Home > Dog Behavior, Pet Videos > Bernese Mountain Dog vs. Boston Terrier: Play or not? What do you see?

Bernese Mountain Dog vs. Boston Terrier: Play or not? What do you see?

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.


My Observations

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.

  1. Keri
    April 28, 2014 at 12:11 AM

    This just broke my heart…. The BMD was practically pleading for help…

  2. April 28, 2014 at 1:21 AM

    It would be good to know what the context was for filming this interaction, is the person recording it for training purposes or because they thought the boston terrier was being cute. I personally couldn’t allow something like this to go on for as long as it did, I applaud the beautiful BMD for its tolerance but it was upsetting to see its pleas for help ignored.

  3. JMO
    April 28, 2014 at 5:27 AM

    The Boston Terrier was extremely lucky that the BMD was so patient. Another , less tolerant dog, would have followed up all his warnings with a bite. This was so not fair to the BMD. I wanted to rescue him from the situation.

  4. April 28, 2014 at 7:17 AM

    I read the responses as the BMD was trying to send a message by his aggressive reactions, a “warning” that he was not interested in playing. Because he did sniff the Boston when he calmed down and almost laid back, I think he would have tolerated him cuddling. These dogs are normally so good natured so I believe his baring of teeth was just a warning. But, you are right, it should not have been allowed to continue. It wasn’t fair to the BMD.

  5. April 28, 2014 at 7:35 AM

    I had trouble watching this to the finish because the Bernese was so obviously not interested in playing and was not a happy dog during this interaction. It also disturbs me that whoever took this video could not see (or did not care) how obnoxiously the Boston was behaving and how the BMD was clearly NOT enjoying the interaction and sending every signal that she could that she wanted to the Boston to stop. First and foremost, we should be our dogs’ caretakers and advocates, and to video tape an unpleasant interaction between two dogs is definitely not advocating for their care and comfort. I sincerely hope that it was not a trainer who took this video, with the intent of using it as an instructional video. I it was taken by an uninformed dog owner who innocently perceived this very unpleasant interaction as play, then I hope that a trainer did teach them to see that this was not play, it was unwanted harassment, and that they need to step in and stop this (not video tape it……).

  6. April 28, 2014 at 11:28 AM

    I find this so interesting and educational, because with a puppy in the house and two older dogs I constantly have to judge whether they are playing, or whether Luke is annoying them. The first things I noticed here were the whale eye and the fact that the BMD wasn’t playing back. I’ve never seen the whale eye with our girls, but if they are just lying still and not interacting with Luke, and give him a slight snarl I make him leave them alone.
    I usually err on the side of caution….but Sheba can look very mean when playing, so I also watch her tail for slow wagging, and for her body to look relaxed. I don’t want to break them up when they’re just having fun, so it really is difficult sometimes!

  7. April 28, 2014 at 11:46 AM

    I agree with the observations on the BMD body language and would like to add the “yawns” offered as calming behavior to the BT. The BMD was extremely tolerant of the BT’s inappropriate behavior which should have been interrupted instead of video taped.

  8. April 28, 2014 at 12:15 PM

    Great video and summary of the behaviors. Very timely post for me as I just brought a new foster home the other day. My Husky is sweet and loving and wants to play with every dog on the planet. The first day she began displaying many of the come play with me actions the Boston Terrier displayed here. My foster clearly did not want to play and was giving Get Lost, I Just Wanna be Left Alone Right Now! signals but my Husky kept trying. I usually let the dogs work things out using their natural canine behaviors, but when my foster started “charging” at my dog w/ teeth bared and some nipping I had to step in and curtail my Husky with the “Leave It!” command. It’s always a judgment call if and when to step in, and when it’s important to let the dogs work out their natural place and behavior in the pack.

  9. April 28, 2014 at 6:49 PM

    The mountain dog seemed patient and controlled. He didn’t exhibit active aggression. I have a 14+ dog and I fostered a young terrier. When the foster bothered my dog and wanted to play, there was barking, snapping, etc. BJ also began to exhibit unacceptable behavior – urinating in the apartment and hallway. I had to return the foster to the shelter. BJ immediately stopped the acting out.

  10. May 4, 2014 at 4:09 PM

    What a patient Burmese Mountain dog. Got to admire such tolerance.

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