The main reason dogs will stretch their neck and look up is to communicate with you. They are letting you know they recognize you as the leader of the home. However, if there are other dogs around, this behavior could be a way to establish dominance over the other dog. Unless the hackles are raised, this behavior is harmless.
Has your dog ever stood solidly in front of you, stretching its neck and looking up towards the sky?
This is a common pose that many dogs make in their home, but most people do not understand why their canine companions do it. Like many other dog owners, you are constantly wondering: what is going on in their head?
While tail wags and cuddles can give you a general idea, there is one way to better decipher what’s on your dog’s mind: their body language.
There are three primary reasons a dog would stand in the stance with their neck stretched out while looking up.
The first explanation is that the dog is establishing dominance over other dogs in the environment.
Second, the dog could be recognizing that you are providing for their needs and are higher in the hierarchy than them.
Finally, in some rare cases, this pose can indicate gastrointestinal distress paired with obsessive-compulsive behavior.
Continue reading to learn more about the meaning behind why your dog stretches its neck and looks up, along with the different variations of this stance.
Deciphering Your Dog’s Body Language
Dogs communicate with each other and their humans through their body language. By paying attention to your dog’s stance and other movements, you can gain valuable insight into how your dog feels about you, themselves, and other environmental factors.
When a dog stretches its neck and looks up, it may be displaying a sign of dominance towards other animals in the area, as well as demonstrating their confidence. This stance can be seen most evidently when meeting other dogs for the first time or when interacting with other dogs within the household.
Dogs are driven to live in hierarchical systems; they will create one if one is not obviously available. In social settings for dogs, dominant and submissive animals can be determined by looking at body language. The higher the head and more exposure of the neck, the more confident the dog is.
In the home, dogs will try to establish this hierarchy with humans as well. Some dogs will try to sit higher on the couch, or, if there are multiple dogs in a home, will try to dominate the others in some way, such as in play fighting and firm eye contact.
When your dog shows this posture towards you, more often than not, the gesture is done as recognition that you, as the owner, fulfill their needs and are the leader of the household–even if the dog is usually dominant in social situations.
By regularly showing affection, exercising, enriching, and feeding your dog, you are in a leadership role for your dog. Dogs are loyal to those who treat them well; in this case, you are being rewarded for your love and attention with a simple acknowledgment.
If your dog displays this body language of gratitude to you, take it to heart as a compliment.
If your dog adds a head tilt to its extended neck stance, this is often a sign that your dog is listening to you or is actively hearing something in the environment.
This is not aggressive behavior; it is not learned or inherently wrong. This behavior is merely an instinctual reaction to noise in your dog’s environment. There’s a good chance you have seen this dog pose in advertising, as it’s very endearing. The head tilt is a universal sign between species of listening, or at the very least, hearing something in the environment.
When to Be Concerned About Your Dog’s Body Language
As stated above, if your dog stretches its neck and looks up at you, it is a non-threatening display of dominance.
If, however, you notice that your dog frequently raises its hackles (the hair that trails along the back of the neck and along the spine), then there could be cause for concern.
A dog will usually stand tall and raise its hackles when threatened, upset, or ready to attack. In this case, it is best to use caution with the dog because you do not know if they will bite in this state, even if they are your family pet.
If your dog begins to consistently raise its hackles, a consultation with a training expert or veterinarian is in order to protect yourself and your four-legged friend. Dogs in this heightened state are unpredictable, even if you believe you know their true personality.
In that moment, your dog is an animal and will behave instinctually if not adequately trained. Even if your dog is assuming this stance but not growling, there is still the threat of a looming attack.
To avoid any unfortunate events, take the time to research proper training methods or seek the professional help of a licensed dog trainer.
Medical and Mental Issues
In some rare cases, your dog’s neck stretching can be an innocuous sign that there is an internal issue to be addressed.
In a 2014 article titled “Stargazing in a dog: Atypical manifestation of upper gastrointestinal disease,” Poirier-Guay et al. referred to this pose as “star gazing;” their research found that in some cases, this pose is part of obsessive-compulsive behaviors that dogs engage in when there are gastrointestinal diseases at play.
Specifically, the study documented that this star gazing behavior was often engaged in prior to snapping their jaws, another obsessive-compulsive behavior found in dogs that correlated with gastrointestinal issues.
According to the article, star gazing, along with other abnormal behavior patterns, can indicate that a trip to the vet is in place to make sure that everything is running smoothly because of the high correlation between gastrointestinal issues and these somewhat odd, repetitive behaviors.
Should You Take Action?
If your dog stretches its neck and looks, you likely have nothing to worry about. It is a sign of respect and recognition of the hierarchy in your home. Your dog recognizes that you are treating it nicely and will respect you for these just actions. Respect is a two-way street, especially with dogs.
If you notice your dog does this pose after eating, followed by any other obsessive-compulsive behavior, it may be a sign that they are in some sort of gastrointestinal distress.
In that case, consult your veterinarian for their professional advice. Your vet will help you determine if there is anything wrong with your dog, physically and mentally, and plan the best course of action for your canine friend.
If your dog stretches its neck and raises its hackles frequently at you, family members, or other non-threatening people or animals, you should strongly consider seeking a dog trainer to help correct this behavior.
When a dog raises its hackles, it is in an activated mode where they are ready to attack, even if they are not growling. This is dangerous for anyone involved and needs to be curbed immediately, as unchecked aggression in any breed could cause an accident.
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