Home > Dog Behavior, Pet Safety, Pet Videos > Analyzing dog behavior: Baby and Dog on the bed – What do you see?

Analyzing dog behavior: Baby and Dog on the bed – What do you see?


It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these posts, but after seeing a picture today of a child dressed like a jockey and sitting on the back of a Great Dane like it was a horse, I can’t help but feel like I haven’t done enough of them. We humans constantly place our dogs in situations that put them, and kids, at risk. How do we educate millions of dog owners on dog body language? How do we help them to see beyond the cuteness to see what a dog is really telling them?

No dog is fool-proof. Ever. Some dogs are more tolerant than others, but pushed far enough a dog will bite, especially if he cannot flee from the situation. If we can learn to recognize when a dog is uncomfortable, we can intervene and stop whatever is making them uncomfortable or we can remove them from the situation and place them somewhere they feel safe. Dogs and kids are at OUR mercy. It is up to us to protect them both.

Below is a video I’ve had in my video file for some time. Overall, it is not a terrible video. It doesn’t have a child standing or jumping on a dog. It doesn’t have a dog snarking at or biting a child. But, it is a good example of the subtle behaviors a dog displays when uncomfortable, and in this video, the cues are really easy to see.

Watch the video below and then see my observations and analysis.

What I see…

A baby and a dog are laying on a bed. The child is on her stomach and she is lying next to the family dog, who is looking out the window. The baby is propped up on her hands and is looking in the opposite direction. The dad is the one videotaping what looks to be a very cute moment.

.04 sec: Dog looks at camera and does a lip lick. Baby is looking down and away from the dog.

.05 sec: Dog does another small lip lick and looks at the child.

.06 sec: Baby looks at dog

.07 sec: Dog looks at baby and does a small lip lick. His ears are way back on his head. It appears he has a whale-eye, but hard to tell since he has turned to face the baby and we are only seeing him from the side.

.08 sec: Dog does another very small lip lick and ears are back. Child raises the hand nearest the dog.

.09-.10 sec: Child raises are and swings it towards the dog a couple of times. Blink.

.11 sec: Dog does another lip lick. Ears appear even further back on his head. Blink. Blink.

.12 sec: two more quick lip licks from the dog. Looks at camera. Ears are spread far apart on his head and are back.

.13 sec: Baby leans forward. Another lip lick from the dog. Slight whale-eye.

.14-.16 sec: Baby leans towards dog. Lip-lick. Dog pulls lips back (no teeth shown) and looks at child.

.16 sec: Child touches dog’s mouth. Dog does another lip-lick. Whale-eye.

.17 sec: Dog leans sideways towards child and does another lip lick.

.20 sec: Child raises hand. Dog pulls head away slightly and turns it. Looks slightly away from child.

.21 sec: Dog looks at child. Blink.

.23-.24 sec: Dog and child look at man behind the camera. Dogs ears are back.

.25 sec: Child rocks up and forward on hands.

.26 sec: Dog looks up at ceiling in opposite direction of the child. (Distraction?)

.26 sec: Dog looks to side. Eyes focused. Mouth slightly open.

.30 sec: Child rocks forward. Dog looks at child. Lip-lick.

.31 sec: Lip-lick. Looks at camera. Blink.

.33 sec: Dog yawns. Baby yawns. both look towards camera.

.36-.37 sec: Baby lifts arm and drops it on bed near dog. Lip-lick from the dog. Blink.

.38 sec: Lip lick. Blink

.43 sec: Lip-lick.

.44 sec: Lip-lick. Baby looks at dog. Blink.

.48-.49 sec: Baby lifts arm that is further away from the dog and places it on dog’s paw. Dog immediately turns and licks child’s hand.

.50 sec: Licks child’s hand again.

.51 sec: Dog licks child’s hand again and moves face closer to baby’s face. Lip-lick. Displays whale-eye.

.52 sec: Licks baby’s face.

.53 sec: Licks baby’s face again and then her ear as she turns away.

.54 sec: Licks baby’s ear twice more.

.54-.55 sec: Two more lick-licks. Baby and dog look at camera.

.57 sec: Dog glances away from baby and then back at camera.

1:00 min: Baby rocks forward and towards dog. Dog does another lip-lick. Ears are back on his head.

1:01 min: Lip-lick. Whale-eye. Dog leans over and licks child’s face.

1:02 min: Licks child’s face again.

1:02-1:03 min: Two more quick lip-licks from the dog. Looks at camera. Child is now leaning forward and almost looming over dog.

1:03-1:04 min: Two more quick lip-licks. Dog closes eyes on second lip lick (exaggerated blink?).

1:05 min: Blink and lip-lick from the dog.

1:06 min: Child leans over and hand touches paw again. Dog immediately leans forward and licks child’s hand.

1:07 min: Licks child’s hand again and places at the camera.

1:08 min: Two more lip licks.

1:09 min: Lip-lick. Dog raises head. Mouth is slightly open. Dog is looking at the camera.

1:11 min: Child touches dog’s paw again and he licks her hand again.

1:12 min: Licks child’s hand twice more and looks at camera.

1:13 min: Lip-lick.

1:15 min: Lip-lick.

1:16 min: Dog blinks.

1:18-1:19 min: Child lifts arm and touches side of dog’s face. Dog gives a lip-lick and closes eyes.

1:20 min: Dog flicks ear and lip-licks.

1:21 min: Dog blinks.

1:22 min: Child raises hand towards dog’s ear. Dog closes eyes.

1:23 min: Child touches dog’s ear. Dog blinks and then does another lip-lick.

1:24-1:25 min: Child grabs on dog’s ear and pulls, Dog lip-licks. Mouth is closed. Blink.

1:26 min: Child pulls his ear. Dog looks at child. Whale-eye. Looks at child. Lip-lick.

1:27 min: Two more lip-licks from the dog. Moves face closer to child.

1:28 min: Lip-lick. Blinks. Pulls body away from child. Looks at camera.

1:29 min: Lip licks again and pulls further away from child. Mouth tightly closes.

1:30 min: Small lip-lick. Dog seems stiff. Lips are drawn. Child is touching dog with hand.

1:31 min: Child touches dog again. Dog appears stiff. hale-eye. Dog looks at camera.

1:32 min: Lip-lick.

1:33 min: Lip lick. Child touches dog’s paw. Dog freezes. Dog leans head away from child and pulls paw away from child’s hand.

1:34-1:35 min: Dog lays head on bed. Paw is in the air. Dog rests paw on bed.

1:36-1:37 min: Owner tells dog he is a good boy and dog lays back further and closes eyes.

1:38-1:39 min: Child touches paw with a finger and the dog sits back up quickly.

1:40 min: Whale-eye.

1:41 min: Lip-lick. Dog looks at baby.

1:42 min: Two more lip-licks. Licks child’s face.

1:42-1:47 min: Dog licks child’s face and ear multiple times.

1:48 min: Owner moves hands toward dog and tells him “That’s enough Spencer” while chuckling. Dog  gives another lip-lick.

1:49 min: Lip-lick.

1:50 min: Lip-lick.

1:51 min: Lip-lick.

1:51-1:53 min: Dog lifts himself up with front paws and stands up on bed and makes move to jump off.

Video ends.

My analysis: Spencer the dog displayed numerous appeasement and stress signals throughout the video. I don’t think I have ever seen so many lip-licks in such a short period of time. The number of lip-licks and blinks in just a mere second of time was amazing too. All of these (lip-licks, blinking and yawning) are appeasement signals. They are telling the child (and the owner) that he is uncomfortable and would like the behavior (touching him, leaning over him and grabbing him) to stop. He is especially not comfortable with the baby touching his feet. I think these moments were some of the scariest moments to watch. I literally held my breath because I thought the potential for the dog to bite was there (examples can be seen at .16 sec, .17 sec, 1:01 min, 1:31 min and 1:40 min).

Spencer the dog was exceptionally tolerant. Thank goodness. The number of times the baby’s face was near Spencer’s were way too frequent. If Spencer had bitten, he could have done some serious damage. What amazed me is how many signals Spencer gave in just one second of time. In one second, he could have bitten the baby and the father would have been unable to do anything to prevent it. Just one second is all it takes.

So what did you see? What did I miss?

Want to learn more about dog stress and appeasement signals? Victoria Stillwell has a great piece on it on her Canine Body Language page.

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  1. October 27, 2015 at 8:53 AM

    I don’t think I will ever understand it. I spend almost everyday cringing on a walk with the Boys because people literally “throw” their children in front of us because they are “so cute and cuddly” and the parents want to take photos. They almost never ever ask me if they bite. Don’t let the cuddly look fool you, all dogs have the ability to bite.

  2. October 27, 2015 at 9:25 AM

    I am increasingly not tolerant of people approaching my dog without permission with or without dogs and kids. He’s a cattle dog and avoidant of strangers. But he’s so beautiful people throw themselves their kids and often their leashes dogs in his direction. I’ve gotten to the point of just saying no to everything and them being called out as rude – or they say “well he looks friendly as if I’m wrong about his nature”. He’s more tolerant now that he’s a senior but I am still watchful on his behalf.

    • October 27, 2015 at 10:05 AM

      We currently have a cattle dog / husky mix, and we get the same reaction when we say no. Our dog looks very cute but does not like random strangers coming to her and touching her. We always tell people now until Snuffy starts growling at them and then they get mad at us. 😦

  3. October 27, 2015 at 12:12 PM

    Excellent video. Our dogs all do these behaviors when enduring things they don’t love, like nail clipping and baths. Basically, I see in these scenes, a dog who is not sure what to do with the feelings he is having. He keeps looking to the owner to mitigate the difficulty and then continues trying to be OK, even when he is not. The owner, as pack leader, owes him a good deal for keeping himself together with little support or praise. In leaving the area, the dog finally opted to decide for himself. Dumb animals, my eye!

    • Mel
      October 27, 2015 at 12:40 PM

      An even better analysis than mine. Thanks!

  4. October 27, 2015 at 12:59 PM

    I saw the same things you did, and I commend the dog for restraining himself and condemn the dad for laughing and thinking this was ‘cute’. It’s not.

    What’s even worse, is when one of these videos (or that picture you speak of) is shown and people speak up and say, the dog is uncomfortable and the ignorants jump on board, telling them to ‘relax’ ‘it’s just a 20 lb baby on a big dog’ blah, blah, blah. I want to jump in and scream and YOU are the problem, because you don’t see a problem.

    As you know from yesterday’s picture, my friend commented saying her son used to ‘ride’ her friends dog and the dog loved it. I actually had to sign off Facebook for a few minutes to collect myself, because I was so hot and didn’t want to respond with a comment that would only acerbate the situation.

    Would you believe I actually have a post in draft form on my blog with a link to something similar? The post is titled something like, “This Makes Me Cringe.”

    It’s so sad all the way around.

  5. October 27, 2015 at 2:52 PM

    I definitely saw the nervousness. Lick, lick, lick. That’s how I tell if our dog is enjoying me petting her or not. I pet her a few times and then stop. If she licks her lips, I don’t pet anymore. If she doesn’t respond at all, I don’t pet any more. If she nudges my hand and then gazes up at me, wagging her tail, I keep petting for as long as I think she’d want pet, then stop and wait for her to do it again. If she doesn’t, I stop petting. It may sound complicated, just for petting the dog, but I see lots of people keep petting and petting their dogs, and the dogs obviously not enjoying it. A cat would just bite them! Dogs have personal space too.

  6. October 27, 2015 at 6:09 PM

    I don’t know why people do that to their dogs. Sigh!

  7. October 28, 2015 at 12:07 PM

    Ray is a very cuddly looking Shepherd/Rotti X. He was a rescue with severe issues, and is in no way a “big cuddle” (well he is with us………… but only us!). Whenever I hear “Look …. big doggy!”, I immediately find the source and block ……… and then try and explain to the parent. Reactions are mixed ……. odd times a thank you but, more often a comment about allowing such an animal out even though leashed. Sadly, as in many dog/human interactions where the outcome is unpleasant, it is the dog that suffers despite the cause being human stupidity. We need more of these types of posts to spread the word ……. they are not “cuddly teddies”, or anything remotely similar! Thx (from me and Ray).

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