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.)
Perhaps one of the hardest things to do when observing a dog’s behavior is to leave the judgements aside and just observe the behavior itself. It’s only natural for us to want to jump right to the conclusion. In our day-to-day lives, we often have to assess a situation quickly and make a decision about how to react to it .
But when it comes to dogs, observing the component parts of the behavior is just as important as what it means when we put it all together. Actually seeing the behaviors without judgment about what it means is something I struggle with all of the time. It is an art that one must practice ALL OF THE TIME, if one is to get good at it. It’s why I love videos like the one below. This one truly gave me a run for my money.
I knew it would be a good one to share with all of you. It’s a great composite of dog behavioral cues and one that is a little easier to watch because of the repetition of some of the behaviors (It was also a little more exhausting to record them all because there were so many of them!).
Take a few minutes to watch the video below and identify the behaviors you see. Try not to make any judgments about the behavior, but instead focus on what you “see” and how many times you see it displayed. As usual, you can find my observations below. Feel free to point out any I missed.
The video begins with the Boston Terrier’s paw on the Bernese Mountain dog’s chest/neck and the Bernese’s eyes are wide open with the whites of his eyes showing (this can also called a “whale eye“, and his nose is crinkled up.
Boston Terrier (BT)
- Paws at Bernese Mountain Dog (BMD)
- Puts nose into his chest
- Lifts muzzle up towards BMD’s snout, throws body to the right
- Leaps back to the left, muzzle poke to BMD’s snout, paws BMD
- Puts head down near BMD’s paws
- Jumps up, muzzle punches
- Leaps up at BMD’s face, body and head follow BMD’s snout as he turns away
- Lands to left of bed
- Leaps back and to the right when BMD turns head right and lowers snout
- Leaps at BMD’s face, paws raised
- Flies to left as BMD lunges at him with open mouth
- Immediately jumps back and then jumps towards BMD’s face and snout (appears to be a little further back than before)
- Leaps back and to the right, BMD lunges at him again, exposes teeth
- Leaps to left and back in front of the dog bed a little distance from BMD’s snout
- Immediately leaps straight towards BMD’s snout and back, leaps to the right
- Leaps back towards BMD, body is turned sideways to BMD, lands on dog bed just to left of BMD’s paw
- Leaps slightly towards BMD’s head, paws and head are low
- Body lands on BMD’s paw on far right, head is lower than the BMD, eyes and face turned towards BMD
- Play bow with lowered front of body, head lowered, ears back,
- Muzzle poke
- Leaps to right, body is turned sideways to BMD
- Muzzle poke
- Moves back from BMD and bed
- Muzzle poke, leaps right
- Lays on right side on dog bed just to right of BMD, ears back, butt in air
- Snaps at BMD, ears up
- Muzzle poke, muzzle punch
- Stands with body sideways to BMD, ears up
- Muzzle poke, leap to right
- Muzzle poke, body is down and lower than BMD
- Muzzle punch, leaps to left
- Leaps off bed, one paw still on bed
- Ears back, muzzle poke, muzzle punch
- Play bow, tail wagging, looks up an BMD
- Leaps up at BMD and back to right
- Muzzle punch
- Runs away
- Immediately comes back, upper body up, lands on bed in front of BMD
- Leaps away and to right
- Leaps left and up at BMD’s head
- Lays on bed with front of body on bed and butt in air
- Leaps sideways and lands with upper body on its side on bed, butt is in air, back legs stretched back, ears back
- Lowers back and down slightly, lefts head up and to left towards BMD
- Paws outstretched, lying on BMD’s front paws, head turns slightly left and up towards BMD’s face
- Back end moves right and onto the floor, head turns left and up
- Curls body up on bed, left paw up, head and mouth turned towards BMD, ears back, nibbles BMD’s snout,
- Nuzzles BMD’s chest and jowls (several times), muzzle pokes BMD’s ear and side of head,
- Leaps up and back
- Muzzle poke, leap to left, ears back, head turned slightly right
- Places paw on BMD’s neck, ears up and back, body is forward, back straight, tail is up
- Leaps left, lowers head and front of body slightly, head turned towards BMD
- Muzzle poke
- Leaps far left off bed
- Leaps back, muzzle punch to BMD’s snout, leaps right
- Muzzle poke, leaps right
- Body is on bed, head in BMD’s side near paw, lays still as BMD sniffs
- Body moves to almost perpendicular position to BMD, head up and mouth near BMD’s ear
- Muzzle poke
- Nuzzle under chin, lip lick, body is next to BMD
- Nuzzles BMD under neck, lip lick
- Head up under BMD’s jaw, tail wag, lip lick, ears back
- Falls back as BMD leans away, tips head up towards BMD’s snout
- Body moves and stretches out next to BMD
- Leaps up and to the left
Bernese Mountain Dog (BMD)
- Eyes are wide
- Looks up towards camera
- Lips pulled back tightly
- Ears are back and down, eyes wide
- Stares ahead at camera, head slightly raised
- Whale eye, turn head to left, whale eye, turns head further left
- Turns head slightly right, puts snout down towards bed, crinkles nose
- Lifts head slightly
- Lunges forward, mouth open, ears back, teeth showing
- Snout is wrinkled, small whale eye,
- Lunge forward towards BT after muzzle punch, whale eye, mouth open, lips pulled back, teeth exposed
- Pulls head back., snout wrinkled, teeth bared, whale eye
- Lunges to left and forward at BT, snout wrinkled, ears back, lips pulled back, teeth exposed
- Pulls head back slightly, lips draw back, teeth exposed, lip lick
- Head pulled in towards body, teeth exposed, lips back, slight whale eye
- Head pulled back, snout wrinkled, blinks
- Lip lick
- Snout wrinkled, teeth exposed, pulls head back and up slightly, snout wrinkled, teeth exposed, furrowed brows
- Whale eye, turns head to an angle, lips pulled back
- Lip lick, lip lick
- Head lowered, lip curl
- Head moves up, whale eye, lip curl
- Lowers head towards BT
- Turns head slightly up and to left
- Head lifts up, chin is parallel to floor, lip curl, looks at camera with wide eyes
- Lip curl, whale eye, ears raised and back
- Lip lick, ears move back, lip lick
- Whale eye, lefts head a few times to avoid muzzle punch,
- Eyes look to camera, ears perk up and move forward slightly, continues to look at camera as ears move down at muzzle punch and then perk back up
- Whale eye, lips pull back slightly twice, lip curl, snout wrinkles, head turns slightly right, whale eye
- Lowers snout to sniff BT
- Head leans forward slightly to sniff BT’s side, head leans forward more and sniffs more
- Whale eye as BT places paw on neck, lip curl, head goes slightly back and up
- Whale eye, lips pull back, ears pinned back,
- Turns head down towards BT, sniffs BT,
- Turns head slightly up and to left,
- Looks left, whale eye, looks right, leans way back and away from BT, whale eye
- Looks like about to lay down and then sits back up as BT follows, whale eye
- Leans back again as BT follows
- Leans forward and away, looking slightly left
Summary: The Boston Terrier is trying to engage the Bernese in play, but his methods are not welcomed. The Bernese gives every kind of warning that the behavior is inappropriate, and the Boston seems to get it further on in the video when he does several play bows and appeasement behaviors. Several times the Bernese looks to the person behind the camera as if asking for their help. The owner should have intervened and separated the dogs at this point for sure, but I would have done so as soon as I saw the whale eye, lip curls and exposed teeth. I cannot tell if the owner warned the Bernese to behave or signaled them to let the Boston Terrier continue, but towards the end of the minute you see the dogs perk up several times as if someone is trying to grab his attention or is speaking to him. Perhaps something was said because he seemed to endure the Boston’s behavior even more after that. The Bernese seems to recognize the Boston is playing later in the video, but is still very annoyed throughout the interaction. He is also curious, because he takes time to sniff the Boston several different times.
In my opinion the Bernese showed remarkable restraint. In many cases, a whale eye, bared teeth, and curled lips would be signs of a dog about to bite. It is hard to be certain, but the Boston Terrier’s quick movements may have kept him from a serious injury.
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.