Over the past couple of months, I have had several friends adopt a new dog into their household. Given the fact that each already had a resident dog in their home, it is understandable that each one of them worried about how to introduce the new dog into their home. They also worried about how the new dog would make their current dog feel and whether they would get along.
I remember how nervous I was in bringing each one of my dogs into my home. (I think you would have to be a fool not to be a little nervous and anxious!) Every dog is different and every situation must be managed to ensure success.
When Cupcake first came into my home as a foster, it was a tough go. Not because she wasn’t an awesome and very sweet dog, but because she felt like she had to establish her place as top dog right away. She claimed the couch and snarked at Daisy and Jasper whenever they came close to her. Jasper and Daisy were intimidated by her behavior. Daisy started staying in her kennel to avoid her.I think it was at this point I seriously considered giving her back to the rescue.
But then, I remembered to use the skills and knowledge I had gained from so many other trainers. I took away Cupcake’s couch privileges to eliminate any snarking. Then, I started enticing Daisy back to the couch with treats and rewarding Cupcake with treats as well to show her that staying on the floor was a beneficial spot to be. Soon, the snarking had stopped and Daisy was feeling less stressed. We worked on other things too: waiting for dinner, not stealing other dogs’ food, sharing toys, etc.
Introducing a new dog into your home when you have another dog can be difficult. I’ve been offering my own advice and suggestions when asked (think baby gates, crates and slow introductions), but then I remembered that I had attended a webinar earlier this year put on by the ASPCA. The guest speaker was well-known author and animal behaviorist, Patricia McConnell (PhD, CAAB, Author). The topic? Multi-Dog Households: From First Date to After the Honeymoon (You can find more materials and information here as well).
It was a great seminar and discussion and one that I suspect would be beneficial to many an adoptive parent and/or rescue or shelter. I’ll definitely be sharing it with my friends. You can check out her presentation deck here.
So how have you handled introducing a new dog into your home? What worked? What didn’t work?
I try to always be present and conscious of my dogs’ behavior when we are out and about together, but like many dog owners, I can be easily distracted by what is going on around me and who I am engaging with at that moment. It can be easy to miss something when so much is going on around you. We can’t be hyper-attentive to everything all at once.
I imagine that many dog agility people can relate. Events like agility require an owner to do many things at once. They need to read their dogs’ behavior and the cues they are giving them so they know how they feel about it. They need to know the course and the task at hand so they can accomplish their goal. They also need to be hyer-focused and attentive to what we are doing so we don’t make a mistake.
Being hyper-aware of how a dog is feeling in these moments can be hard.
Although I think the owner in the video below is aware of her dog and his behavior in certain settings (since she mentions his avoidance at one part of the course), I wonder if she was aware of how he was feeling throughout the course? Maybe she was and was trying to help him work through it. Either way, it makes for a great study of dog behavior.
Watch the video below and share what you see. How does the dog look as he travels the course? Are his ears up or down? What is he doing with his head? His feet? His body? What does he do when meeting new people? What does he do with his mouth? Can you see what his eyes are doing?
I have put my own observations below (due to the length of the video, I assess the first two minutes), but see what you see before taking a look at my observations and summary. How good were you at reading this dog’s behavior? What did I miss?
Dog body language before Working Aptitude Evaluation (WAC) begins (first 30 seconds):
- Ears back
- Panting (it might be a hot day so this may or may not be stress induced)
- Circling handler
- Couple of lip licks
- Body is facing away from the man with the clipboard and as far away from as possible. His butt is closest to the man and his head is the furthest away from him.
- Red starts to trot alongside the owner, and then ahead of her, as they move towards the woman in the blue top. His ears are alternating between up and down and then going to straight down and back as he approaches the woman (the neutral stranger).
- As they get closer to the woman, he veers off to the left, creating distance between them, only to come back around as he reaches the end of the leash, and circle behind her. His ears are down.
- At 32 seconds, his mouth appears drawn tight and his body hunched. He gives a lip lick.
- Red moves around the woman and closer to his owner, ignoring both, but placing his body so his head is further away. He looks away from her and in the other direction.
- Red completely ignores the woman and moves further away from both his owner and the woman,. almost taking up the full length of the leash.
- At 38 seconds, they continue to the next woman (called the Friendly Stranger).
- Red trots ahead again and as the approach the friendly stranger he lowers his head and keeps his ears down and back. The friendly stranger leans down, puts her hands on her legs and looks at him.
- Immediately, he veers off to the left in an attempt to avoid interacting with her.
- When called by his handler, he veers back towards them. his ears are down and his head is lowered to the same level as his shoulders. He is panting.
- Instead of stopping at the Friendly Stranger, he walks right between her and his owner and keeps on going.
- He turns around when he reaches the end of the leash and heads back towards the women. His head goes up briefly as if to say hello, but then lowers and he goes right back through the middle again and off to the other side. His head is lowered, body hunched and ears are back.
- He quickly circles back and lifts head again, but only briefly, He then sees the man with the clipboard and does a lip lick and a couple of head turns.
- At a little before the one minute mark, the handler and man discuss next steps while the dog paces. He does not interact with the man or owner, but instead paces or turns so his head is away from them.
- He does a couple of lip licks, head turns and pants.
- At 1:13, he hides behind his handler’s legs.
- They turn and head towards the white truck, there appear to be no people around besides his handler. His ears come up. He trots along. His gait looks more relaxed. His tail is up.
- He goes around the back of the vehicle and then heads back towards his owner. He looks up at her briefly.Hi ears go back and as he sees the man with the clipboard he changes directions and circles back towards his owner.
- A couple of look aways.
- At 1:30, the man and handler move to the right. Red follows, trotting alongside his handler and then ahead of her. His ears go up and down. Tail is up and he briefly sniffs the group before a shot goes off from the gun.
- When the shot goes off, his ears comes back, his mouth is drawn tight and his tail goes down (1:38).
- His ears go up briefly, but go back down when the 2nd shot rings out. He circles his handler several times as shots 3 and 4 ring out.
- He trots ahead of the handler as they move away from the woman with the gun and his ears go up and prick forward.
- At the 2 minute mark, he stands next to the handler, touching her legs. He looks away several times as she speaks with the man. His ears are back and his eyes appear to have a ridge between them (2:06).
- They head towards the woman in the chair. Red looks away as he walks by his handler. His ears go up and down, but at 2:13 they prick forward as he sees her handle an umbrella.
- The umbrella opens and he veers back, ears are back on his head. He checks out the umbrella very briefly and then looks around it and then at the woman. He turns his nose up towards her and then veers back towards his owner. His ears are way down (2:16).
Based on my observations, I would say Red was very uncomfortable throughout his evaluation. His body language indicated he was nervous, stressed and most likely would have preferred not to have been there at all. His body language indicated that he was stressed. He used avoidance (creating distance between himself and the people and looking away) in almost every circumstance to distance himself from the people in the assessment. Even at the end of the video, Red cant wait to distance himself from all of it, pulling on his leash and removing himself from the area quickly.
My guess is that Red is not a confident dog in new situations or ones in which he is forced to interact with strangers. This type of activity is not fun for him at all.
The week before last I wrote about how videotaping yourself with your dog, especially during training sessions, can help you to see things you might not have noticed in the moment. Looking at pictures I had taken while working with Maggie made me realize how pressure sensitive she is and how I needed to change my approach with her.
It’s not just the every day dog owner who can be helped by videotaping themselves with their dog, dog trainers do it too. Sometimes they do it to improve their technique or sometimes they do it to observe a dog’s behavior more closely. For many, it is also a way to educate dog owners on how to train their dog, as I believe the video below was meant to do.
While I very much disagree with the trainer’s assessment of the dog she is using in the video, I also had the luxury of watching their interactions (on video) several times. Slowing down a video and watching it over and over again can help you to see so many things. I suspect the trainer in this video was so focused on making a specific training point that she missed all the behaviors telling her otherwise. Either that, or she did not recognize the behaviors at all.
So today, you be the trainer. Take a look at the dog’s body language and describe what you see. Is the dog distracted or is something else going on here?
You can see my observations and analysis below, but try to do a little analysis yourself. What do you SEE? What is the dog doing or not doing? What behaviors is she displaying? Are the ears up, back, or forward? Is her body leaning? If so, in which direction? What else do you see?
My observations of Bubbles, the Border Collie:
- At the beginning of the video, Bubbles sniffs the ground several times and pulls at the end of a leash.
- Bubbles does not look at the trainer, but looks in the direction of the camera and towards the group (perhaps her owner is there?).
- Ears are back and she appears to be panting. (This is about the time the trainer mentions how Border Collies can become very distracted by their environment.)
- 23 seconds into the video, Bubbles’ ears go up and she looks to the left (her left). Her body turns in that direction immediately afterwards. Her ears go back down.
- Bubbles continues to turn left as she goes behind the trainer sniffing and looking distracted. Her tail is down and very close to her body (almost between her legs.)
- When the trainer mentions her name, Bubbles ignores it and keeps sniffing at the ground, moving further left and to the trainer’s right. Her ears are closer to the back of her head.
- Bubbles continues to sniff the ground and moves behind the trainer again and to her right. Her head lifts up. Her ears are pricked and she is looking straight ahead and pulling in that direction. Her tail is down.
- She pulls as far away as she can from the trainer and continues to look off in the distance. Her ears are up. Her body is leaning forward and away from the trainer.
- The trainer shortens the leash and pulls Bubbles around and back to her and uses a treat as a lure. Bubbles’ moves towards the trainer with her ears down. She lip licks and yawns, sniffs the food, and then turns away. Her head is down and her body is leaning away from the trainer.
- At 55 seconds, Bubbles’ body goes down lower to the ground. She is leaning away from the trainer and looking away
- The trainer pulls Bubbles closer. Bubbles head is lower. She looks up and lip licks and turns her head away. Her ears are back and low on her head.
- The trainer crouches down next to Bubbles and reaches her had out to her with the treat. Bubbles does another lip lick and turns away. Her tail is low and wags slightly for a moment.
- At 59 seconds, her body is leaning away from the trainer’s. She rejects the treat in the trainer’s hand.
- The trainer pauses to speak. Bubbles tries to pull away again. She lip licks and glances toward the trainer.
- Bubbles lip licks several more times and glances at the trainer before looking away again.
- She now pulls even further away from the trainer so that her head is the furthest away from her and her butt is closes to the trainer.
- The trainer calls her name and her ears immediately go down and back on her head. It looks like she lip licks before her head and upper body goes down. She moves her body closer and her tail wags low, but she keeps her head as far as she can from the trainer.
- Bubbles moves her body so that she is completely facing away from the trainer. At 1:18 she is leaning away from the trainer and has her back to her. She gives several more lip licks.
- When the trainer calls her name and pull her back towards her again, Bubbles pulls again and then turns her body slightly horizontal to the trainer’s body when the leash is pulled toward the trainer. She sits and looks up.
- She is offered the treat again, but turns away from it. I could be wrong, but her busy seems hunched forward.
- Bubbles turns her head further away and looks behind her, lip licks, and then starts to stand up.
- She pulls away (lip licks), but sits back down because she has no leash length to pull away. She again has her back to the trainer.
- More lip licks.
- Bubbles continues to look away and to the side with her back to the trainer.
- She pulls away as hard as she can and tries to create distance.
- The trainer tries to engage Bubbles “one more time” and pulls her (using the leash) towards her. Bubbles faces towards the camera. The trainer reaches down with the treat in her hand and puts it in front of Bubbles’ nose. Bubbles glances quickly at her hand and turns away. She lip licks and yawns.
- The trainer then knees her in the back-end, forcing her to sit. Her body is leaning away from the trainer.
She glances up at the trainer. Her ears are back. She lip licks again. The trainer reaches her hand out with the treat again. Lip lick again. Bubbles opens her mouth when the trainer inserts the treat in her lip. You can to longer see her ears.
- She takes the treat, turns her head away and lip licks.
- Lip lick again.
- Bubbles starts to stand up again, looking away. She stands with her back to the trainer. Her ears are back and low on her head. Her tail is now between her legs.
- Her ears go up and down again. She lip licks. She sniffs the ground and pulls away from the trainer.
- She continues to pull away in all directions from the trainer.
It clear from all of Bubbles’ behaviors that she was extremely uncomfortable. Perhaps it was because she did not know the trainer (as the trainer admits) or because she was unfamiliar with the setting or even afraid of the camera, or maybe, both. She displays a lot of calming signals – lip licking, look aways, yawning, etc. She also tries very hard to create distance between her and the trainer, over and over again. Bubbles is not distracted by squirrel, but is uncomfortable and nervous. The trainer should have stopped as soon as she saw these behaviors. The fact that Bubbles refused the treat was a dead give away that she was way to nervous to be enticed by a treat. Not only did the trainer’s words not match the behaviors being displayed, but she did nothing to build the trust between her and Bubbles because she forced her to interact with her and even kneed her to sit down. A better approach would have been to stop completely and give Bubbles her space and the choice of whether she wanted to interact or not.
As much as I know about dog body language, I am constantly amazed at how much I miss in my own dogs’ behaviors when I am interacting with them. I am so focused on seeing the expected behavior I am requesting that sometimes I completely miss what they are telling me about how they are feeling about it. Ears back, ears forward, tight mouth, raised paw, lip licks… It all happens so fast that it can be easy to miss. If I am not totally focused on what I am really seeing, I completely miss it.
That could not have been more clearly obvious than during a recent session I spent working with Maggie. Despite being able to “watch me” and hand target when asked, Maggie is still pretty uncomfortable with doing it, even when she chooses to do it on her own. I have known this for some time and have tried to give her the choice in how much she wants to participate. But it wasn’t until I snapped some photos as I was working with her that I realized just how pressure sensitive she was and how much I had been missing.
Take a look at some of the pictures I took one evening while working with Maggie. What do you see?
If you said you saw Maggie lip-licking, displaying her ears way back on her head, looking away, and leaning away from me in some of these photos, you would be correct. She is ultra sensitive to body pressure. It makes her nervous to be this close to me. I need to back it up a bit and give her a little space. (As my friend Nancy from Gooddogz dog training said, a target stick, like a wooden spoon with peanut butter on the end of it, might work better for Maggie right now.)
But, I never would have seen this myself if not for the photos. Why? Because I was too busy looking for what I wanted her to do in response to what I said, instead of looking at her actual response (i.e., body language) to what I was asking of her. It’s a good reminder to me, and to anyone else who works with their dog, that videotaping my interactions with my dog can reveal so much more than what I see with my eyes. It might be uncomfortable, and maybe even a little embarrassing to videotape ones self working with their dog, but the information gained is so worth it. I will be changing how I work with Maggie moving forward by taking it down a step to be even less pressure-oriented than it was already.
My experience with Maggie brought to mind another video I saw last year in which the behavior of the dog described by the trainer did not match what the dog was actually conveying in the video. I don’t share this to pick on the trainer, who sounds like a knowledgeable woman, but merely to point out what we can miss when we are so focused on what we expect to see and not what is really being displayed.
Take a look and tell me what you see. I’ll share my analysis of the video and the dog’s behavior next week.
Want to learn more about pressure sensitivity in dogs? Watch this video from Eileen and Dogs.
I’ve been thinking a lot about personal space bubbles lately. Of course, it is mostly in relation to humans and their dogs.
We don’t often thing about space when it comes to us and our dogs, but we should. Our dogs are always telling us something about how they feel when we interact with them. They show it in the way they turn their heads, how they lean, how they turn their bodies and what they do with their eyes, ears, feet and tongue.
Daisy’s space bubble used to be huge (like the whole length of the backyard huge), but now she is happiest when she can cuddle up next to me on the couch. Her space bubble with me is in inches. She wants to be as close to me as possible. With strangers, it really depends. Sometimes she will get as close as she does with me and at other times it may be feet.
Maggie’s space bubble, on the other hand, is about the same as where Daisy started. Outside, Maggie prefers to be as far away from as possible – when I am standing, but when I am sitting, she is happy to approach within feet of me.
Reading Eileen Anderson’s blog post, “You’re Too Close! Dogs and Body Pressure” reminded me how often we miss these social cues when interacting with our dogs. I’ll be honest, sometimes I miss them too.
Looking at pictures or videos of me and my dogs, or someone else and my dog, can really help me to see a each of my dog’s space bubbles much more clearly. It allows me to take a step back and just observe.
For example, take a look at some pictures I have of Cupcake interacting with some friends and their dogs. You’ll see in the first photo that, unlike the dogs surrounding her, Cupcake chooses to stand back a little. She knows that this takes her further from the treat, and that she risks another dog getting her treat, but this is where she feels most comfortable when it comes to interacting with people (even people she knows). In fact, her space bubble is sometimes so large that I can’t even capture her in the picture involving a person and other dogs.
Daisy, on the other hand, has a much smaller space bubble. Look at how close she gets to the people in each of these photos.
Now look at some photos of Maggie. See how far she is from me compared to my other dogs? She knows that she is more likely to get cheese the closer she gets to me, but she also has a space bubble that is quite large and that is where she feels most comfortable and most safe.
Jasper on the other hand, will scoot right up to strangers and ask for a little attention. He had never met this man before Sunday, but he kept going back to him over and over again for a little attention.
So what are some signs that a dog is feeling uncomfortable and may need more space?
- Leaning back on his feet
- Leaning away from you
- Taking a step back
- Turning her head to the side and away from you
- Keeping him/herself out of reach of your hands
- Lip licking
- Ducking down and away
There are more behaviors you may see, but when ending space these are some common ones. I recommend reading Eileen’s blog post and watch her videos. They are quite good and quite educational for dog owners.
I was kind of going to take a pass on a blog post today, but then, a friend sent me this… Tevlin: Rain or sleet can’t stop your mail, but a tiny dog can (Star Tribune, dated June 25, 2014, by Jon Tevlin). Seriously. I’m not even kidding.
Here is a quick synopsis of the story:
- 11 lb dog gets loose from its leash while out on a walk.
- 11 lb dog runs to mail carrier and jumps up on her and barks.
- Owner apologizes profusely and gathers dog up (one added detail) and she apologizes profusely.
- The mail carrier does not react or say anything to the owner.
- Next day, Minneapolis Animal Control visits owner and reports mail carrier claims she was bitten on inner thigh and has several puncture wounds.
- Mail carrier claims to have gone to Urgent Care for treatment, but no photos can be provided.
- Owner agrees to get dog trained and to keep her on a short leash and to keep dog inside when mail is delivered.
- Next day, mail delivery is stopped for the entire building where the owner and dog reside.
- Post office manager notifies residents that they can either get a P.O. box or get rid of Nano (the dog).
- Post office manager refuses to respond to resident’s calls to discuss the issue.
- Now owner must move out or euthanize her dog. (Her agreement with Animal Control forbids her from giving the dog away.)
I can think of all kinds of cuss words I could use to describe how I am feeling about this story, but really, all I can think of is “Where the hell is the adult in this story?” I mean I read this and all I can see is a lot of miscommunication, lack of communication and just plain old poor communication. I don’t see a whole lot of negotiation or reasonable boundary setting. I don’t even see proof of the actual bite being shared.
So here is what I would love to do today. Instead of posting this story and having a bunch of people angry people post negative and hateful comments on my blog, I would love to have you, the reader, offer ideas of how this could have been handled differently. How would you have handled this if you were one of the adults in this story?
Feel free to rewrite it in a way that you think it could have gone if people had communicated effectively. How could it have been handled in a way that was better for all involved? What would you have done if you were any one of the parties involved in this situation?
I really look forward to hearing your ideas.
I think for many of us, recognizing when dogs are playing and when they are not can be difficult. Most of the time it isn’t until it has gone to the next level that we realize it is not play at all.
I remember the first time I brought my dog, Aspen, to a dog park. I wasn’t sure what behaviors I should consider safe or what should be considered concerning. I didn’t always recognize when she wasn’t having fun anymore and I should intervene. Thankfully, Aspen was very sophisticated in dog speak and would walk away when she didn’t like a dog’s behavior, and if they didn’t listen, she would give them a warning to let them know she had had enough.
Since having Aspen, I’ve gotten much better at reading dog body language in my dogs as well as in other dogs. I am more likely to intervene where I think trouble is about to start, but has not yet escalated, because I can see one dog is not having fun or there is a bullying situation going on.
Do you know when your dog is having fun and when he/she is not? Are you able to recognize when play has turned into something else?
I thought I would share a video of two (sometimes three) Great Danes interacting with one another at the park and let you weigh in. These dogs may be playing or not playing. They may or may not be having fun. Can you tell the difference?
What do you see in the first two to three minutes of this video?
Are the dogs having fun or not?
What body movements does each dog make that leads you to your conclusion?
Feel free to share what body movements or other things in the video stood out and helped you make your decision. If you get a chance scoot ahead and watch the last 2 minutes of the video. What do you see? Does it change your mind?
I’ll weigh in tomorrow and share my observations and what I think was happening. I look forward to your comments! (You can now see my assessment below.)