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

October 26, 2015 9 comments

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.

What are your dog’s behavioral communication cues?

July 21, 2014 18 comments
Buddy, Kolar and Tari vying for the ball. #sheltieplaydate

Sheltie play date – Buddy, Kolar and Tari

On Saturday, Cupcake, Daisy (our flat-coated Sheltie a.k.a. Lab), and Jasper attended a Sheltie play date with some other Shelties, including many from Minnesota Sheltie Rescue. It was a great chance to see all of them in motion, playing and chasing one another and obsessing over tennis balls needing to be tossed.

During the playdate, Jasper and Daisy had the chance to meet some children who came with their own little Sheltie, Joey. The kids did really well interacting with all the dogs and became quite the hit when they willingly threw the tennis ball for all the dogs – over and over again.

At one point, during all the playing and chasing, I noticed that the little girl was sitting in front of Jasper and was doing something with his paw. I couldn’t see exactly what, but I wanted to make sure everything was okay, so I asked her what she was doing. She said “I’m shaking his paw.”

It took me a second to realize what she meant. Then I started laughing. Jasper was lifting his paw and pawing at the her. Of course, she thought he wanted to shake paws (and, why shouldn’t she? Isn’t that what most dogs do?).

“He doesn’t know how to shake paws yet.” I said, “He wants you to rub his belly.” She immediately started scratching his belly. I laughed when Jasper practically fell over on his side so she could give him a quality belly rub. Silly dog.

IMG_5970

Might I have a treat please?

It wasn’t until later that I realized how many of those behavioral communication cues my dogs give me. I’m not talking about the behavioral cues that most dogs use in communicating with other dogs, but the ones they use to let us know they want something. Behavioral communication cues like Daisy pacing back and forth between her kennel and the living room, her tail wagging wildly, which means she wants to go outside. Or, when Maggie paces back and forth in the living room and looks around as if she is looking for something. She really is looking for something. It is her cue to me that she needs more water in her dish. Or, when Jasper paces up and down the hallway, circles the coffee table, and goes back to pacing in the hallway. This is his signal that he needs to go outside and it is super urgent.

All my dogs (and Maggie) seem to have cues for a wide variety of things. Daisy and Jasper will paw at me when they want belly rubs, but Daisy will also sit at the other end of the couch, give me “the look,” and thump her tail. Maggie will glance at me over and over again and then move a little closer to me when she wants a bite of my peanut butter toast in the morning. Cupcake will put her paws on my lap and paw at me when she wants to go outside. She will also bark when she is excited and cannot contain it any longer. Dinner and treat time seem to be her most favorite times of the day. 🙂

There are at least 20 other behavioral communication cues I can think of where one or more of my dogs are telling me something without speaking. Yes, they’ve got me trained, but when think about it, I am glad they have these cues. It makes it a lot easier to meet their needs (and mine) when we can speak a similar language. Don’t you think?

So tell me, what are some behavioral communication cues your dogs give you? What does your dog do that tells you he or she needs or wants something?

Daisy. Giving me "the look".

Daisy. Giving me “the look”.

Little dog/Big dog interaction – What do you see?

August 18, 2013 8 comments

So how much did you observe your dog this weekend? Other dogs? Did you catch anything interesting? Some new behavior you’ve never seen before?

I had the opportunity to do a lot of observing this past weekend. The dog park was a busy place. So much so that it was almost impossible not to observe something. It also made concentrated observation time difficult because there was SO much going on.

I wish I had taken more videos of dogs that I could observe later. It would be fun to see what things I missed (quite a bit I am sure!).  Since I have no slowed down videos of my own to share, I thought I would share a great one I found a couple of weeks ago. This video was posted on YouTube by Gentle Canine. It’s another great example of dog body language. What I love is that Kirsten (the dog trainer) gives a more detailed rundown of the behaviors displayed, and what they mean, on her website. I would encourage you to check it out.

As you watch the video ask yourself these questions…

  • What behaviors do you see?
  • What stands out?
  • Did you notice a dog freeze?
  • What were the positions of each dogs’ ears?
  • Were the dogs leaning forward or backwards?
  • Was there lip-licking observed? What stood out the most to you?
  • What did the husky mix do at the end of the video? Why?

Curious what all this means? The Whole Dog Journal has a Canine Stress Dictionary listing all or most of these behaviors and how to interpret them. I highly recommend it.

Dog stress signals and babies – Do you know what to look for?

June 16, 2013 17 comments

I have a really great book to share with you tomorrow, but today I thought I would share a video that my friend Kate ( certified dog trainer) shared this past weekend. It features a dog and a toddler.

No. It isn’t one of those videos that makes you cringe as you wait for the inevitable bite to occur (although I have seen many of those). It’s actually a great example of what to look for when you have a dog around children. It’s a demonstration of dog behavioral signals that most parents (and owners) miss.

Fortunately, the trainer taking the video knows what to look for and takes the time to slow it down so you can see what her dog is telling her about his comfort level around the toddler, her niece.

While many people might think this dog is “fine” around children he is actually telling her, and those around her, that he is not “fine.” Knowing what to look for is SO VERY important. I hope you will watch it and then share with other dog owners and parents.

Having been bitten twice as a child – both times in the face, I cannot stress how important it is for parents to supervise their children when around dogs. Even more important is parents (and dog owners) educating themselves about what a dog is telling them when around their child.

Understanding dog behavior and an experiment to try with your own dog

January 21, 2013 42 comments

Close-up of DogThe instructor directed us to watch the Great Dane as she approached him from the front. What was his body posture? Was he on his toes showing some confidence and eagerness? Or was his body compressed, tightly pulled inward or leaning back? Was he breathing normally or did he freeze and curve away from her? Did he suddenly freeze or step backwards? At what distance did he seem most comfortable with her and when did that change? What was the dog telling her in the slightest of body movements?

This is just an example of one of the dog-human interactions I had the chance to observe at one of the Suzanne Clothier sessions I attended in November of last year. To say the two sessions I attended were mind-expanding would be an understatement. It was enlightening and educational and exciting. I learned more than I can possibly put into words. If you’re a dog behavior geek like me then you know what an opportunity it was to be able to attend these sessions.

Suzanne Clothier is one of the premier experts on understanding dogs and dog behavior. She observes them on a level that most of us don’t even see because she breaks them down into the smallest components before putting them together to get the whole picture. What made the sessions so valuable was our ability to see these dog behaviors through her eyes. In the case of the Great Dane, we learned he was most comfortable with a personal space that was three times the length of his body, meaning he demonstrated fear and nervousness when his personal space was violated. He would freeze, hold his breath and curve backwards as someone entered that space. We learned that dogs often need more space than we do and that we are constantly violating that space. Knowing that little bit of information can make such a difference in how we interact with dogs – both our own and others’ dogs.

So many of us misjudge our dog’s behavior (myself included) or fail to see what they are telling us because we either lack the knowledge to recognize what they are communicating or we are too busy to pay close attention to the slightest changes in behavior. It’s not easy to see what our dogs are telling us. We have to be both knowledgeable and aware.

That’s why I thought I would share this interesting video with you today. I think is a great example of how much we can learn from our dogs if we are paying attention to what they are telling us. In the video, you observe two dog’s reactions to touch. I encourage you to watch it and then try it with your own dog. What were the results? What did you learn? Was your dog’s reaction a surprise to you or did you already know what would happen? It’s always fun to learn something new about our dogs. I would love to hear what you found out.

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