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.
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.