Posts Tagged ‘dog behavioral signals’

Video of child and dog demonstrate why understanding dog behavior is so important

August 26, 2013 17 comments

It seems children and dogs have been at the forefront of my mind lately. It could be because I have read several great blog posts on the subject lately, but I think it might also have something to do with a video I saw a few weeks ago that featured both a child and a dog.

A friend posted it on Facebook and expressed her concern about it. I watched it and was just as concerned. It is disturbing on so many levels… it involves a child and a dog (who does not seem to appreciate the child touching him), it demonstrates poor parenting and supervision of said child and dog, it involves the much maligned breed, a pitbull, and it is a potential dog bite or attack waiting to happen. That the video is still up is disturbing in and of itself.

I honestly debated sharing it on my blog because I knew it had the potential to create a lot of anger. But then I read a really interesting post this week that seemed to be a perfect way to tee up the conversation.

It was a blog post written by  Robin Bennett, a certified pet dog trainer (CPDT-KA). The post was titled “Why Supervising Dogs and Kids Doesn’t Work.” I absolutely encourage you to read it and then share it with everyone you know. Actually, I beg you to read it and share it. I think it is exactly what we should be telling parents who have both kids and dogs living together in the same house.

Robin hit the nail on the head. It’s not just about supervising a child with a dog, it’s about watching what the dog’s behavior is when a child is near, and then knowing what that behavior means and what to do about it. Parents need to know what their dog’s behavior means or they have no context in which to anticipate a bite or to stop it.

So in honor of that key point, I am going to break down the video I mentioned above to explain why it is so concerning and why any parent seeing this kind of behavior in their own home, should be deeply worried and should intervene immediately to stop it from ever happening again. I have linked to the video here.  I encourage you to watch it with a discerning eye and share anything you saw that I missed.

The video: Several interactions between a child and a dog (I chose to refer to the dog as “he”, but it could be a “she”)

The subjects: A young child, a pitbull type dog and two supervising adults (possibly the child’s mother and father)

Behavior of the child in the video:

  • Stands next to couch, stretches out arm, pulls both arms back and then grabs the dog’s back foot.
  • Pulls arm back, clutches hands together and laughs.
  • Reaches out again and grabs at the dog’s back feet, screams, pulls back slightly and then goes after the dog’s feet again.
  • Laughs and pulls arms back again, and clutches hands together again.
  • Reaches out and grabs the dog’s back foot again with one hand. Laughs.
  • Continues to hold onto dog’s back foot tightly and then pulls it towards her. Holds on and pulls harder before letting go.

Behavior of the dog: 

  • Laying in couch next to the supervising adult with one paw on the adult’s leg
  • Sees approaching child and turns head slight towards child. Lip licks. Could be a whale eye showing.
  • Turns fully towards child. Ears are back. Mouth is tight. Clearly worried and stressed.
  • Lunges towards child’s hand as it reaches for his leg. Encloses child’s right hand completely in his mouth. Lets go and puts mouth on left hand which is touching his foot.
  • Pulls body closer together and scoots towards the supervising adult.
  • Reaches/Lunges out over the edge of the couch to grab the child’s right arm before it can come over the couch fully. Encloses mouth around the child’s right arm. Mouths the child’s right hand. Lip licks.
  • Mouth drawn tight. lunges again for child’s out-stretched right hand. Lets go and grabs child’s left hand which now has the dog’s foot. Mouths the child’s left hand. Lip licks. (Dog is now leaning forward with front legs hanging over the front of the couch. Ears are far back on his head.)
  • Dog lets go of hand and physically turns head and body away from the child. Brow is furrowed. Ears are back.
  • Lunges at child’s hand again as it grabs his leg. Mouths child’s hand. Lip lick as child grabs his foot and pulls on it.
  • Hard eyes. Possible whale eye. Pulls lips back to show teeth (does this a couple of times). Lip licks again. Shows more of his teeth.
  • Video stops.

What the dog’s behavior means:

The combination of lip licking, furrowed brows, turning away from the child, leaning against the woman or mother, and mouthing the child’s hands and arms are all calming signals and indicate the dog is stressed. This dog was extremely uncomfortable with the child grabbing at him and was trying to communicate this through the body signals.

The wrinkled nose and mouth, and bared teeth looked like a snarl to me, but there was also a lip lick in there so I wonder about a possible submissive grin. Regardless, it was most definitely a warning sign to the child (and the adults) that the dog was extremely uncomfortable. He was definitely being pushed past his comfort zone and could have bitten the child. Maybe he did bite the child.  Maybe that’s why the video stopped. This was a situation that was completely avoidable, but the supervising adults had to know what to look for in order to see it clearly. I suspect they had no idea that this was an extremely dangerous situation until they saw the snarl. I hope to god they took action then and didn’t wait for a bite to occur.

I welcome your own observations on the behaviors you saw in the video and on Robin’s post about why supervising is not enough. What did you see? What stood out to you about Robin’s post? Did I miss anything in the dog’s behavior? 

I hope that this video motivates parents to become more knowledgeable about dog behavior. To help, I have provided a few links below. They are worth reviewing if you have a child and a dog in your house.

Understanding Animal Behavior & Communication

A Canine Stress Dictionary

Book: On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas

The Family Dog: Dog Training for the Whole Family (My thanks to Pamela from Something Wagging This Way Comes for sharing this one on her blog. They have a great video you can share with children to help them understand dog behavior.)

Dog to Dog Interaction in Slow Motion – What do you see?

July 28, 2013 24 comments

IMG_0536Recently, Amy, a commenter on one of my posts, shared that she and her dog park friends like to watch their dogs’ interactions and try to identify specific behavioral signals. I remember thinking at the time how very cool it was that they did that. How rare. How exciting.

Can you remember a time when you and your friends watched your dogs interact and tried to catch all that was being communicated between them? I can’t. 

When we’re at the dog park, I try to make sure my dogs and I are constantly moving – mostly for the exercise, but also because it keeps us away from any possible trouble that might occur up front.

But often when we are heading back to the car, or stopping for a drink of water, I will watch the other dogs interact. It’s amazing what you can see when you listen with your eyes. So much is communicated in the eyes, ears, body and mouth of a dog. There’s so much we miss by not watching them.

Since I can’t bring you to the dog park with me, I thought I would share another dog video with you. I thought this might be a good one to share, not only because it is chock full of dog body language, but also because it is taped in slow motion. It allows you to see so much more than a video at normal speed.  It’s been around for a while, but so worth watching.

As usual, I’ve posted my observations below, but I encourage you to write down or make mental note of the behavioral signals you see and share any I might have missed.

DId you find yourself cringing (like me) in the first minute? Why? Why not?  What did you see as the video progressed? Was there something that stood out in the video when you watched it? I am very excited to read your own observations. 

P.S. You may want to make the screen larger so you can catch everything. The video owner also shared his observations through out the video. (Note: Neither dog was injured in this video.)

Curious what all this means? The Whole Dog Journal has a Canine Stress Dictionary listing all or most of these behaviors and what they mean.

Body language I saw:


As he approaches…

  • Lowered head
  • Forward leaning
  • Long gait

As they meet…

  • Ears pricked
  • Direct stare (at the other dog)
  • Tight mouth
  • Slight lip licking (several times)
  • Pulls head up and back as brown dog turns head
  • Blinks once
  • Sniffs brown dog near his ear
  • Ears turn from forward to sideways as the brown dog’s head comes back around and under the husky’s mouth
  • Body leaning forward, appears to be on his toes
  • Tail is still
  • Pilo-erection (i.e., raised hackles)
  • Sniff’s the brown dog’s shoulder
  • Blinks again
  • Slight lip lick
  • Turns head away
  • Turns head back
  • Leash is pulled
  • Mouth opens and teeth show
  • Lunges at brown dog

Brown dog: 

As he approaches…

  • Relaxed mouth
  • Lowered head
  • Ears relaxed and then come forward a bit
  • Sniffs ground
  • Leans sideways a bit and approaches from the side as they get closer

As they meet…

  • Approaches with head lower than they Husky’s head
  • Ears back
  • Lip licks (twice)
  • Tail wagging in a circular motion
  • Lowers head to come just below other dog
  • Blinks/Squints
  • Turns head
  • Pulls back slightly
  • Turns head slightly back and then turns away again, even further away
  • Lip licks (twice)
  • Turns head back towards the Husky
  • Lowers head below Husky’s head
  • Swings head back under Husky’s jaw and lifts it up next to Husky’s head (near his eye)
  • Lip licks
  • Tail still swinging in circles
  • Turns head away
  • Turns head back again
  • Head lower than Husky’s head
  • Lip licks
  • Leaning back
  • One paw slightly off the ground
  • Body turned slightly to the side instead of head on
  • Lifts head so nose is near Husky’s ear and then lowers it again
  • Lowers head as Husky’s head turns away and goes over his head
  • Lip licks
  • Snout raises and towards Husky’s neck on the opposite side
  • Lip lick
  • Pulls back and leaps sideways as Husky starts to snark

At the end of the video…

  • Ears pricked forward
  • Mouth tight
  • Lip licks turns head away

Curious what all this means? The Whole Dog Journal has a Canine Stress Dictionary listing all or most of these behaviors and what they mean.

Disturbing dog training video has me asking what you “see” and “hear”

July 14, 2013 38 comments

PugHave you ever had that experience where what you see and what you hear don’t match up? Like when a sound reel for a movie runs a little bit faster or slower than the person speaking the words on-screen?

Well, recently I came across a video (Note: this video has since been taken down.) that demonstrates a disconnect between what you see and what you hear. The video was posted by someone knowledgeable about animals, but not necessarily knowledgable about dog behavior. It has been making the rounds among dog trainers and dog training circles because it is so deeply concerning and because what is being “said” is not what is being “seen” in the video. Many trainers have encouraged the person who posted it to take it down, but instead she just disabled the comments (and disallowed embedding the video into a blog post).

Those of you who read my blog know that I am a firm believer in the importance of understanding dog body language. This video should be an example to all of us that just because someone presents themselves as an expert does not always make them so. We should always trust our dogs are telling us.

I’ll let you watch the video yourself, but I thought I would take the opportunity to share my observations with you – both what I “saw” and what I “heard”. As always, I welcome your observations. What do you see and hear? Does what the “expert” says match what you are seeing?  

First, a few details about the video:

Purpose: To show clients how to keep a dog contained and safe in a fearful situation (in the video fireworks is referenced as one of the situations in which a dog might be difficult to contain).

The “expert”: A holistic veterinarian from Minnesota (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, no animal behavior or dog training certification mentioned on her website)

The dog: A heartworm positive pit bull-type dog who (according to the vet) was found in the areas damaged by the Oklahoma tornadoes. (Dogs who are heartworm positive and being treated for heart worm are supposed to be kept quiet and put under the least amount of stress possible to avoid affecting their already weakened heart.)

Sounds used in the video to trigger the dog into a fearful reaction:

  • Banging on sheet metal
  • Shotgun blasts

Here is the video: Keeping a Dog Contained and Safe in a Fearful Situation

My observations:

What I heard from the “expert”:

  • We only say “It’s okay” when something is wrong.
  • If she were to start to have concern with it, all I would have to do is put her in a sit-stay.
  • I am just reinforcing with her that I don’t really care that there’s a loud noise.
  • This isn’t mean
  • I’m not reacting to it. I’m not showing her that I am reacting to it.
  • Insecurity = disrespect
  • Comforting a dog reinforces the behavior
  • The reason she was reacting there is because I was asking her to sit beside me. I’m not going to let you hide behind me.
  • I think the shotgun freaked her out, so that’s good for us to know.
  • If you don’t react to the noise it will keep the dog calm.
  • It’s kind of funny because now she is looking where the shotgun went off right now. She’s incredibly concerned about the man behind the bush with the shotgun and the more she looks at Winston (giggles), the more worried she is.
  • This is how I am going to train them through it. It doesn’t matter if it is a tornado. It doesn’t matter if it is a man behind a scary bush.
  • However, if I had a dog that was disrespectful of humans, I am going to put her back in her sit-stay.
  • It’s about not babying them.
  • If we act like it’s no big deal, yeah a shotgun went off. Whoop-de-do. She will pick up on that vibe and start emulating that.
  • We have no control over getting away from the fireworks.
  • (Another shotgun blast.) Kind of scares me too, but I’m not feeding that for her.
  • If I give her a treat right now I would only be rewarding her for being afraid and that’s what a lot of people do really wrong with treat training
  • The only thing I can keep telling her is ‘calm is the answer’
  • Sitting and staying meant calm energy next to me
  • Every time I am afraid I should sit-stay and my human will take care of me.
  • I don’t love seeing her frightened of the shotgun, but I also know how important it is for her to overcome that.
  • She is actually calming down more about the noise (as the dog pulls on the leash again and tries to get away from the noise)
  • She’s also a dog that is heartworm positive so for her, she has to stay calm (which is why I decided to expose her to shot-gun blasts?)
  • That was another shot-gun and she’s doing much better with it (as the dog pants heavily and tries to jerk away again)

What I saw the “expert” do:

  • petting the dog after she demonstrated signs of fear (several times)
  • pulling the dog forward on the leash despite the dog pulling away from the scary sounds
  • kneeing dog to the side to keep her in a sit-stay
  • choking the dog with leash by pulling straight up or pulling her to her side (numerous times)
  • lifting dog’s paw and pushing her into a “down”
  • dragging the dog forward (and towards) the shot-gun sounds using the leash
  • jerking the leash and jerking on the dog’s neck very forcefully (several times)
  • holding the leash tight around the dog’s neck to prevent her from pulling away from the sound

Behaviors exhibited by the dog:

  • pricked ears
  • backing up
  • pulling back on leash
  • turning head and body away from the direction of the noise
  • lowered head
  • hunched body
  • laying on ground and pulling front feet under her or close to her body
  • jumping up on “the expert”
  • hiding behind “the expert”
  • pulling away
  • writhing away from the sound and the leash
  • ears back
  • lip licking
  • blinking
  • low tail close to body, slight wag when touched
  • yawning
  • panting
  • jerking away from sound
  • hiding
  • jumping up on the “expert”
  • pricked ears
  • tucked tail (under butt)
  • leaning away from the sound
  • looking away (multiple times)
  • Facing away from the sound and the “expert”
  • Jerking away from the “expert” with her whole body, writhing and twisting to get away
  • rolling down on the ground


What I saw and what I heard were at complete polar opposites of one another. Despite saying over and over again that remaining calm would keep the dog calm, the “expert” was unable to demonstrate this at any time throughout the video. Instead, the dog exhibited increasing and escalating signs of stress.

I heard the “expert” tell viewers to keep “control” of the dog by making them do a sit-stay, but what I saw was the use of force, via the leash and through the use of her hands, into a sit-stay. Essentially, she forced the dog to endure continued shotgun blasts for the purpose of showing clients how to control a dog during fireworks.

I heard the “expert” stress several times that petting the dog or reassuring her would reinforce the fear and that was a bad thing, yet she did this herself several times throughout the video.

I heard her say towards the end of the video that the dog was heartworm positive and should be kept calm, but the “expert” repeatedly exposed her to loud, scary noises and forcibly made her endure them despite her fighting like crazy to get away. Not exactly a calm situation (for any dog).

What I heard at the beginning of the video was the dog didn’t appear to be fearful of noises, but by the end of the video she demonstrated fear of all of the noises being made, and possibly the man making them from behind the bush. She most certainly will be fearful of loud noises after this 20 minute ordeal.

What I heard was that one needed to be prepared for a dog that was afraid when bringing them to a fireworks show. What I did not hear was the most obvious and logical solution to a dog who is afraid of fireworks – leave the dog at home.


To say this video was disturbing is an understatement. I keep hoping Melissa will take it down, but from what I have heard, she staunchly defends it. All I can say is I am terribly sorry for the dog and for what she was forced to endure. Please, if you decide to take your dog to an “expert” ask about their background and training in dog behavior. No dog should be forced to sit through something like this.

For more information on dog body language, refer to Canine Body Language: A Photographic Guide Interpreting the Native Language of the Domestic Dog by Brenda Aloff

For more information on working with fearful dogs, go to

What is this dog telling us? Do you see his behavioral cues?

June 24, 2013 70 comments

Last year a friend shared a great video featuring a dog and a vet tech. I’ve been searching for it for a while because I though it would be a great one to share with you. It is a great example of how a dog can be speaking to us, but we may not be listening (or in this case, seeing) what they are telling us.

I also thought it might be a great way to test your knowledge on dog behavioral cues.
I confess that watching it again a year and a half later showed me just how out of practice I have become. I missed a quite a few the first time around. Take a look and tell me what you see. (Note: No one is hurt in this video).

Not sure? I’ve posted a list below. Feel free to read the list and then watch the video or watch the video, check the list and watch the video again. It’s amazing what we miss isn’t it?

Just out of curiosity, did anyone cringe like I did as you neared the end of the video? Do you know why? I think I know what made me cringe, but I’m wondering if anyone else caught it. (PLEASE KEEP YOUR COMMENTS RESPECTFUL. THANKS!)

Behavioral Signals seen in this video

Shake off

Eye blinking

Lip licking (hard to see)

Barking and increasing distance by backing up


Looking away several times

Stiff body posture

Stillness or freezing suddenly

Mouth closed tightly (a relaxed dog would have a slack jaw)

Hard stares (this is the one that got me at the end)

At no time does this dog look relaxed. To someone who doesn’t know what to look for, it may look like he is going back for attention, but everything else about his body posture and signals says differently.

So what is this dog telling us?

Based on what I see, I think he is nervous and uncomfortable, with both the petting and the close proximity of the vet tech. He cannot distance himself easily due to the small confines of the room. All his signals tell us he wants her to back off, but when that doesn’t work, he lets her know in a more pronounced way.

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.

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