Home > Dog Behavior, Dog Training, Pet Ponderings, Pet Videos > Understanding dog behavior and an experiment to try with your own dog

Understanding dog behavior and an experiment to try with your own dog


Close-up of DogThe instructor directed us to watch the Great Dane as she approached him from the front. What was his body posture? Was he on his toes showing some confidence and eagerness? Or was his body compressed, tightly pulled inward or leaning back? Was he breathing normally or did he freeze and curve away from her? Did he suddenly freeze or step backwards? At what distance did he seem most comfortable with her and when did that change? What was the dog telling her in the slightest of body movements?

This is just an example of one of the dog-human interactions I had the chance to observe at one of the Suzanne Clothier sessions I attended in November of last year. To say the two sessions I attended were mind-expanding would be an understatement. It was enlightening and educational and exciting. I learned more than I can possibly put into words. If you’re a dog behavior geek like me then you know what an opportunity it was to be able to attend these sessions.

Suzanne Clothier is one of the premier experts on understanding dogs and dog behavior. She observes them on a level that most of us don’t even see because she breaks them down into the smallest components before putting them together to get the whole picture. What made the sessions so valuable was our ability to see these dog behaviors through her eyes. In the case of the Great Dane, we learned he was most comfortable with a personal space that was three times the length of his body, meaning he demonstrated fear and nervousness when his personal space was violated. He would freeze, hold his breath and curve backwards as someone entered that space. We learned that dogs often need more space than we do and that we are constantly violating that space. Knowing that little bit of information can make such a difference in how we interact with dogs – both our own and others’ dogs.

So many of us misjudge our dog’s behavior (myself included) or fail to see what they are telling us because we either lack the knowledge to recognize what they are communicating or we are too busy to pay close attention to the slightest changes in behavior. It’s not easy to see what our dogs are telling us. We have to be both knowledgeable and aware.

That’s why I thought I would share this interesting video with you today. I think is a great example of how much we can learn from our dogs if we are paying attention to what they are telling us. In the video, you observe two dog’s reactions to touch. I encourage you to watch it and then try it with your own dog. What were the results? What did you learn? Was your dog’s reaction a surprise to you or did you already know what would happen? It’s always fun to learn something new about our dogs. I would love to hear what you found out.

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  1. To Shea
    January 21, 2013 at 10:48 PM

    I liked that video…I gonna have my wife Trish try it on Penny then me.
    Will let you know what happens…:-)

    • Mel
      January 22, 2013 at 6:38 AM

      I wonder if there will be a difference in reactions between you and Trish Alex? I am intrigued!

  2. January 21, 2013 at 10:59 PM

    I recognise the signs in Georgia, both sets. I’ve always known she’s not keen on being petted, especially on the top of her head. She however loves being massaged and leans into it or sits down or nudges my arm/hand if I stop. I suspect it’s the kind of pressure I apply. When I massage, I roll her skin and the touch is much firmer, deeper and into the muscle. Must feel nice, right? πŸ™‚ I also know she doesn’t like to be disturbed when she’s sleeping. She glares at me and grumbles LOL. She’s a very communicative dog.

    Thanks for a most interesting read, Mel!

    • Mel
      January 22, 2013 at 6:37 AM

      How insightful you are to notice these things about Miss Little Pea. Daisy loves a good massage too. πŸ™‚
      I laughed when you mentioned Georgia getting grumpy when woken up. My friend used to have a dog that would grouch and grumble and get crabby if you didn’t go to bed when she thought bedtime should be. It used to make me laugh. It was then I learned that dogs like routine. πŸ™‚

  3. January 21, 2013 at 11:15 PM

    Great video and post. Will definitely try this with Rita.

    • Mel
      January 22, 2013 at 6:35 AM

      I will be interested to see what you find out!

  4. January 22, 2013 at 1:47 AM
  5. FletchsMom
    January 22, 2013 at 9:03 AM

    What is it about lip licking that behaviorists have come to identify it as a sign of stress? I’m curious because this is the second video I’ve seen where the behaviorist points this out as a negative or “I don’t like this” cue. How did we humans figure that out? Thx!

  6. jan
    January 22, 2013 at 11:05 AM

    Very well done video. I have never had a dog who liked being patted on the head ever. But people keep doing it and insisting the dogs like it.

    • Mel
      January 22, 2013 at 8:13 PM

      Me neither Jan. Yes. People do a lot of things they think dogs like, but if they really watched them and understood their body language they would discover that they are wrong in most cases. That’s why I tend to doubt people who say “dogs love them”, because that is a generalization that implies a lack of knowledge about dogs and what they are telling them.

  7. January 22, 2013 at 1:47 PM

    Very cool and interesting stuff. I’m definitely going to try this with Eko later. Thanks for sharing, I always like learning more about my best friend!

    • Mel
      January 22, 2013 at 8:11 PM

      I do too Will. I love learning this kind of stuff. I wonder what Eko will tell you?

  8. January 22, 2013 at 3:57 PM

    I’ll try this at home, I can pretty much bet that Sampson will say YES. He loves, loves, loves being stroked. Delilah it will depend on her mood, she definitely loves it just before we all say goodnight. It was a interesting video, thanks for sharing.

    • Mel
      January 22, 2013 at 8:10 PM

      I think it is interesting that for Delilah it depends on the moment. I am very curious to hear what you find out. Daisy was less comfortable with me petting her in this way when she was facing me from the side, but she absolutely loves belly rubs and doesn’t see it as an invasion of her space in those moments.

  9. January 22, 2013 at 5:59 PM

    Hmmm, I’ll have to try this. Henri will sometimes fall asleep when I scratch his neck so I know he’s loving it, I’ll have to try it on Gracie.

    • Mel
      January 22, 2013 at 8:08 PM

      I will be most interested in what you find out. I love videos like these because they make you think and try and eventually, learn. I love this video.

  10. January 22, 2013 at 6:21 PM

    That’s a great video demonstration…I know those signs in my own dog…he’s very clear in his like and dislikes and I try to be considerate of that

    • Mel
      January 22, 2013 at 8:07 PM

      That’s awesome Gizmo. I try to be considerate of it in my own dogs. Each one of them is different. I love that I know their preferences.

  11. January 22, 2013 at 9:01 PM

    Great video & great information. Makes you stop and take note of the reaction you get and think about ‘why’ you are getting that reaction. Needless to say, I will be ‘reading’ my dogs for sure, to better know what they are saying. Usually, my one will actually dig for my hand, when i hide it cuz I am exhausted from petting him!

  12. January 23, 2013 at 2:41 PM

    I’ve been thinking about this ever since I read it yesterday and have not had a chance to try it with my pets yet but I am thinking about filming my own video to see what people thing. It’s so hard to be objective about these things when it is your own animals! Thanks for making me think about this!

    • Mel
      January 23, 2013 at 11:42 PM

      It’s so funny Kristine, but I have heard that from a few people now. I am so glad it resonated and made people think. I know Suzanne Clothier had me thinking for days. I hope you do a video. I would love to see it. I agree that it is hard to see in your own animals that’s why I loved the video and Suzanne’s seminars.

  13. January 23, 2013 at 9:44 PM

    When Zanni was going to be petted for the second time, she was staring at that lady’s face so hard I thought that she was going to bite!

    Dexter and Jersey ALWAYS love pets!

    • Mel
      January 23, 2013 at 11:40 PM

      I know. I saw that too with Zanni. It just serves to remind us that dogs are telling us something all of the time. It’s pretty rare that a dog bite is unprovoked. Most of the time we just miss all the signs.

      So glad Dexter and Jersey love pets! Not surprised. They are such lovies. πŸ™‚

  14. January 24, 2013 at 1:45 PM

    What a great video. Thanks for sharing.

    • Mel
      January 25, 2013 at 5:49 AM

      You’re welcome! BTW – I haven’t forgotten about the blogger award you gave me. Just been a little crazy here lately. πŸ™‚

  15. Jill
    January 28, 2013 at 3:35 PM

    There are a lot of posts here and perhaps I overlooked this – has anyone experienced their dog putting their paw on them while being petted? My Lab, Annecy does that with me when I pet her. I always thought it was because she wanted me to scratch her under the front leg, so I do and she seems to love it. Then she’ll switch paws and take a good scratching on the other side.

    • Mel
      January 28, 2013 at 9:54 PM

      Yes. Jasper does that with me. If I stop petting him he will put a paw on me or paw the air, letting me know he wants me to continue. I love that she switches paws though! That is so cute!

  16. February 4, 2013 at 10:06 PM

    So glad I have discovered your blog! This video was awesome and will be shared on Dogstwentyfourseven and on Twitter. There is no end of things to learn about dogs πŸ™‚ Thanks for posting!

  17. jet
    February 8, 2013 at 2:51 AM

    That’s a great video. My Greyhound only likes pets at certain times. It’s funny cos she comes for scritches after i have fed her dinner, and just before I go to sleep. It’s almost like she is rewarding me for feeding her!

  18. February 11, 2013 at 1:17 PM

    First let me just say that Desmond often does not want to be pet or cuddled–but will instead want to be nuzzled into your lap and lying all over you. He wants to be all up in your personal space, but sometimes if you stroke him while he’s doing that, he’s gets all bent out of shape. Meanwhile, his elbow is digging into your hip and he’s pushing his chin down onto your knee. How rude!

    I think it’s great that you shared this. I still have such a hard time realizing or remembering that there are so very many people who don’t know this kind of dog-related info. I’m not sure if that comes from my ABC work or generally reading a lot about dogs or what, but I’m just always taken aback by people who see these things and go “Oh, wow, I didn’t know that.” It’s so so important to keep in mind that most people do not search out this kind of information–and I am terrible at that! Every time I have thought about sharing something like this, something educational, on the blog, I have stopped myself as if to say “Oh, that’s old news. No one cares.” But that really may not be true. Kudos! I hope you got a lot of pageviews on this one.

    • Mel
      February 11, 2013 at 9:01 PM

      I think that is so interesting Lauren. He doesn’t want to be touched, but wants to touch you. I have often thought the same thing, but then I attended that Suzanne Clothier training session and was reminded that most people don’t. I think those of us so deeply involved with dogs don’t realize we live in a bubble. The things we know most dog owners don’t know. I’m still taken aback that people don’t know about puppy mills, but I guess I shouldn’t be.

      I think you should share your educational stuff Lauren. I think people are looking for this type of information. You certainly know more than I do.

      I don’t know if it got a lot of hits, but I hope it helped some people see their dogs differently. πŸ™‚

    • Miss Cellany
      June 11, 2015 at 9:08 AM

      I didn’t consciously know these things but I could see just by looking that the first dog in the video is uncomfortable but tolerating it and the second one is relaxed and content. The behaviour as a whole communicates the dog’s mood – maybe it’s just intuitive?
      I’m more attuned to cat body language as I grew up with cats – I could list the specific signals for cats – I’m still learning with dogs πŸ™‚

      I got my first and only dog 5 years ago from a shelter. I didn’t know any of these signals but from his behaviour I intuited that he was nervous and wanted space so I didn’t make any attempt to go and pet him, just let him come up to me instead. After a few days he started coming up to me and allowing me to pet him. Now he actively seeks attention by nuzzling his muzzle under my hand and “flipping” my hand onto his head and neck. He loved to be petted & scratched and is happy to be hugged, at least the way I hug him (sitting beside him, facing the same way with one arm over his shoulders). He even initiates hugs by sitting down next to me and leaning into me. He doesn’t really like to be touched by strangers but he will tolerate it if I’m there. He’s still quite timid with people he doesn’t know, and loud noises scare him – but he’s very affectionate with the people he considers his family πŸ™‚

      • Mel
        June 17, 2015 at 6:34 AM

        What a lucky dog (and cats)! Not everyone is able to see that some pets need distance, time and patience. I love that you got it right away. It sounds like you have a very happy family. πŸ™‚

  19. August 5, 2013 at 7:41 AM

    I can’t wait to try this with my girls, Voodoo (6yr old APBT) & Roxann (1yr old AmBully). I’ll have to wait until they have decided to get out of bed (it’s a little early for them. lol!), but I’m very interested to see their reactions. Voodoo takes affection any way she can; pets, belly rubs, deep tissue massage, etc. This dog has the most amazing temperment in the world, when I grow up, I want to be like her! She just loves to get up on the bed with me & when I give her a great big body hug (I wrap her up in my arms & legs so that I’m sort of draped over her) she snuggles into me like she did when she was tiny, making these little grunting noises deep down in her chest & smiling from ear-to-ear! I don’t hold her down & keep her from getting up, she’s 100 lbs so I don’t think I could. It’s almost like she’s remembering when she was a baby & we would do that. She gets up when she’s ready & moves to her corner of the bed. My tiny princess, Roxann, she absolutely NEEDS to be as close as possible & I haven’t found a way she doesn’t like to be touched. She seems to be a very needy girl; when I’m at the desk, if the other chair is taken (usually she’s in it) she will lay her upper body in my lap & snuggle against me while I hug her & grunt like a happy little pig. She stares into my face sometimes like she’s got something terribly important to say, I swear I can almost hear her. When she gets in the bed, there’s a nightly ritual that MUST be observed; we have a wrestling match of sorts, she gnaws on me & throws herself around while I laugh & try to keep her from stepping on anything important. It’s obvious she enjoys it. A behaviour I wonder about is when she gets in bed for the night, If I’m already there, she will drag herself over me with her front legs like her back legs don’t work at all. She does this every time & I always wonder why. When she does it, she always looks like she’s laughing. I’m sorry for the rant, but I so rarely have the chance to visit with others as fascinated by the details & meanings of canine behaviour as I am. Could you possibly point me in the direction of a source of detailed info on canine behaviour & body language? I’m about to begin school to become a certified trainer, specializing in Bully Breeds & good behaviour certification. I can’t wait for school, but in the meantime, I have questions about my girls that I would really like to figure out. Thank you so much for reading my pre-coffee ramblings & have a wonderful day! I look forward to hearing from you.

  20. Just another awesome Canadian chick
    August 17, 2013 at 9:42 PM

    This was great to watch and really well done! I work in a shelter and unconsciously, this is how I’ve always interacted with new dogs, until we get to know each other. It’s also how I establish trust and communication with my grooming clients. The dogs, not the owners! Although…

  21. Cheryl McBryde
    October 24, 2013 at 10:49 AM

    Looking for some help. I have a rescue Shih Tzu I adopted in January. As time went on she is showing such domination. She goes crazy over birds, cats, dogs, flies, butterflies etc. I lost a 14 year old Shib Tzu last year that was not like this at all. I am unsure what to do. Any information would be greatly appreciated.I have friends with animals that we can not visit with. I am at a lost as how to handle this. She is my baby but I want to get some friendliness in her so she can go to the beach and places with me without going crazy. My vets believes her to be about 2. Thank you!

  22. November 25, 2013 at 4:54 PM

    This is such a great article to share! So many people do not thoroughly understand dog body language… Thanks for sharing!

    • Mel
      November 25, 2013 at 10:35 PM

      Thank you. I totally agree. I wish more pet owners and parents knew what to watch for and what to avoid.

  23. November 29, 2013 at 5:30 AM

    Reblogged this on Barks & Bunnies.

  1. February 6, 2013 at 6:42 PM
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