Home > Dog Behavior, Dog Training, Pet Safety, Pet Topics > Dog Body Language – What do you see in this video?

Dog Body Language – What do you see in this video?


Besides the Minnesota Sheltie Rescue Reunion, there was one other event I was really looking forward to attending – the Dog Body Language seminar being presented  by my friend Kate Anders. Unfortunately, I let the crappy Minnesota winter (I refuse to call this spring) get to me. It snowed most of the morning and rained the rest of the day. I thought it would be too icy to venture out at night. I was wrong. I should have gone. I love attending seminars like these because I learn so much. (I am so sorry Kate!)

With that on my mind today, it shouldn’t be surprising that this video would capture my attention Monday night. My friend Mary Haight over at Dancing Dog Blog shared it. I was immediately fascinated.

It is a great example of the dog body language of a threatening dog. Some people might find the video funny, but what I saw was all the signals the dog gave that signaled an attack was about to happen. Can you pick out the signs? The most obvious one is the growl (notice how it is almost a panting growl), but there are more signals there. Try listening with the sound off. What do  you see?

Not sure? Let’s walk through the many of the signs I see.

First, notice the dog’s eyes. They are staring straight ahead at the dog in the mirror – this is seen as a threatening behavior by most dogs. Two dogs staring at one another (a direct stare) is a sign that trouble may be just ahead (unlike two dogs playing with one another who will look at one another but also look away.)

Also notice how hard the dog’s eyes are compared to say, your dog. They are not soft and liquid. They are hard and focused and most likely dilated. They are not blinking either.

Now look at the body posture. The dog is leaning forward and his body is stiff. These are more warning signs.

This dog also shows his teeth and his upper lip and nose are wrinkled. More danger signs.

Not surprisingly, he did attack… the dog in the mirror.

In most cases, another dog will back down when faced with these kinds of body signals, and offer appeasement signals while doing so, but when faced with a dog that does not back down then it can escalate.

Does this mean this dog is a danger? Not necessarily. But it does mean that when faced with another dog giving threatening signals (and ignoring appeasement signals), he is not likely to back down either.

Obviously, in this case, neither dog could back down since it was the same dog and his reflection. While it may also seem funny to most people, to me it is a great lesson in dog body language.

*****Just wanted to add a few things my friend Dee caught that I missed: “Interesting to see a dog exhibiting threatening behaviors (freezes in place, stares straight at the dog in the mirror, doesn’t blink), interspersed with discomfort/appeasement (lip licking, slow, side-to-side tail wagging, some crouching). When he doesn’t get clear signals the other dog doesn’t mean him harm, the appeasement reverts to threats.” Thanks Dee!

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  1. April 15, 2013 at 11:00 PM

    Interesting to watch, real clear signals being given by this dog. A little disturbed at allowing a dog to get to this state, teasing them with the mirror. Easy for that to backfire.

  2. April 15, 2013 at 11:30 PM

    I am truly fascinated by the fact that this dog is so upset by his reflection. Very interesting. I also notice that he lifts his chin – the way they do when they put their head over another dog. Some seriously aggressive body language!!

  3. April 15, 2013 at 11:52 PM

    Interesting to see a dog exhibiting threatening behaviors (freezes in place, stares straight at the dog in the mirror, doesn’t blink), interspersed with discomfort/appeasement (lip licking, slow, side-to-side tail wagging, some crouching). When he doesn’t get clear signals the other dog doesn’t mean him harm, the appeasement reverts to threats.

    The most surprising thing to me is that some dogs, including this one, will actually make physical contact with the mirror, which obviously can’t feel like another dog, and go back to threatening the “other dog” when they fail to land a bite!

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Mel
      April 16, 2013 at 6:32 AM

      Good point Dee. I watched several times and totally missed the lip licking and the crouching. This is why I love having people like you add to the discussion. Thank you for drawing out the point about not getting appeasement from the other dog. I was not surprised by his reaction, but good point about the mirror too.

    • April 16, 2013 at 10:15 AM

      I almost thought he was looking to the side at that point. Maybe he had caught a glimpse of the person holding the camera in the mirror. If you notice, that appeasement behavior happens right after the person shifts their view.

      • Mel
        April 16, 2013 at 10:20 PM

        He does glance to the side several times Megan. I was suspecting the same thing as you were – he was looking at the person holding the camera. I didn’t catch the appeasement starting after they shift their view. Great catch! Now I have to go watch again.

  4. April 16, 2013 at 1:26 AM

    he certainly isn’t happy with the “intruder”

    • Mel
      April 16, 2013 at 10:22 PM

      Definitely not Jana.

  5. April 16, 2013 at 4:40 AM

    You are right that was a good lesson on behaviour. We have to say we didn’t like the fact that he was being teased with the mirror. Have a terrific Tuesday.
    Best wishes Molly

    • Mel
      April 16, 2013 at 10:21 PM

      Thanks Molly. I agree. I don’t know that I would have let it continue, but it certainly makes for good studying.

  6. April 16, 2013 at 5:26 AM

    Thanks for the shout out Mel! This great video of body language was my comic relief after watching too much news on the Boston bombings, so you know I was reaching for anything at all =)

    This is so much better than any infographic in terms of showing people what aggressive stances actually look (and sound) like. Even the language of the tail “wag” is important, and not to be confused with a friendly greeting.

    It’s not the picture of a playful curious puppy or dog, looking around for the other dog and play bowing. I did note the dog must have been subjected to this before with his eyes darting over to his person twice seeking direction, maybe three times in a row at the beginning. It didn’t seem like an appeasement communication. He also broke away from the challenging behavior when cued. Good dog! What was interesting to me was that the dog once offered an appeasement signal, licking his lips several times. Maybe that stopped him from escalating the staring contest any further!

    • Mel
      April 16, 2013 at 6:38 AM

      I think as Dee said. He licked his lips as a signal to the dog in the mirror, but when the other dog did not walk away or back off, he felt threatened enough to escalate.

    • Mel
      April 16, 2013 at 6:40 AM

      It kills me that I watched this 10 times and totally missed the lip licking. I was so concentrated on the other behaviors that I wasn’t just watching from a holistic standpoint.

  7. jan
    April 16, 2013 at 10:23 AM

    Interesting. Every dog I’ve ever had has looked at the mirror, sniffed it and totally lost interest. If it didn’t smell like a dog, they had no use for it.

    • Mel
      April 16, 2013 at 10:19 PM

      That is usually what I have seen Jan, but as I was commenting this morning to Carrie from Tales and Tails, I have a friend who’s female Sheltie likes to look at herself in the mirror. I swear she’s preening. 🙂

  8. April 16, 2013 at 5:21 PM

    Thanks so much for sharing this and other videos like this. We have four dogs and have had some fights break out….so I really need to know what to watch for. Since they play fight sometimes too I have found it hard to tell the difference sometimes. I think I am starting to learn, thanks to the videos you’ve been sharing!.

    • Mel
      April 16, 2013 at 10:18 PM

      Well thank you! I am so glad I can share what little I know. If it helps you or anyone else then I will feel like I somehow made a difference. THanks for making my day!

  9. April 16, 2013 at 7:10 PM

    Definitely clear signals. A really good video and one I will share with a friend who had 3 dogs with one that can be dog-dog aggressive.

    • Mel
      April 16, 2013 at 10:17 PM

      Thanks Sage. I like it because it allows me and others to share it in a way that is educational and doesn’t involve anyone getting hurt. Those videos can sometimes be hard to find.

  10. April 16, 2013 at 9:50 PM

    How scary. I think I’d literally crap myself if a dog looked at me like that dog is staring at himself.

    • Mel
      April 16, 2013 at 10:16 PM

      I think I would too Donna, but I would do my best to give him every appeasement signal I know. If the dog in the mirror had done so then chances are he would have backed down and walked away.

  11. April 16, 2013 at 10:41 PM

    When I saw him lifting his chin, it makes me think that he is really showing his powerful behavior and that he doesn’t want any dog to be at his place.

  12. April 17, 2013 at 11:55 PM

    This dog is obviously not the sharpest tool in the shed. Dogs normally don’t react to mirror images since the image does not have a scent. They might be a little curious but quickly lose interest. Nice hackles on the back of his neck.

  13. April 20, 2013 at 10:18 AM

    Thanks for this great video and observations. I wish all dog lovers could see this. I also saw that before the dog bit the dog in the mirror, the dog slowly raise body and head to look LARGER. A sure sign that a dog feels threatened is enlarging the body and stance.

    Often my 14-pound Cocker spaniel + poodle mix seems to float, pressing his back paws down and raising his front paws and head, just before he makes a lunge or attempt to “bite” a bigger dog. We adopted him from the shelter at one-year-old. Back then, he was biting people’s hands, masters, groomers, and Vets. We got his number. We need let him go “greeting” on walks. He must sit, be calm and have others slowly come to him. This way we can see if he feels safe or scared.

  14. April 20, 2013 at 10:21 AM

    Oh, I hate typos! the word is We “never” let him go on greeting walks (toward people or dogs).

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