still a sign of friendliness. Both human and dog are relaxed and show their peaceful intentions and that they trust one another (photo by Lisa Jernigan Bain).
The hip nudge functions as a pacifying behavior. It signals friendliness. By turning its back to us, the dog shows that it doesn’t intend to attack—it turns its teeth away. At the same time, it shows that it trusts us.
Dogs use the same behavior though modified, during mating rituals where the male nudges the female.
I described this behavior for the first time in 1987, in the original edition of “Dog Language,” after having spent several years observing, photographing and filming dogs (Canis lupus familiaris), wolves (Canis lupus lupus) and foxes (Vulpes vulpes).
Between dog and wolf, there are only small differences, which we can almost characterize as dialects. The fox is a different story, although displaying many behaviors common to the other two, probably because it is not as social as its cousins.
Featured image: The hip nudge functions as a pacifying behavior. It signals friendliness (illustration by Alice Rasmussen from “Dog Language” by Roger Abrantes).
Learn more in our course Ethology. Ethology studies the behavior of animals in their natural environment. It is fundamental knowledge for the dedicated student of animal behavior as well as for any competent animal trainer. Roger Abrantes wrote the textbook included in the online course as a beautiful flip page book. Learn ethology from a leading ethologist.