It’s been a while since I’ve done a dog body language post. I love doing them, not only for me (because I learn just as much as you from them), but also because I think they are a great way to remind us all that watching is not the same as seeing, REALLY SEEING. Dogs are communicating with us nearly all the time, we just don’t always see it.
I asked my friend Julie if I could share this video she made of a stray dog that she was assessing for a rescue group. I thought it was a great example of dog body language.
Like all my past posts on dog body language, I ask you to focus on the behavior displayed and less on your interpretation what Jane is feeling.
Focus on the specifics of her behavior. Where are her feet? Her head? Her tail? What movements does Jane make? What facial movements does she make? How is her body turned? All of these things mean something, but it takes seeing them first. As always, I have listed my own observations and interpretation below. (You’ll first see Jane about 50 seconds into the video.)
Due to length of the video, I chose to observe the first 3 minutes and 14 seconds of the video and the last-minute and 10 seconds. Feel free to watch the whole video, and Jane’s body language with the other dog in the video, and share your observations.
Did I miss anything? Feel free to share.
My observations of Jane:
In first 3 seconds of the video…
- Head is down
- Ducks down and away from Julie as leans towards her
- Tail is tucked
First 3 minutes and 14 seconds
- Ears move to back of head
- Tail is tucked
- Head is lower than shoulders
- Turns head towards Julie as she pets her head and then away again
- Stiff body
- Back legs are back behind her body (instead of under)
- Glances at Julie as she speaks to her
- Looks immediately away when Julie pats her legs with her hands
- Head is down
- Mouth is drawn tight
- Moves front of body away from lady
- Jane glances furtively around – at Julie and possibly someone else in the room
- Ears move alternately between perked to back on her head
- Moves body further away, as far as the leash will go
- Lip lick as Julie runs hand along top of back and rump
- Looks back at Julie when she says “treat” and then does a lip lick
- When Julie stands up and moves forward to get a treat, Jane takes a step forward with her
- Jane watches the hand with treat
- Ears are back
- She sits as far away as possible after being requested to sit 2 times
- Stands and takes treat
- Chews treat at a distance from Julie
- Tail is tucked
- Leans forward at “Good girl”
- Julie says “Come here” and pats legs
- Jane turns heads towards her butt then stops and turns head back towards Julie
- Moves a step forward and closer to Julie
- Julie pets her head and neck
- she lowers head and lip licks several times
- Jane looks away a couple of times
- Ears at back of head
- Looks at something in the room or towards a sound
- Tail a little less tucked
- Turns head towards Julie for only a second and swings other way towards window
- Ears move between forward and perked to back on her head
- Turns head towards Julie when she says something and leans back slightly when she pets her head
- Tail is tucked
- Body appears stiff
- Leans back and away as Julie lifts her lip flaps
- Body appears smaller and tighter
- Lip lick
- Head is lower and even with shoulders
- Lip lick
- Head lowers further
- Jane glances up at Julie from a lowered position
- Her head twists sideways and up and back with snout facing ceiling
- Her head turns sideways
- Ears are way back on her head
- Tail is tucked under tightly
- Body is stiff and tight
- Head stays turned to the side and away from Julie as she pets the side of her face
- Head turns away from window and Julie and moves further away from her hand
- Lip lick
- Nervous glance at woman and then away towards window
- She is led forward
- Glances nervously at woman and away
- Ears on back of her head as Julie touches her leg and lifts her foot
- Glances quickly at Julie
- Tail is tightly tucked
- Mouth is tightly drawn
- Glances at Julie a few times
- Lip lick as Julie stands
- Turns head towards her rump as Julie touches her there
- Blinks several times
- Ears back on head
- Lip licks
- Pulls away as woman leans over her body and lifts her opposite foot
- Lip lick
- Tucks body in tighter
- When Julie moves away to sit down, Jane turns head all the way back towards her back-end
- Moves head and body sideways to Julie
- Turns head back towards Julie and moves it closer to her
- Julie stands and Jane lip licks and appears to pant
- Stops and turns head towards back-end as Julie scratches and pats her butt
- Turns body completely away and around
Last minute and 10 seconds
- Jane is now at the furthest distance from Julie as the leash will allow
- She looks towards the door
- Ears are perked and forward
- She turns back towards Julie when called
- She turns her body towards Julie and then away as she circles around and back
- There is a sound and Jane turns towards it
- Her body appears taller and head is up
- Ears are forward
- Tails is wagging
- Body looks more relaxed
- She turns back toward Julie readily and then looks back at the noises off camera
- Tail wags
- Turns back towards Julie and lip licks as she scratches her butt
- Tail wags quick and low
- A couple of lip licks
- Body appears to be more relaxed
- Head is further away than back-end, but body appears relaxed
- Turns back towards Julie as she pats and scratches her butt
- Loose body
- Turns back towards Julie and nudges her
- Tail wagging
- Engaged, tail wagging
- Ears perked, looks towards door and noises off camera
- Body and head are taller and appear more relaxed
- Appears more engaged with Julie and looks back to her often
My summation: The lip licks, tucked tail and creation of distance at the beginning of the video are all signs that Jane is nervous and uncomfortable. She tries to put as much distance as she can from Julie. She is not comfortable being touched, but is very tolerant of it, even though she is extremely uncomfortable. She tries to disengage, but she is not fearful enough to be shut down since she is able to take a treat. I thought she was an extremely tolerant dog, especially when Julie touched her feet and legs. At the end of the video, Jane is much more relaxed and engaged. She seems to enjoy the butt scratches much more at the end of the video than she did at the beginning. Her body appears to be much more relaxed and loose. She turns readily towards Julie and is intrigued by her environment. She even appears to turn back for more butt scratches.
Jane seems to be a very nice dog. I am so glad she made it into a no-kill shelter. I hope she finds her new home soon.
The radio host shared that he had been at home napping with his dog when the dog moved and then sat up and stared at the closet and started to growl. He stayed focused on the closet (and growling) and got up and ran towards the closet. Then suddenly, just before he reached the closet, he came to a dead stop, looked up at the ceiling and then turned around and looked just above the radio host’s head, and growled. The radio host could not get his attention by calling his name and eventually went and got him and brought him back to the bed with him. Of course, he was totally freaked out (as was I!). What the heck did his dog see? Was his house haunted?
When Aspen was alive, she used to do something similar. We would be sitting on the couch watching TV when she would suddenly turn her head towards the entry area near my front door and stare. Sometimes she would even sit up and stare at the upper corner by the front door. I often couldn’t distract her from it either.
There is something freaky about a dog seeing something you cannot see. I cannot tell you how much that used to freak me out. I now think it may have been the front screen door moving in the wind, but it definitely was something that used to set me on edge.
Now that Maggie is here and she too looks all over as if something is moving along the ceilings, I am reminded of Aspen and that familiar tingle along the back of my neck.
Has your dog ever done something like this before? Does your dog act as if someone is not there?
I would love to hear your stories.
If there is one thing that drives me nuts at the dog park it’s dogs mobbing the front gate, the gate through which dogs enter and exit. There is so much energy at that front gate. The dog coming in is excited and amped up and the ones inside are excited and amped up and become even more so when they see another dog coming in who is in the same state.
When there is a mob by the front gate, I wait for the other dogs to leave. If they don’t, I ask their owners to come and get them. If that doesn’t happen, I leave and go to another gate or leave altogether. I won’t put my dogs at risk for an attack.
Last week I witnessed two dogs start to fight after an excited setter entered the park and several dogs mobbed the gate. The owner really should have waited until the dogs had moved away or until the owners moved their dogs away physically, but she didn’t. She probably wasn’t aware of the dangers in not waiting. As was expected, the excited setter was attacked by one of the dogs on the inside of the gate as soon he entered. And as the two wrangled a bit, several other dogs decided to join in. Fortunately for the dogs, the owners were close enough to intervene and did so quickly, but for a second there I thought it was going to devolve into something more.
Entering a dog park can be dangerous if an owner is not aware and does not plan ahead on what they will do if there is a mob at the gate. Given my recent experience, I thought it might be good to share another video from Great Dog Productions showing just such a situation at a dog park. I am also including the slow motion version of the same video so you can see how quickly things can turn ugly. Watch as some of the other dogs join in after a black and white dog jumps the doodle that is entering the park.
Here is the slow motion version of the same video. Notice how the Lab is pushed away from the gate, but quickly comes back when the black and white dog goes after the doodle. Also notice the little Westie who started to join in. Watch the body language of the doodle. How is he feeling right about now? Scared? Nervous? You bet.
I don’t believe that dogs do something out of vengeance or anger.
My dogs are not looking to get back to me for some transgression.
So when I did this…
I don’t think my dogs collaborated together and sought revenge when they did this…
Instead I think…
Crime of Opportunity (I dropped the elf ears when putting them away last night)
I can’t really blame them.
Trips to the dog park have been pretty rare lately. A combination of whole “fall back” time change and the extremely cold temperatures has made it near impossible to get there, except on the weekends. On Saturday it was warm enough to stay for over an hour. We saw lots of our friends and some new ones.
Towards the end of our walk, I was chatting with one of our friends when I noticed a yellow Lab running across the field with an Irish Terrier in hot pursuit. I watched as they had a fun game of chase, taking turns on chasing and playing.
Suddenly, two other dogs joined in on the pursuit and what was a fun game of chase quickly became harassment. The terrier, already over aroused and excited, amped it up, and then the other dogs joined in on the pursuit. Soon the Lab was running for his life and had one dog nipping at his side and two others on his tail.
I could tell the Lab wasn’t having fun anymore – his hackles were up and several times he stopped and rolled on his back in hopes of stopping the hot pursuit and harassment, but it only led to the terrier nipping at him continuously while the other two dogs barked and lunged and barked and lunged. He quickly got up and started running again.
Realizing that someone needed to intervene, I yelled “Hey! Hey! Three on one is no fun!” and started walking quickly towards the dogs. My shout got the other owner’s attention and they started running towards their dogs to intervene too. A couple of owners made a grab for their dogs and pulled them away from the interaction. The Lab ran back to his owner for reassurance and just like that, the whole incident dissipated.
Afterwards, I couldn’t help but smile. It’s not often you see owners intervene like that on behalf of a dog. And yet in this case, all the owners intervened. It was awesome to see such involvement. I wish we all saw more of this type of owner behavior at dog parks.
Later, the Lab’s owner mentioned that he wasn’t sure what had happened because just before his dog had been playing chase very nicely. His comment was not surprising. All it took was an excited dog getting amped up and a couple other dogs keying in on that energy and joining in, and suddenly everything changes. It’s a great example of why owners must always be aware of what is going on and be ready to intervene if necessary.
This incident reminded me of another dog park video I had recently watched showing some great examples of dog harassment at a dog park and what happens when an owner intervenes. It’s a great reminder that we dog owners can help dissipate this kind of behavior by simply interrupting the behavior before it gets out of control. I hope you will watch and then pass it on.
Just a quick reminder – not all dogs should be at a dog park and not all dog parks are safe for dogs. You have to be your own dog’s advocate. Be aware. Be alert. Be ready to intervene.
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.