Home > Dog Behavior, Pet Topics, Pet Videos > What is this dog telling us? Do you see his behavioral cues?

What is this dog telling us? Do you see his behavioral cues?


Last year a friend shared a great video featuring a dog and a vet tech. I’ve been searching for it for a while because I though it would be a great one to share with you. It is a great example of how a dog can be speaking to us, but we may not be listening (or in this case, seeing) what they are telling us.

I also thought it might be a great way to test your knowledge on dog behavioral cues.
I confess that watching it again a year and a half later showed me just how out of practice I have become. I missed a quite a few the first time around. Take a look and tell me what you see. (Note: No one is hurt in this video).

Not sure? I’ve posted a list below. Feel free to read the list and then watch the video or watch the video, check the list and watch the video again. It’s amazing what we miss isn’t it?

Just out of curiosity, did anyone cringe like I did as you neared the end of the video? Do you know why? I think I know what made me cringe, but I’m wondering if anyone else caught it. (PLEASE KEEP YOUR COMMENTS RESPECTFUL. THANKS!)

Behavioral Signals seen in this video

Shake off

Eye blinking

Lip licking (hard to see)

Barking and increasing distance by backing up

Growling

Looking away several times

Stiff body posture

Stillness or freezing suddenly

Mouth closed tightly (a relaxed dog would have a slack jaw)

Hard stares (this is the one that got me at the end)

At no time does this dog look relaxed. To someone who doesn’t know what to look for, it may look like he is going back for attention, but everything else about his body posture and signals says differently.

So what is this dog telling us?

Based on what I see, I think he is nervous and uncomfortable, with both the petting and the close proximity of the vet tech. He cannot distance himself easily due to the small confines of the room. All his signals tell us he wants her to back off, but when that doesn’t work, he lets her know in a more pronounced way.

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  1. June 24, 2013 at 10:18 PM

    I also notice that his tail is down and never moves – poor guy 😦

    • Mel
      June 24, 2013 at 10:45 PM

      Great catch Julie! I forgot about that. Yeah. his tail never wags at all does it? 😦

  2. June 24, 2013 at 10:23 PM

    Good video. I’m glad to say that I was able to recognize many of the signals and knew this dog was not comfortable…and I cringed absolutely, saw that ending coming. I think these types of videos and analysis are great. People have many misconceptions about dog behavior and its only through these types of vids that we can learn. I’m lucky that i can read both Jack and Maggie pretty easily NOW…wasn’t always the case. Thanks for sharing.

    • Mel
      June 24, 2013 at 10:45 PM

      Thanks SlimDoggy. I think you are more knowledgable than many people. Jack and Maggie are so lucky to have you. 🙂

      I am glad I am not the only one who cringed at the end.

  3. June 24, 2013 at 10:51 PM

    Truthfully, I failed miserably. First of all, the dog’s signals were incredibly subtle…he seemed to be moving towards her like he wanted the attention/petting. I was surprised when he snapped at her at the end, but the earlier barking I would have interpreted as just him talking to her but not angrily. I would not have continued to pet him as long as she did however. I would not have wanted to overwhelm him. Was this sort of a temperament test? It seemed from the what they were saying that maybe they were assessing him for possible adoption.

    • Mel
      June 24, 2013 at 11:10 PM

      I don’t think so Martie. I think they were saying hi to what they thought was his favorite vet tech, but to be honest, I was so busy watching for signals I barely listened to the conversation except where the woman said he almost peed on her.

      And don’t feel bad for missing the signals. It takes a lot of practice and lots of time to catch all of them or even a few. Remember when I said I was out of practice? I missed many on the first review of it again. I had to watch it again.

    • June 27, 2013 at 1:41 PM

      The early barking is the same bark my dog does when she’s very unsure (ex. about somebody’s body language), and that’s how I interpreted this guy as well.

  4. June 24, 2013 at 11:33 PM

    I thought she was very dominate petting him roughly and leaning over him. At no time did he invite the petting and was clearly uncomfortable. That hard stare at the end a warning, she is very lucky she did not get bit. It was much easier to pick up the signs with out the volume up.

    • Mel
      June 25, 2013 at 6:40 AM

      Good catches Carole and good point. I suspect towards the end she knew something was off because she kind of increased the distance between them. I also think the owners were way more prepared than most owners (perhaps he has done this before?) or she would have been bit. There was so much he was saying that I am surprised she kept petting him and petting him so vigorously.

  5. Lauren
    June 25, 2013 at 1:29 AM

    Yes, I saw him freeze a couple of times. The last one made me gasp!

    • Mel
      June 25, 2013 at 6:38 AM

      Me too!

  6. June 25, 2013 at 3:38 AM

    Yikes we jumped and we know he was not happy but we did not expect that. Goes to show. Have a terrific Tuesday.
    Best wishes Molly

    • Mel
      June 25, 2013 at 6:38 AM

      You weren’t the only one Molly. I have watched it several times and I still jump each time. Best wishes to you!

  7. June 25, 2013 at 5:11 AM

    A low and fast tail wag near the end. The pressing into her with his hips and rear to physically keep her away from his head. Hunched over and balanced on his toes. It was that final stiffening that got me too, head raised and she locked eyes with him. It also makes me wonder, with the speed the owner pulled the dog away if it wasn’t his first reaction like that (be it to human or other dog). The space was very small and he did what he could to help himself. Often times technicians also work on that level near the dog, for blood draws, nail trims and other procedures, I wonder if the dog’s memory of such prompted the response.

    • Mel
      June 25, 2013 at 6:35 AM

      All great observations. I also thought this might not have been the first time he had reacted like this because the owner was so quick with the leash. Suzanne Clothier says that every dog has a spatial distance at which they become uncomfortable and for some dogs that distance can be quite far. I suspect this dog’s was more than what was allowed in this room.

      Good catch on the using his rear and hips to increase distance and in the hunched posture. I didn’t catch those.

  8. penny
    June 25, 2013 at 7:07 AM

    May I use this video for my canine body language class I teach to vet staff?

    • Mel
      June 25, 2013 at 8:36 AM

      Hi Penny. This is a video I pulled off of YouTube. So I think you are free to share it. That’s what I did.

    • Mel
      June 25, 2013 at 9:39 PM

      I thought I responded already Penny, but if I didn’t, please do share with your vet staff. It’s not my video, just one on YouTube, but I think it is a great teaching tool and could benefit a lot of people.

  9. June 25, 2013 at 8:01 AM

    Obviously the dog does not like her. The way she petted is not good at all. The second time at least she sat down but the petting was a bit “rough” The stroking to should be a bit slow to make it calming. She pushed the dog … He was surely uncomfortable with her presence. Lots of Golden Woofs, Sugar

    • Mel
      June 25, 2013 at 9:37 PM

      I wonder if he would have been more open to her if she had just sat down outside the door and waited for him to approach without touching him? I think giving him the chance to choose might have led to different body signals.

  10. June 25, 2013 at 8:28 AM

    I initially noticed his tail. He appeared nervous. Matter of fact, her rubbing was irritating me and the rough head patting and rubs. I would have peed on her too. But to then get down to his level and put her face that close, no. She’s a ding ding imo. Poor dog 😦 If my vet techs, whom Titan loves btw, were to act like that with him, he’d snap too.

    • Mel
      June 25, 2013 at 9:36 PM

      Thanks for sharing your observations Bren. I don’t think she is a ding dong, I think she just thought getting down to his level would make him less nervous. Unfortunately, getting down on his level also meant entering his space and he clearly didn’t like the close proximity or the touching.

      • June 26, 2013 at 8:27 AM

        haha She’s a ding ding as in not thinking and realizing the dogs behavior. 🙂

  11. June 25, 2013 at 9:14 AM

    The whole stillness of his body even while his tail did wag fast and low, and especially the look in his eyes said “back off lady you’re creeping me out!”. You can always see it in the eyes first. Why do people feel the need to rub dogs like they are drying their hands on a towel? She needed to stand up, stop rubbing and give him some space. And I would *never* put my face directly in front of a dog unless I wanted some new piercings!

    • Mel
      June 25, 2013 at 9:31 PM

      I don’t either Julia. One of the things I did as a pet sitter on a first visit to meet the owners and their dog was to let the dog approach me. I always left it up to them. But, I also have a lot more knowledge about dog behavior than many dog owners. I was lucky enough to learn from Kate and many other great trainers. I agree with your comment on seeing it in the eyes.

  12. June 25, 2013 at 3:23 PM

    The obsessive petting is what I noticed the most and how his entire body was stiff, head up, on toes. I found it tricky in the beginning to know if he liked the petting or not because he kept going over to her. But I caught on by the last half. If it would have been Brut I’d be able to pick it up from the beginning.

    • Mel
      June 25, 2013 at 9:29 PM

      He got closer, but immediately put his but and hip to her and moved his head away. I’ve seen dogs give other dogs the butt bump in play and to create distance. I think what made this one more difficult to see was because he didn’t have much space in which to move away. It looked like he chose to be closer.

  13. June 25, 2013 at 7:07 PM

    Oh, I really thought a bite was coming! I don’t know why people try to win a nervous pup over by getting closer/louder/faster/stronger. And staring. If we are anxious, please don’t stare at us! That dog gave a Lot of warnings, but I bet if he’d bitten the people would say “we never saw it coming!”

    • Mel
      June 25, 2013 at 9:27 PM

      What a great description “closer/louder/faster/stronger”. I think you nailed it on the head. Sometimes distance and being quiet and slower in your movements can make all the difference when it comes to dogs. I think this vet tech sensed something was coming. I think the owners did too.

  14. June 25, 2013 at 11:21 PM

    Hi, Mel! Long time no talk to!

    There are some good observations above.

    The major thing that jumps out at me was early on, the dog was looking longingly at the exit door of the room. At the same time, he was restrained by the leash and while the tech was not blocking his exit, he would have to pass by her to leave. That’s when he started barking.

    When she got on the floor, he manipulated his body so he was facing the exit and was ready to pee on her to create distance. She was practically hugging him down there, oblivious to the fact that he was throwing distance-increasing signals since the beginning of this encounter and he was escalating but was very nice about it.

    Even then, not realizing he was trying to leave, she stared at him, put her arms over him, hugged him…in effect, showing threats toward him.

    He is an effective communicator but without someone able to read canine signaling, even this well-meaning person could have been injured but wasn’t…a testament to his temperament!

    • Mel
      June 26, 2013 at 8:51 AM

      Hi Dana!
      I am so glad you stopped by to share your observations! I also saw the longing look, but failed to mention it. Really good catch. I agree with you, he was especially tolerant given what he was enduring. The sad thing is most people who don’t know what he was communicating will assume he is a bad dog for the lunge at the end, When in reality he was more tolerant than many dogs would be in this situation.

      So glad you stopped by!

  15. Amy
    June 26, 2013 at 1:21 PM

    Great video, thanks for sharing. I picked up some of the signals, but not all. I did notice the stiff tail and I did see the movement of the mouth, which I thought might be lip licking. The other thing I noticed is that when he was barking, he also looked back at the owner (or whoever was holding the leash) – I am not sure how to interpret it, but it seems to me like a way of asking for help (for lack of better words).

    Someone in the comments mentioned the pressing into her with his hips and rear, and that it is a way to create a distance. Interesting – I had wondered about that behavior…. it is so easily interpreted as a request for touch, when maybe it is not that at all.

    • June 26, 2013 at 1:39 PM

      Amy, a dog pressing into someone like that could mean lots of different things. For example, a dog might be backing into someone to ask for butt scritches. A dog could be blocking movement of person, resource guarding (like he would a bone or a forbidden item) or scent marking a person (dogs do this by scraping their anal area on people.)

      In this context, it does look kind of odd, butt (LOL!) l’ve heard of dogs urinating on a person to get them to stop doing something. This dog really wanted out of there and had tried lots of ways to make the “affection” (molestation IMO) stop! He was pretty nice about it ’til she started hugging on him at eye level. I look at that as, “Sheesh, lady! What the heck is wrong with you?”

      And I totally agree that the dog may have been asking the holder of the leash for help! 🙂

      I wish I could remember the particulars of this video; it was a case study for an aggression course I took from a veterinary behaviorist last fall. I think the man holding the dog was a veterinarian and the vet was either fostering the dog or the dog had been rehomed with his family. They were having trouble with the dog being noisy and scary behind barriers in the clinic. The vet tech was trying to “make friends” with the dog.

      Even animal professionals don’t receive training on canine signaling unless they seek it out. It would have been better had the dog not been trapped by the leash in a small room with no exit and if the dog had a choice on whether to continue to engage with the animal lover.

      • Amy
        June 26, 2013 at 2:35 PM

        Dana, thanks much for your reply. Very interesting about the butt/backing in behavior. Good info – I think I will watch for this in different contexts. There is SOOO much to learn! 🙂

      • Mel
        June 26, 2013 at 9:23 PM

        I know! Dana taught me something new too! I love that trained dog trainers comment and share their observations.

      • cindy
        June 27, 2013 at 5:56 PM

        It is interesting that the person holding the lead says the dog had urinated on them before… “at a dog event, when there were lots of other dogs around”. I haven’t heard this behaviour discussed much before. It seems like an extreme behaviour and I could see that, for a reactive dog that is always prevented from leaving, this might be an indicator of distress (and so a predictor of bite if the stress is not averted). It’s a pretty clear signal – “piss off”. Occasionally, dogs pee on other dogs too. I always thought it was random error.

  16. June 26, 2013 at 8:13 PM

    I frequently see what can only be described as ignorant behavior choices by vets and vet techs every time I’m in a veterinary clinic. I imagine they get bit a lot, given the lack of insight they seem to have re: dog body language. The fact that these same people are giving behavior advice to dog owners scares me.

    • Malamute Mom
      June 26, 2013 at 8:55 PM

      Exactly, Dee. People across the board (rescue, vet clinics) just don’t see this and dogs pass as being “great with kids, people, other dogs” and then the bite comes “from nowhere”. And these *are* the people who are giving advice on dog behavior. 😦

    • Mel
      June 26, 2013 at 9:22 PM

      I think Dana, who commented above, said the vet was fostering this dog and they were testing his behavior, but I understand what you are saying Dee. I think I am a lucky client because my vet clinic vets and staff get it. It’s one of the reasons why I go to them. They understand Daisy and Jasper and Cupcake and let them approach them. I serious love my vet and the staff there.

  17. June 26, 2013 at 11:01 PM

    That stare at the end made me hold my breath! The vet tech did a lot of things wrong. Some signals I missed but I did have the feeling that the dog was not comfortable and the barking was a “back off” to me. Very good lesson – I watched it several times (and jumped each time).

    • Mel
      June 27, 2013 at 6:55 AM

      Me too Linda! I jump every time. That stare at the end should have been a serious warning. I think she saw it coming but even so.

  18. June 27, 2013 at 12:03 AM

    Damn. That dog scared the bejesus out of me at the end of the video!

    • Mel
      June 27, 2013 at 6:53 AM

      LOL! I know! I cringe every time I watch it Karen. Every time it nears the end I just pull back and cringe. Thank goodness I know the ending.

  19. Marta Young
    June 27, 2013 at 4:01 AM

    The dog’s face is incredibly tense throughout. You can see his bone structure and musculature through his skin. He does several ‘look aways’ back toward the leash holder, both before and after the tech gets on the floor. Worried that the vet (or whomever was holding the leash) said that the dog peeing on people was a ‘pretty clear sign of dominance’.

  20. Minke van den Bergh
    June 27, 2013 at 4:47 AM

    Thanks for sharing! Well filmed…may I use this for my students studying Animal Husbandry?

  21. Tina
    June 27, 2013 at 9:46 AM

    I have Great Danes who are very uncomfortable at the vet’s. The rooms are small and the table in the center makes it worse. My dogs have shown all the same signs that the dog in the video shows. There is no way around the fact that they are there to be touched, poked and manipulated by people that make them scared and uncomfortable. I have never been able to figure out a way to make them feel more relaxed in the vet situation. So, they are muzzled as soon as we get into the room and distracted with high value treats during the exam/shots but that really doesn’t lower their stress during the procedure.

  22. Jennifer
    June 27, 2013 at 10:00 AM

    Oh boy I saw the end of that coming a mile away…

  23. marcelina R.
    June 27, 2013 at 11:50 AM

    I’m 34 yrs old, I’ve always owned different breeds of dogs. Most of the dogs were rescues. What I see in this video is a dog that is anxious & the the petting is only making the anxiousness worse. Also the vet tech keeps staring at the dog right in his eyes & at this moment that’s also contributing to the anxiousness. This is a dog that’s in a place he’s NOT familiar with, he’s around people he does NOT know & this dog is scared with all of the unknown.
    Who knows maybe other people the dogs encountered have been mean & cruel

  24. June 27, 2013 at 12:14 PM

    Oh dog, I could barely watch the whole thing. Ugh. I saw it coming a mile away and thought for sure he was going to connect with her face. (I thought I even saw a little lip raise but, honestly, am so upset by the video that I don’t want to watch it again.)

    From the second she got down on the floor with him, I knew something bad was going to happen. And yet, lots of people do that with Bella. I think we’ve even been taught to kneel and greet dogs at their level – which I do a lot. But we have to teach folks the difference between greeting a normal dog and greeting a stressed or fearful dog. (In fact, we have to teach people NOT to greet a fearful or stressed out dog.) Getting your face at the level of their face seems to really amp them up instead of calming them down.

    Great share, Mel. Fantastic learning opportunity.

  25. Amy
    June 27, 2013 at 1:18 PM

    I enjoy reading everyone’s comments, and really appreciate you posting this kind of thing Mel. I learn something from all of the comments. Thanks you guys!

    Just a quick thought – (and this is not just on this blog here, but other places I visit as well, so please do not interpret this as pointing fingers) – there tends to be a bit of negative reaction (judgement?) from those who understand how to read dog signals towards those who don’t, especially if those who don’t are in the dog care fields. I really do understand this, because once you see, you can’t really /not/ see, so it is easy to notice where others are doing things wrong.

    But I also am very aware, as a “dog novice,” that most people don’t have any idea that there is even such a thing as “how to talk dog” beyond what we’ve learned along the way. For many of us, along the way has not included dogs, much less the language of dogs. I guess my only point is – rather than being horrified by the ignorance of vet techs and lay people that we run into, couldn’t we gently point out what we see and start to lift the curtain a bit? Obviously, this is a video, and so we can’t talk to vet techs here, but when we do… what if we pointed out what we see, what we’ve learned?

    I often will engage in conversations at the dog park – talking about what I have learned about Star, and how interesting it is to watch the behavior of all of the dogs. I don’t know all that much, but it is part of my learning to talk about it and point out possibilities. Sometimes, we get a few people together watching and commenting – none of us are experts, but we all want to learn something – and just the awareness brings discussion and begins to change things.

    It always takes time before new ideas seep into educational systems. Hopefully, one day, all vet-animal-type schools will include education on how to read animal behavior…

    Anyway, just a random thought this morning … thanks again everyone for helping me to see differently! 🙂 And thanks, Mel, for sharing!

    • Mel
      June 27, 2013 at 2:02 PM

      No Amy. Thank you! I completely agree. I need to do a better job at the dog park when I try to explain this to people I tend to about something out. I like the idea of getting people to watch and see what they see. Great idea!

      • Amy
        June 27, 2013 at 5:32 PM

        Thanks, Mel – and sorry, that was completely off topic. Dunno what gets in to me sometimes! 🙂

      • Mel
        June 28, 2013 at 6:17 AM

        No apologies Amy. I’m glad you raised the point.

  26. Karri
    June 27, 2013 at 2:19 PM

    Did anyone notice the dominance stance over her leg? It was momentary but he did try to dominate her.

  27. Janine
    June 27, 2013 at 4:09 PM

    I noticed in the first 20 seconds or so when the vet tech started vigorously petting him, his back is “roached” and tense. It kind of reminded me of what kids do when they hunch over to try and avoid interacting with or dealing with someone.

    I’m still a beginner at understanding dog body language; is that considered part of a “full body freeze”?

  28. June 27, 2013 at 5:35 PM

    Thanks for posting this Mel. I also noticed some blowing out of the cheeks at the beginning. I saw the attack coming a while back after he started barking. I hope the vet tech has learnt from this, that she could’ve done things differently, and not that it was that particular dog. I wonder why she insisted on making contact with him. She is so lucky that he had good bite inhibition. I wonder for the poor dog what the consequences of his actions were in the immediate after math after they stopped recording. I worry that he may have been punished, since the handler said that he was being dominant. A great teaching footage.

  29. somethingwagging
    June 27, 2013 at 6:50 PM

    Go back again and watch the vet tech. Do you notice how she becomes more hesitant after the dog pees on her? She might not have been able to tell you what was going on. But she sensed something was wrong and went against her instincts.

    Isn’t it amazing what dogs put up with?

  30. Corally Burmaster
    June 27, 2013 at 8:46 PM

    I have to say that the whole clip made me uncomfortable, but those two hard stares at the end made me gasp. To be so oblivious to the dog’s intention as to keep her face that close and stare BACK at him…..She was very lucky.

  31. Mary
    June 27, 2013 at 9:38 PM

    The Dog Whisperer always says: NO TALK, NO TOUCH, NO EYE CONTACT.

    • Mel
      June 27, 2013 at 11:17 PM

      I’m not a fan of the Dog Whisperer, but in this case I think those are not bad ones to remember.

      • June 28, 2013 at 2:00 AM

        yes, but I don’t see him practicing what he preaches – I see him touching and making eye contact frequently (not that I watch him frequently if you know what I mean).

      • Mel
        June 28, 2013 at 6:16 AM

        Exactly Susan. That was what I was going to say, but was trying to be diplomatic. I support the words and the actions if they are congruous.

  32. Dee
    June 27, 2013 at 11:28 PM

    This is a great learning opportunity for all vets, vet techs, animal control officers, police officers, shelter employees/volunteers and rescue folks.

    • Mel
      June 28, 2013 at 6:16 AM

      Agree. I think it’s a great opportunity for all of is.

  33. kari
    June 28, 2013 at 12:22 PM

    was the video removed? i can longer watch it. 😦

    • Mel
      June 28, 2013 at 12:30 PM

      Hi Kari

      Unfortunately, it was removed or made private. I was informed earlier today that it was always meant to have been private, but they failed to make it so on YouTube. I am sorry you missed it, but I think it was for client privacy reasons. 😦

      • kari
        June 28, 2013 at 12:49 PM

        bummer! it was such a great video! i wanted to share it.

  34. July 2, 2013 at 11:51 AM

    I have a behavior training workshop next week for some vet techs where I work next week. I was excited to come across this video as one to show them and teach from. Is there any way I could gain access to this? Laura@missbehaviortraining.com – Thanks so much!

    • Mel
      July 2, 2013 at 9:13 PM

      I wish I knew how Laura. I believe the person who originally posted it only had permission to share it for training purposes, but now that it has been blocked I am not sure how to contact her.

  1. September 10, 2013 at 4:40 AM

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