Home > Breed Specific Legislation, Cupcake, Daisy, Pet News, Pet Topics > Dog body language – What do you see?

Dog body language – What do you see?

The human brain can be a funny thing.

Back when I was a pet sitter, I found myself so aware of everything that was going on around me. I would capture the faintest smell of spring flowers as I walked by someone’s well-tended garden. I knew all the sounds in the neighborhoods where I walked my client’s dogs – a train, a car in need of repair, a bird singing in the trees, a dog barking in a neighbor’s yard. I even noticed when something was out of place or unusual.

Sunrises and sunsets were so much more spectacular then too. I noticed how the sun lit up the clouds and how it changed the color of the sky or how it reflected on the water or off the trees.

I was an observer. All of my senses were engaged. Everything was in technicolor and came with surround sound. I noticed when a dog I was walking was nervous or scared or excited. I watched his every movement – a prick of the ears, a change in breathing, a stiffness to their gait. I observed them all, and from those observations I found myself better able to assess what I needed to do to help them or encourage them or protect them from harm.

But now that I am back in the corporate world, I am finding my senses dulled once again. Instead of observing my environment as separate and distinct pieces, I find my brain trying to mush them altogether like some hazy, out of focus memory.

Now when I observe a dog’s behavior, I find myself rushing past the small, but distinctly different, components and making a summation of the dog’s behavior based on a few behavioral cues. Not a good thing if you’re trying to better understand dog behavior (yes, I really am that much of a dog geek).

That’s why I was excited to participate in a recent group discussion about dog behavior. Instead of trying to interpret what a dog was trying to convey, the only goal of the group discussion was to record your observations of the dog – a furrowed brow, dilated pupils, ear position, body direction, etc. It was amazing how much more was captured as different people joined in on the discussion. It was also amazing how much I had missed.  Yikes.

It made me realize just how much I had lost some of those skills I had honed as a pet sitter. How much easier it had become to skip past those small, little cues and head on over to making an assessment. It is clear that I have a lot to re-learn.

While I practice getting better at the observation part, I thought you guys might all want to try your hand at recording your own observations. Below are two photos (Photo A and Photo B) taken at my dog park. What do you see? What is noticeable about each of the dogs in the photos? What do you notice about their bodies, their ears, their eyes?

I’d love to get your observations.


Photo A

Photo B

Photo B

  1. June 10, 2013 at 7:56 AM

    In Photo A, the Lab seems alert & tense – standing erect – tail straight and over his back – ears are up and forward. The little dog seems to be approaching submissively, hunkering down a bit with tail lowered. In Photo B, all the dogs seem relaxed, tails are down and appear to be wagging, ears are all relaxed…and the person in the picture has a big smile on her face – so she is not tense either. How’d I do?

    • Mel
      June 11, 2013 at 6:44 AM

      Really good observations! I think you caught a lot in both photos. What I noticed in Photo B were the ears of the 3 dogs. The two Labs’ ears are back further on their heads. It may be that Borzoi’s are too, but I couldn’t be sure due to the angle of her head. They Labs are also leaning down and back. The Lab on the left (Daisy) approaches the other Lab with her snout lower than the other dog’s snout while the Borzoi is over (of course, she is taller). The tail of the Lab on the right is in mid-swing. Hard to tell if lower than normal or not.

  2. June 10, 2013 at 8:12 AM

    The Lab in photo A looks a lot like Bunny does at the dog park right before she takes off and starts running. There’s a certain time dogs seem to spend sizing each other up before deciding what they’re going to do next.

    The dogs in the last picture are in a typical getting to know you scenario. The Lab with its back to us is a little shy and not sure about the other two dogs, but warming up, is my guess.

    • Mel
      June 11, 2013 at 6:46 AM

      Funny. You accurately interpreted out what was happening, or did happen, in both pictures. What about their body posture gave you the answers?

  3. June 10, 2013 at 8:32 AM

    First off, such a great point about how a conventional life (office work, spending lots of time indoors) can dull our senses. You are so right about all the things we have to experience in the world if we can just pay attention.

    There are so many things to note in the two pictures. I’ll just point out two things that really stood out.

    The small dog in picture A has that unmistakeable posture of leaning in while leaning out at the same time. I don’t think a human could ever reproduce it.

    And the large dog in picture B (a Borzoi?) has such an attitude of serenity. She almost looks like a Madonna in a Renaissance painting.

    Both pictures show how meetings are just as challenging for dogs as they are for us.

    • Mel
      June 11, 2013 at 6:49 AM

      Oh yes Pamela. It definitely can dull the senses.

      Interesting that you called our the leaning in and leaning out. I was thinking it was all leaning back and down, but now that I look again, you may be right about doing both at the same time.

      The Borzoi in the second photo can be very gentle with dogs but can also play hard. I think the madonna-like look is accurate. I think she’s curious in a non-threatening way.

  4. Amy
    June 10, 2013 at 9:56 AM

    Hey, thanks for this. I am new to watching dog signals, but here goes: Photo A – The larger dog has a somewhat stiff tail (or is that just his natural curl?) but he also looks like he is the more comfortable of the two. Maybe a slight forward posture, and head turned ever so slightly away. The smaller dog seems to be pulling backward with his body, and forward with his head. Photo B – The dog with tail toward the camera is moving back with his body and tail looks relaxed and “broom swishy” (for lack of better words!) The smaller white dog is reaching in with his head, but the body seems to be pulling slightly back. The larger dog looks relaxed, head low as it turns toward the other two.

    • Mel
      June 11, 2013 at 6:51 AM

      Accurate catch on the Lab’s tail in Photo A – his tail is not normally curled in towards his body. I caught that right away too.
      You did an awesome job of capturing the body language Amy. You don’t seem new to me!

      • Amy
        June 11, 2013 at 11:13 AM

        Well… new enough. Since adopting our dogs back in October, I have read everything I can get my hands on and still feel like I barely have a handle on it. Star (my pit/boxer mix) had some play issues at first, so it was really important to me to learn how to read her language (and the other dogs) and help her learn to play more appropriately. We have both come a long way!

  5. Laura
    June 11, 2013 at 6:45 AM

    In photo A, the dog on the left is submissive to the dog on the right, which is seeking dominance. When the dominance role is established, the dog right will run and dog left will chase…and then it will reverse.
    In photo B, the dog on the lower right, has entered the “conversation” and is coming with a bit of submissiveness and caution (slight back lean, pursed ears). He is accepted by the other curious two and dog left will run with dog lower right, with dog upper right following.

    • Mel
      June 11, 2013 at 6:53 AM

      Thanks for the interpretation Laura – what do you see in the body language that led you to that interpretation?

    • Amy
      June 11, 2013 at 11:11 AM

      I find it interesting that you can predict what will come next… I am curious too. What is it that they are doing that gives you this interpretation? Thanks –

  6. June 11, 2013 at 1:15 PM

    Photo A: The brown dog is hunched over and his ears are back. His tail is either wagging uncertainly or flat. He is sniffing unsurely and he is more submissive or afraid. He shows a way of wanting to but not knowing if he should or being too afraid to. The larger dog is stiff as can be seen in his erect tail and head position. I am not sure whether is ears are flat or forward. His muscles also look bunched.

    Photo B: The dog with the red collar is a bit overwhelmed as he is leaning back and his ears are back. His tail also seems to be wagging low to the ground; he looks still and not moving- this is how Dina reacts to too many dogs! The Borzoi is curious and at ease; his eyes look relaxed. The blue collared dogs is happy and easy- his ears are relaxed and he is curious;y sniffing the other dog.

  7. June 19, 2013 at 1:14 PM

    In the first photo Daisy reminded me of Sampson, he sometimes stands very stiff like that usually just before he is about to run or jump. In the second photo the darker dog has his/her ears back, which makes me question whether he/she is nervous or not.

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: