How Dogs Use Body Posture to Communicate Assertiveness

Updated on July 17, 2019
alexadry profile image

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, former veterinary assistant, and the author of "Brain Training for Dogs."

This guy is pretty confident.
This guy is pretty confident. | Source

Dogs are generally natural conflict-solvers. In other words, they will most likely try to avoid a fight as much as they can without resorting to aggression. In the wild, it takes too much energy to fight when there are more important priorities, such as survival and hunting for food. For this reason, canines, by nature, prefer to use ritualized behaviors in order to solve conflicts. With proper posturing, a dog may show other dogs that he is confident and that they should not try to mess with him.

Some of these postures are similar to a strong handshake. When you meet a person with a strong handshake, you assume they're secure and confident. Same goes with somebody walking with their head up and straight. Others postures are more rude, like a person coming straight up at you and invading your space.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Putting the chin on the shoulders can be rude and something other dogs are not accepting of.Paws on shoulders are also assertive displays that can result in a fight.
Putting the chin on the shoulders can be rude and something other dogs are not accepting of.
Putting the chin on the shoulders can be rude and something other dogs are not accepting of. | Source
Paws on shoulders are also assertive displays that can result in a fight.
Paws on shoulders are also assertive displays that can result in a fight. | Source

How Dogs Use Posturing to Communicate Confidence and Assertiveness

These are postures that could possibly cause a dog fight. These moves are quite assertive and not all dogs are willing to accept them. If you take your dog to the park, you want to be wary of these moves, which may cause trouble. Your swift intervention may prevent a dog fight before it ignites into a dangerous situation.

Standing Tall and Still

Often confident dogs like to stand very tall and immobile upon meeting a new dog. These dogs are simply saying that they feel confident and secure. These dogs will typically keep the ears pricked up and the tail high, often wagging slowly. This dog has no problem giving another dog a direct look.

The posture of this dog is of superiority and will be most likely accepted by submissive dogs; however, some confident wannabes may create problems in accepting any further proof of superiority. Because standing tall is a sign of being superior, this is why some dogs on the leash come off as being overly assertive, especially if you're delivering a leash correction. The leash makes a dog's head position look higher and the dog more assertive.

Teeing Off

Some dogs will take their assertive nature to an extra step, by standing over another dog and placing the chin or paws over the shoulders of the other dog. This behavior is also known as ''teeing off'' and can mean trouble. The term "teeing off'' comes from the fact that when an assertive dog does this, he ends up in a ''T'' position with the dog in a perpendicular 90-degree position in respect to the other.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Humping may be a way to be assertive. Note the Rottweiler's expression of dislike.Paw and head over shoulders
Humping may be a way to be assertive. Note the Rottweiler's expression of dislike.
Humping may be a way to be assertive. Note the Rottweiler's expression of dislike. | Source
Paw and head over shoulders
Paw and head over shoulders | Source


Some owners believe that humping is a sexual behavior, but this is not the case unless you have a female in heat and an unaltered male dog. Despite the myth that dog humping is purely "dominant" behavior, in reality, humping can mean several things. You may see humping in frustrated, aroused dogs. You may also see it in bully dogs.


Some assertive dogs will accompany their posture with piloerection. Piloerection takes place when the dog's hairs from the shoulder to the tail become erect, giving the dog an appearance similar to Halloween cats with their hairs on their backs raised.

Dogs displaying piloerection are often known as having the ''hackles up''. Often, piloerection is used in fearful dogs to make themselves look bigger and possibly scare an opponent away.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2011 Adrienne Farricelli


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    • Cresentmoon2007 profile image


      8 years ago from Caledonia, MI

      I really appreciate you sharing this with me. My dog shows this kind of behavior at times and now I know what she is doing. Thank you so much!

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Farricelli 

      9 years ago

      sfrentz06, piloerection can occur both for fear and aggression..

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 

      9 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Interesting information. i am always looking for a better understanding of dogs,especially my own.

    • Stacy Lynne profile image

      Stacy Lynne 

      9 years ago

      Great article! Very useful and detailed.

    • sfrentz06 profile image


      9 years ago from Sterling Heights, MI, USA

      Interesting information, in our subdivision there is a large dog whose hair stands up on the back of his neck when we walk by. I just avoid him, but I didn't think about that being caused by fear, just thought he was overly aggressive. The assertive posture certainly helps me with my own hyper mut. Thanks.

    • GetSmart profile image


      9 years ago

      This is very good information to know. I am always interested in learning more about animal behavior. Thanks!


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