Home > Dog Behavior, Dog Park, Pet Videos > Are these dogs having fun or not? I weigh in with my observations.

Are these dogs having fun or not? I weigh in with my observations.


Yesterday, I shared a video (see below) of two Great Danes interacting with one another and asked you to weigh in. It was great to see so many responses and to see so many tune in to the behaviors and over all reactions by the fawn-colored Dane, Dexter. There were quite a few people who said they would have intervened or would have left the park. I have to agree. I probably would have left. When my dog is not having fun it is time to go. The goal is to make sure that they have as many positive interactions as possible.

I still see in my mind the woman who came to our dog park with her cattle dog. The dog was clearly afraid to be there and kept hiding behind her owner and jumping up on her for reassurance as dogs chased her or tried to get her to play. The owner’s reaction was to knee her in the chest. Augh! Talk about an owner completely ignorant of her dog’s body language and needs.

Anyways, back to the video. Below is my assessment of what I saw – not only in terms of body language, but in summary form as well.

So what do you think? Did I miss something that you may have noticed? Feel free to share!


My assessment

The two dogs involved:

  • Dexter (fawn-colored Great Dane)
  • Austin Gray (gray Great Dane)
In the first 6 seconds of the video, both Austin and Dexter seem relaxed and friendly. 
  • Bodies are side by side and heads are turned slightly towards one another.
  • Dexter paws out at Austin and Austin moves sideways with Dexter following.
  • Dexter’s mouth is relaxed and his tail is wagging at mid-height.
  • Dexter sniffs at Austin’s privates and Austin turns head slightly towards Dexter. Tail is wagging at mid-height.
  • Austin darts down and away from Dexter.
The video transitions to another moment in time.
  • Dexter is seen walking away from another dog in a relaxed gait and tail up.
  • Austin runs in towards Dexter’s side and places his head over Dexter’s shoulder and leans into his side.
  • Dexter turns his head sideways towards Austin and leans away, turns head and lifts paw.
  • Austin jumps up and swipes his paw up onto Dexter’s butt.
  • At 12 seconds – Dexter spins towards Austin.
  • At 14 seconds, Dexter’s head is high and turned towards Austin. His body is leaning forward. He makes a move to sniff Austin’s privates again, stops and then turns his head to the side.
  • Austin’s body position is slightly hunched, tail is wagging in a fast side to side manner, his head is turned towards Dexter.
  • At 16 seconds, Austin jumps sideways to Dexter and forces head over Dexter’s shoulder.
  • Dexter moves slightly away from him, his ears are back, and his tail is down.
  • Austin places both paws on Dexter’s back and mounts him.
  • Another dog enters the scene as Austin puts his paws up on Dexter’s back.
  • When Austin mounts, Dexter turns one way and then they other to get Austin off his back.
  • The 3rd dog appears to lunge towards Dexter for a second before he runs off.
  • Dexter gets Austin off his back, but Austin immediately places one of his paws on his back and tries to mount him again.
  • Dexter whips around towards Austin, teeth are bared as he lunges towards him.
  • Austin leans his body down and away from Dexter and then runs sideways away from Dexter.
  • Dexter lunges toward him again, teeth bared.
  • Dexter pursues Austin mouth open and teeth bared. Austin veers away. They both stop standing almost side by side as they exchange a look.
  • Austin looks away and wags tail slowly. Tail is high.
  • Dexter looks away and starts to move away from Dexter. His fur is pileated.
  • Austin pounces towards him and then stands with body leaning backwards and tail wagging.
  • Dexter freezes and Austin looks away.
  • Dexter leans towards him and Austin leaps away playfully. Dexter walks trots away.
This same type of behavior continues throughout the next 3 minutes. Dexter conveys his desire to be left alone in numerous ways – look aways, pileated fur on his back and neck, body freezes, stares, turning away, running away, lunging and baring teeth. Multiple times Dexter goes back towards the woman in the blue coat (his owner) as if to say “save me!”, but instead she pushes him back towards Austin or merely walks away. Close to the 3-minute mark, Dexter completely runs away. But between the 3 and 4 minute mark, Dexter seems to engage with Austin. He runs away, but comes back and re-engages. He’s no longer lunging with teeth bared, but actually doing mouthing gestures with a soft mouth. At 3:55 he actually does a play bow and Austin returns it.
Summary:
Dexter is clearly not comfortable with Austin’s play style. He may not have a lot of experience with other dogs (or other Great Danes), but  whether or not he does, he clearly is not comfortable. Over and over again, he runs away from Austin and looks for ways to disengage. To be honest, Austin is a little too forward and ignores Dexter’s body language over and over again. His constant move to mount is clearly not something Dexter likes or wants to tolerate. I would have wanted Austin’s owner to intervene to stop the behavior.
However, despite Austin’s behavior, there are also times when Dexter  seems to enjoy engaging with him (e.g., in the middle and  end of the video). He even offers a play bow and Austin returns it.
One thing I did notice is that Dexter appeared to be extremely uncomfortable whenever a third dog entered the group. Hit may have been too overwhelming for him, especially if he is relatively inexperienced in playing with other dogs, he seemed to make a point of removing himself from the situation whenever a third dog joined the group.
If I had been the owner, I would have given Dexter a break and removed him from the park. . While he eventually does engage with Austin later on and does end up playing with him, the appears uncomfortable and nervous for most of the video, constantly running away from Austin and the situation. Many times he goes to his owner for relief and she ignores him or pushes him back into the fray. I think a better option would have been to leave and let Dexter have some time to relax and not feel stressed out. Forcing a dog to endure an uncomfortable or fearful situation can be a recipe for trouble. Dog parks are not for every dog and knowing how your dog feels in one should be of paramount importance. In the end, understanding what your dog is saying can be the difference between a successful interaction and a not so good one.
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  1. fredrieka
    June 24, 2014 at 10:24 AM

    Thank you for this post

    • Mel
      June 25, 2014 at 6:09 AM

      Thank you!

  2. June 24, 2014 at 12:02 PM

    Completely agree. I love your video analysis posts – really gets us all paying close attention to body language and signals and is a fun exercise! And it also does a good job to highlight dog-owner misconceptions, since the videos are often posted with no insight into the behaviour displayed (I assume this was posted as a ‘fun great dane playtime’ or something?). Hopefully the video owners come across your posts and pick up some tips!

    • Mel
      June 25, 2014 at 6:09 AM

      Thanks Jen! I love doing them when I can. It just takes a long period of dedicated time to watch second by second. I hope you will catch me if I miss something or get something wrong. This video described Austin as “a character” and that he is. It turns out he and Dexter are brothers from different litters.

  3. Tina_n_Sam
    June 24, 2014 at 1:31 PM

    Thank you for taking the time to do this. I cringed watching the video. Even though they engaged in play bows toward the end, it didn’t make up for the first 6 minutes of that ‘ugh’ feeling I had.

    • Mel
      June 25, 2014 at 6:07 AM

      I k now what you mean Tina. The more I watched it the more I saw engagement after the three-minute mark, but even then Dexter would disengage and run away over and over again, which led me to think he was not as comfortable playing with Austin.

  4. It's Dog or Nothing
    June 28, 2014 at 6:31 PM

    I completely agree with your analysis of this video. We stopped going to the dog park because people weren’t watching for signals in their dogs. We would get there and leave within minutes because a dog or two would be making mine uncomfortable. My dogs are very laid back and will let other dogs beat up on them, so we ended up leaving a lot. People could really learn a lot from your break down of this video.

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