Over the holiday weekend, my dogs enjoyed daily visits to the dog park. They loved getting to walk in the woods every day and to meet up with some of their old friends and hang out. Daisy is more comfortable exploring when she knows her friends. She knows what to expect from them and she knows they will respect her space.
Going to the dog park can be quite an eye opener for the new dog owner. Not all dogs have doggie social skills or a respect for other dogs’ space. You have to know what to watch for and have an understanding of what is really going on.
I have been known to intervene in situations where I feel a dog is in danger, afraid or in need of a little assistance. I am used to hearing people say “Dogs can work it out themselves.” or “Let them be. They’ll work it out,” but that is not always the case. We as dog owners have a responsibility to protect our dogs and to prevent them from harm. In some cases, that means not going to a dog park at all. In others, it means you need to be aware and know what to watch for in case trouble starts.
The video below was taken at a dog park and demonstrates some of the dog behaviors that every dog owner should not only be aware of, but also be ready to intervene in, if they see it. It’s worth watching if you do not understand dog body language. The commentator does a good job of describing what is going on. I have already shared it with my dog park friends, please feel free to share it with yours.
Troll around on Twitter or Facebook and you’re likely to run across a “cute” child and dog video. I very rarely share them. Why? They make me cringe. Most of the videos you see showing children and dogs together are not what they seem. They are not “cute.”
To a dog owner or parent unaware of dog behavioral signals it can look adorable, but if you know even a little bit about dog behavior, you can see what they do not – most of these dogs are not enjoying the interaction, and in many cases they are being way more tolerant than one would expect. Thank goodness too, because in many cases a dog bite is a death sentence for the dog, even when they were telling everyone with eyes to see that they were nervous or uncomfortable, or felt threatened. To the unknowing owner, they think the attack came out of nowhere, that it was unprovoked, but in truth, this is rarely the case. Most dogs tell you what they are feeling long before they bite.
Recently an online dog-oriented website shared a video of a Golden Retriever and a baby and titled it as “Baby and Golden Retriever share bonding time.” I would have to disagree. What is happening in this video is not bonding. It’s stress and calming signals from the dog, and all the signs indicate that dog and/or baby should be removed from the situation.
What you will see in this video is a series of calming signals. My guess? The dog is stressed by the closeness of the baby, and possibly the fact that the baby has already grabbed its jowls and pulled on his face, and is very much trying to calm himself and ease his stress.
What dog signals did I see?
- Yawning (several times)
- Looking away(several times)
- Avoidance (pretending the child is not there; avoiding the child)
Dog and baby videos just aren’t as cute as people think. You just have to be watching to see it.
Monday night, as I came back into the living room from the kitchen, I noticed Daisy with her head hooked back over the arm of the couch watching me. I was suddenly hit with a pang in my heart. That was something Aspen (her doggie sister) used to do. She would hook her head over the arm of the couch and cock it back so she could see what I was doing in the kitchen. It was one of those things that always made me smile. It was her “thing”, her quirk, what made her, her. You know what I mean?
Every dog has that “thing” that makes them special to us. That one quirky part of their personality that stands out in our minds. The thing we miss when they are gone.
All three of my dogs have quirky things they do that makes me smile. They are the things that make them each unique and special in their own way.
Cupcake smiles all of the time, barks when Jasper gets excited and loves to steal toys out of Daisy’s kennel, but there are two quirky behaviors of hers that always make me smile. The first is when she goes out for her last potty break before I go to work. When she goes outside, she just barks. That’s it. Oh she’s not barking at anyone or anything. No. She’s barking at the world to let everyone know she is there. “Hello world! Cupcake is here!” It cracks me up every time.
The other thing she does is put her front paws on my lap (when I am on the couch) and smile and waggle her little butt and tail. I just can’t help but smile. I love it when she does this.
With Daisy, it’s that coy look from the end of the couch and the tail thump that follows and the more recent addition of her choosing to cuddle with me. My heart melts every time.
Jasper has so many quirks, I cannot even begin to name them all, but the one thing he does that always makes me laugh is he gives me something I call “the stare.” I never know what he is thinking or what he wants, but he does it all of the time. Sometimes he just stands there and stares at me and I stare back at him. This can go on for several; seconds and sometimes minutes. You would think it would be a bit intimidating to have a dog staring at you, but it’s not with him. It’s like he is deeply contemplating something about you and hasn’t quite figured it out yet. It’s quite amusing to see.
I love my dogs. I love their quirks and everything that makes them who they are.
What quirky things does your dog do that make you smile? What funny behavior so they do that makes you smile?
Despite what we often may think, dogs can be pretty complex creatures. They speak a different language than we do, they have quirks in their personalities that can make them quite unusual sometimes (like us humans) and they often display anxiety and discomfort in ways we don’t.
I’ve written plenty about their behaviors and what they mean, but one of the things I am still learning about is dog thresholds. According to Mardi Richmond at the Whole Dog Journal, a threshold is “when your dog crosses from one emotional state to another.” They might be happy one second and concerned or stressed the next. Often the stress or anxiety comes from an outside trigger, like seeing another dog or a person or even seeing a new object in their environment.
Although I had plenty of experience with dogs crossing thresholds at the animal shelter, I don’t even think I knew what the term meant back then. I just knew that some dogs would go from being relaxed and happy to lunging and barking whenever they saw another dog.
What I didn’t know then, but know now, is that the term can also be applied to dogs who go from relaxed and happy to shutting down or freezing in fear. They might be totally different emotional states, but the same thing is happening. They are crossing a threshold.
In the early days, Daisy had a low threshold for nearly everything in her environment – the car, the house, wood floors, people, noises, sudden movements, and me. Any of one of these could put her into a fearful state, but put two or more of these together and you could guarantee she would pretty much shut down, going into a nearly helpless state. Have you ever seen a dog get a vacant, empty look in their eyes? That was Daisy in the early days.
These days, Daisy has a much higher threshold on a whole lot of things in her environment, but I also know that a combination of any of her triggers could still cause her to shut down again. It’s something I always keep in mind whenever I am trying to decide whether to bring her along with me to an event or to leave her behind at home, where she will be safe. Most of the time I leave her at home, unless I know I can control the environment for her. I do the same with Cupcake as well. She has a much lower threshold for new people and activities than Daisy, but unlike Daisy who just shuts down, Cupcake’s first reaction is to flee. I just won’t put her at risk of getting lost again. She is happier at home anyways.
Understanding dog thresholds has taught me how to keep my dogs safe, but for other people it may be how to keep them calm. Knowing what they are and how they work can go a long way towards improving your relationship with your dog. I know it has with mine.
I don’t know if you’re interested, but I found a great video that explains a little more on thresholds and something called “trigger stacking.” It is really worth watching if you want to understand your dogs better.
We humans often make assumptions about our dogs.
“He ate my shoes because he was mad that I left him at home.”
“She got into the trash because she was trying to get back at me.”
“He was bad dog because he wouldn’t listen to me.”
“She looks guilty, therefore she must have done it.”
But I wonder how often we actually take the time to examine the reasons behind the behavior?
This past week, I had the misfortune of having someone make some unflattering assumptions about me. It was not a good feeling. I felt hurt and embarrassed and yes, guilty, even though I had no reason to feel so. I think what bothered me most is that no one bothered to ask me what had happened or why. They just assumed I was guilty.
As I tried to come to a better understanding of how and why something like this could happen, I started thinking about how applicable my situation was to what happens to dogs – an assumption of guilt without seeking to understand.
Because they can’t tell us what happened or because we don’t have all the knowledge and skills to understand them, we tend to make a lot of assumptions about our dogs. We assume the one looking most guilty must be the one who got into the trash or destroyed our favorite pair of shoes. We assume that a dog acting out must be a just a bad dog or be mentally unbalanced. Rarely, do we stop to observe the root cause of a dog’s behavior to better understand why they are behaving a certain way.
Most people assume a dog looks guilty because they ARE guilty, but what is often missed is how much our behavior impacts our dog’s behavior. It is often a reflection of what WE are doing. Studies now show that tone of voice and an owner’s behavior has a lot more to do with a dog’s guilty look than actual guilt.
A dog who bites may be a bad dog in our eyes, but he could just as easily be reacting to a sound or another trigger in his environment that makes them fearful and stressed. (A friend recently shared a story of a dog that turned into “Cujo” whenever she heard a common sound in the house. Turns out the dog had started to associate the noise with people coming up behind her and scaring her. She could no longer hear them.)
Sometimes a physical impairment can also cause a dog to behave oddly. I’ll never forget the story one animal rescuer told me about a dog she fostered and later adopted. The dog had been poorly treated by his previous family because they thought he was stupid and stubborn and because he wouldn’t listen to their commands. Imagine her surprise when she took the dog in to foster and discovered he was deaf! The owners had never taken the time to observe his behavior long enough to realize he could not hear them. They had just assumed he was a bad dog – for four years!
As I look back on my experience last week, I can’t help but feel fortunate. As a human being, I have the ability to address my issue directly. I can use my voice to share how a person’s assumptions were wrong. I can use emails and paper documentation as evidence.
Dogs, however, only have us to rely on. I may not have always done so in the past, but I intend to be a much better steward of my dog’s trust. When I find myself assuming, I am going to stop and observe instead. There’s so much more that gets accomplished when one asks questions first, don’t you think?
A co-worker of mine just returned from a two-week trip to Europe. She spent a good amount of time in Finland and Sweden, and some time in Belgium and elsewhere. Of course, she had a great time (who wouldn’t?) and saw lots of great sights. but there was one thing she said she noticed above all – the huge number of well-behaved dogs walking with their owners. She said she saw dogs everywhere she went and she was amazed at how well-behaved they were. No jumping up on people. No begging for food. No barking uncontrollably.
It seems she isn’t the only one to notice this either. Scout’s mom posted this on Dogster in 2006:
My husband and I took a trip to Paris and Germany and noticed the oddest most amazing thing. EVERY SINGLE DOG WE SAW… that’s right EVERY SINGLE one in the big city in Paris, in the small towns in Germany were well-behaved and walked behind their furless ones! It was so weird. It was like all the dogs were sedated! They didn’t pull on leashes, they didn’t look at people, they didn’t beg for food at the cafes and most of all- none of them were shy! Some were even off leash in Paris walking next to their furless ones- even stopping at the cross walk!! My husband and I took so much video of these dogs because we just couldn’t believe it! All kind of dogs too- big dogs, little dogs, all kind of size dogs. Has anyone else seen this in Europe? It makes me want to send Scout to Europe for training! We can’t figure out why- maybe because their lifestyle is so different? Different quieter home life? It was so cool!
There were lots of interesting responses to Scout’s mom’s question. Some thought it was because dogs in Europe were allowed to go everywhere with their owners and therefore had to behave better. Others thought it was because they got out more than American dogs and got more exercise than American dogs. I suspect there is truth to both of these theories, but it seems like there must be more to the story, so I am asking you, my readers, for some input.
Are dogs in Europe better behaved than American dogs? If so, what makes them appear to be better behaved than American dogs? What behaviors do you see with dogs there that you don’t see here?
Do you live outside Europe and America? How would you describe how the dogs behave in your country?
So how much did you observe your dog this weekend? Other dogs? Did you catch anything interesting? Some new behavior you’ve never seen before?
I had the opportunity to do a lot of observing this past weekend. The dog park was a busy place. So much so that it was almost impossible not to observe something. It also made concentrated observation time difficult because there was SO much going on.
I wish I had taken more videos of dogs that I could observe later. It would be fun to see what things I missed (quite a bit I am sure!). Since I have no slowed down videos of my own to share, I thought I would share a great one I found a couple of weeks ago. This video was posted on YouTube by Gentle Canine. It’s another great example of dog body language. What I love is that Kirsten (the dog trainer) gives a more detailed rundown of the behaviors displayed, and what they mean, on her website. I would encourage you to check it out.
As you watch the video ask yourself these questions…
- What behaviors do you see?
- What stands out?
- Did you notice a dog freeze?
- What were the positions of each dogs’ ears?
- Were the dogs leaning forward or backwards?
- Was there lip-licking observed? What stood out the most to you?
- What did the husky mix do at the end of the video? Why?
Curious what all this means? The Whole Dog Journal has a Canine Stress Dictionary listing all or most of these behaviors and how to interpret them. I highly recommend it.
This recent story, “Dogs Remember as Well as Humans”, caught my eye as I was perusing the internet the other day.
A recent study out of Hungary has found that our dog’s memory may be just as good as ours. Go figure!
Researchers tested eight adult dogs for their ability to imitate humans, in this case their owners, and their ability to remember the imitated behavior 10 minutes later. In this case, owners walked around a bucket and rang a bell and their dogs were tested to see if they could imitate them, then be distracted with plan and other activities, and come back to try it again.
What they found was that similar to humans, dogs have something called declarative memory.
“Declarative memory (“knowing what”) is memory of facts and events, and refers to those memories that can be consciously recalled. It is sometimes called explicit memory, since it consists of information that is explicitly stored and retrieved…”
They not only could imitate their owners, but they could remember that behavior later and repeat it. It’s quite an interesting revelation.
Of course , I couldn’t help but think about one very famous dog who demonstrated both of these capabilities - Skidboot.
Do you remember Skidboot? He was the dog who could do an amazing number of tricks just by watching his owner do it first. He appeared on Oprah and other entertainment shows throughout the 90′s. Even though he passed in 2007, I still remember being amazed by his ability to comprehend what his owner asked of him. I have included a couple of videos on Skidboot below.
It makes me wonder if anyone else has noticed this type of behavior in their own dogs. Have you ever had your dog learn from imitating you? And if so, have they come back later and repeated it?
Last year a friend shared a great video featuring a dog and a vet tech. I’ve been searching for it for a while because I though it would be a great one to share with you. It is a great example of how a dog can be speaking to us, but we may not be listening (or in this case, seeing) what they are telling us.
I also thought it might be a great way to test your knowledge on dog behavioral cues.
I confess that watching it again a year and a half later showed me just how out of practice I have become. I missed a quite a few the first time around. Take a look and tell me what you see. (Note: No one is hurt in this video).
Not sure? I’ve posted a list below. Feel free to read the list and then watch the video or watch the video, check the list and watch the video again. It’s amazing what we miss isn’t it?
Just out of curiosity, did anyone cringe like I did as you neared the end of the video? Do you know why? I think I know what made me cringe, but I’m wondering if anyone else caught it. (PLEASE KEEP YOUR COMMENTS RESPECTFUL. THANKS!)
Behavioral Signals seen in this video
Lip licking (hard to see)
Barking and increasing distance by backing up
Looking away several times
Stiff body posture
Stillness or freezing suddenly
Mouth closed tightly (a relaxed dog would have a slack jaw)
Hard stares (this is the one that got me at the end)
At no time does this dog look relaxed. To someone who doesn’t know what to look for, it may look like he is going back for attention, but everything else about his body posture and signals says differently.
So what is this dog telling us?
Based on what I see, I think he is nervous and uncomfortable, with both the petting and the close proximity of the vet tech. He cannot distance himself easily due to the small confines of the room. All his signals tell us he wants her to back off, but when that doesn’t work, he lets her know in a more pronounced way.
I have a really great book to share with you tomorrow, but today I thought I would share a video that my friend Kate ( certified dog trainer) shared this past weekend. It features a dog and a toddler.
No. It isn’t one of those videos that makes you cringe as you wait for the inevitable bite to occur (although I have seen many of those). It’s actually a great example of what to look for when you have a dog around children. It’s a demonstration of dog behavioral signals that most parents (and owners) miss.
Fortunately, the trainer taking the video knows what to look for and takes the time to slow it down so you can see what her dog is telling her about his comfort level around the toddler, her niece.
While many people might think this dog is “fine” around children he is actually telling her, and those around her, that he is not “fine.” Knowing what to look for is SO VERY important. I hope you will watch it and then share with other dog owners and parents.
Having been bitten twice as a child – both times in the face, I cannot stress how important it is for parents to supervise their children when around dogs. Even more important is parents (and dog owners) educating themselves about what a dog is telling them when around their child.