When one dog ‘backs’ another, they are supporting a predatory stalk, continue reading for more on this.
Breeds are more likely to back up their own breed, it is rare to see dogs of different breeds backing each other, although this may happen if they are cross bred.
The collie in the front of this picture, is using another dog as a sheep, he is working or herding the dog. He is lying down in a predatory stalk position. This position allows him to move quickly into a stand and chase forwards or backwards.
The dog behind is backing him up, she will stay at the same distance, but mirror his every move, whether it be left, right, backwards or forwards. Whilst he is still, she will remain motionless. She is a great backing dog adding power to the behaviour of the dog in front. He is unaffected by her presence.
For both dogs, this behaviour takes their full focus, it can be almost impossible to interrupt except by moving the ‘false sheep’, the other dog. They are performing their natural function, their 'job' as collies and their brains are full of dopamine. Dopamine is associated with reward and addiction, this behaviour feels good and they will do it despite risks to their safety or wellbeing.
The dog in front will herd solo, but only in this environment. The backing dog does not herd by herself, she only performs the role of backing.
The dog in the picture below does not have another dog to back her, but she will attempt to herd unknown dogs in all environments. Her behaviour needs to be managed as it worries other dogs, who respond by freezing, barking, trying to escape etc
Herding is about controlling movement. Whilst we typically associate herding with sheep, collies without sheep will try to control the movement of traffic, children, other pets, rain drops. This attempt to control the ‘wrong sheep’ is often mis-interpreted as fearful or reactive, whereas its roots are in frustration at being unable to perform a natural and satisfying function of being a collie. Giving your collie opportunities for safe herding plus teaching what to do in the presence of the ‘wrong sheep’ will resolve this.
The predatory stalk is part of the hunting repertoire, the dog being stalked or herded will feel very uncomfortable indeed, especially if they are on lead or in a small space such as a training class.
This behaviour will often be seen in the park. As another dog comes into view, the stalking dog will lie down, focusing on the approaching dog. The stalk should cause some hesitation in the approach, whilst the intention of the stalking dog can be play – chase or springing, the approaching dog has no way of knowing this, pausing or stopping to assess can be life saving. If the approaching dog is on lead and the owner unaware the natural hesitation might be ignored. The two dogs are put into each other’s space before full assessment has taken place, leading to increased stress which over time can result in fearful barking or ‘reactive’ behaviour. Learning how to read your dog’s reactions and back them up with appropriate body language and response of your own will reduce the anxiety and accompanying reactive behaviour.