No matter whether you have a purebred or a mixed breed dog, many of you have ones that like to chase things small and furry, even if they’re not fast enough to catch them. What we may notice most is that whenever they see something in the distance they may like to chase, they pause, or in doing so, may “freeze” in position and lift one paw, just like a trained hunting dog. Is this instinctual behavior for a Labrador or is it some kind of indicator of his breeding?
Some dogs even lower their front body into what we call a ‘puppy play position” (Puppy “bow”) raising their rear. But not in preparation for play, instead it’s an alert signal just before chasing the prey.
Opinions very a little on this subject. Most dogs have a natural paw lift which they use in all sorts of situations. Some may lift a paw when they’re a little uncertain, for example, or they might lift their paw as a way for you to know they want to be petted. At other times, it seems to be used as a submissive gesture, especially when directed toward the dog’s owner or another dog/animal. The paw lift is also seen in dogs who are looking at something that’s arousing their interest as well.
Some experts explain that a pointing dog is acting instinctively that way, but holds the paw longer than the average, because he’s intensely focused and preparing himself for action. Others claim that behavior has been trained into hunting dogs over the centuries so that when one’s dog spots prey, he freezes and focuses on it hard, giving the hunter enough time to make a shot–and know the direction –and even more.
A dog who had a natural point would have stood a greater chance of being used for breeding in hunting/pointing breeds, so pointing became a natural characteristic of certain breeds of working dogs. Although Labradors are in the sporting breed, there are some sporting breeds that will point, and I have seen my Labradors point, although I don’t emphasize this in my program particularly. But you may see this behavior in your dog, and if you do, you’ll know what it is and know how to respond. During this time it’s really important for dogs to learn “recall” and that is to know their name and to come when called so that if they see something in the distance but there’s something in between them and that object, you can call them back to avoid injury. Or to avoid injury from the animal they are looking to chase.
Whether you believe that it’s purely instinctive or something that owes a little to human interference, the paw lift is seen in almost every dog breed from terriers to toys and Spaniels and Labradors, and even dogs that don’t place a foot on the hunting field. So it seems most likely that training and breeding have adapted an instinctive and natural behavior to a human purpose.