Dogs communicate with us, and other dogs, through their body language. Perhaps you know that when your dog lays down when you approach, it’s their way of telling you something. But what are they saying?
Why does my dog lay down when I approach him?
There are several reasons why your dog may lay down when you approach them. Some are signs of a good relationship with your pooch, while some are concerning.
Dogs naturally have a pack hierarchy. The alpha is the “top dog”. All other dogs will submit to them.
Next, are the betas. These dogs are submissive to the alpha, but no other dogs. The omegas are at the bottom of the hierarchy. They submit to alphas and betas.
In your home, you should be the pack leader, or alpha. Your dog should not be scared of you, but they should show some signs of submission.
It’s important to understand that fear and submission are completely different. A submissive dog is calm and willing to show respect to the person or dog.
Dogs will often lay down and roll on their back, showing their belly when they are submissive. This is the ultimate “I’m not a threat” gesture. It’s friendly, and there are no signs of fear.
Other signs of submission include peeing when you approach, lowering their eyes or avoiding direct eye contact, and a tail that is held low. They may also lick their lips, or give you kisses.
Now that we know what submission looks like, let’s take a look at fear. A fearful dog usually doesn’t expose their belly. Instead, they will lay on the ground in an effort to appear small or non-threatening.
If their tail is tucked between their legs, this is a sign that they are scared. A submissive dog may lower their ears, but a fearful dog will often flatten them against their head.
They will not make any eye contact, and may yawn or lick their lips frequently. Whining and growling are vocal signs your odg is afraid.
It’s important to note that if your dog is scared of you, it may not be your fault. If they’ve had a bad experience with a previous owner, this can cause them to be scared of you as well.
Yelling or hitting your dog as a means of punishment can cause fear as well.
Some dogs are naturally more fearful than others. If your pooch is scared of many things or people, it may be that they are prone to anxiety.
One reason your dog may lay down when you approach is to get your attention. This is particularly likely if you weren’t paying attention to them.
I had a dog who would literally fall down right in front of me. This meant I would have to stop and pay attention long enough to move around him, at the least.
However, I found it so adorable I couldn’t resist giving him some pets before going on my way.
In this case, your dog loves you and simply wants you to interact with them.
This is something I didn’t understand back when my dog would fall at my feet. I was young, and relatively new to dog ownership. Now I’m older, wiser, and understand my role in the behavior.
If your dog lays down and this works to get your attention, this is positive reinforcement. The behavior gets them something they want, so they will continue doing it.
This is how dog training works. Your dog performs a command, and they get a treat. They quickly learn that one leads to the other, so they will happily follow the command.
It’s easy to unintentionally “train” your pooch with positive reinforcement. Regardless of the initial reason for them lying down, they may continue to do so for this reason.
Show of Trust
Your pooch may simply be saying, “hey, I trust you”. If they lay down on their back, exposing their belly, this is a good indication they trust you.
Dogs will instinctively protect their vital organs. When they show their belly, they are exposing their most sensitive areas. They won’t usually do this unless they know it’s safe to do so.
A Scratch Request
Another reason your dog may lay down when you approach is that they want you to scratch an itch for them. This is particularly true if they are showing you a hard to reach area like their belly, or even their tail.
If this is the case, they may look at you expectantly or move the itchy body part.
They Want to Play
Your pooch may also lay down when you approach as a way of asking to play, particularly if you see the play bow.
The dog will lower the front half of their body to the ground, while their rear is in the air. It’s their way of bowing, and it’s nearly always a way of asking for a play session.
Even if they simply lay down instead of giving you the play bow, they may be asking to play. Some dogs will bark playfully, or roll around on their back as a play invitation.
How to get my dog to stop laying down when I approach him?
If your dog lays down when you approach, it’s not necessarily a behavior you need to change. It can be a sign of them wanting to play, trust, or simply showing respect to you as the head of the household.
However, if they are overly submissive or fearful, you’ll need to work on it. If you’ve accidentally trained your dog to lay down, this can also be corrected.
Stopping Positive Reinforcement
If your pooch is laying down because it gets your attention, the easiest way to correct the issue is to stop paying attention to it. When they lay down, you ignore them.
Eventually, they will realize that the behavior isn’t resulting in a desired outcome anymore, and they may stop laying down.
If your pooch is overly submissive or fearful, increasing their confidence can be very helpful. You can do this by teaching them commands and giving them enough attention and exercise.
If your pooch is very anxious or fearful, you’ll need professional help. Contact an animal behavioralist or your vet.
This wont stop them from lying down. However, it does teach them to get up on cue. To train them to follow the stand command, you’ll start with them in a sitting position.
Hold a treat in front of their nose, and then move it just out of reach. Your dog will naturally stand to follow the treat. As they stand, say “stand” or the command you’ve chosen to use. Then give them the treat.
Once you’ve done this several times, move to the next step. Place the treat in your other hand. Use your empty hand to indicate the standing motion, and say stand.
Once they stand, give them the treat. You’ll need to repeat this until your pooch is reliably standing on command. Do not try it while they are laying down until they’ve mastered it from a sitting position.
Now, you’ll follow the process again. Only this time, bring your dog from laying down to standing.