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Posts Tagged ‘dog body language’

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 question would you ask your dog if you could?

October 5, 2015 29 comments

Jasper and CupcakeKnowing and understanding dog body language can be so helpful in understanding your dog and the other dogs you encounter. Whether it be a play bow, a look away, or a raised paw; what a dog does and how it moves tells us something about how they are feeling.

But sometimes, I wish I could ask them a question that can’t always be answered with dog body language, like …

How is your day going?

Do you want to just stay home and cuddle?

What could I do to make you feel better?

Are you in pain?

Do you prefer to walk here? Or, there?

Having one sided-conversations with my dogs is nice, but not helpful for them or me. Being able to ask questions and interact with them would be so much easier than guessing what they want or think.

If only I had a magic lamp with a genie in it huh? But then again, I would probably be limited to asking only one question (or maybe, three). That’s still not a full conversation. I wonder what I would ask my dogs if I could only ask them one question to ask them? Hmmmm…. Maybe “Do I make you happy? Or, “What do I do that makes you uncomfortable?” Or, “What could I do to make your life even better?”

Do you know what one question you would ask your dog(s) if you had the chance?

Favorite Video Friday – GoPro Beagle Party

July 10, 2015 1 comment

I love GoPro videos. They just offer so much when it comes to dogs and shooting at a dog’s level vs. our own. I’m not a big fan of the ones featuring a GoPro mounted on a dog, they’re just way to jiggly, but I love the ones mounted on a stick that can be used to follow a dog around.

I also love the slow motion features of the GoPro videos. You can see so much in a dog’s behavior and body language when you watch them. We miss so much when things are going at normal speed. It’s also good for us to see what they see, from their level.

This is a great GoPro video featuring Beagles, lost of them. It’s a Beagle Party! Who doesn’t love those cute little faces and floppy ears?

Happy Friday everyone!

Dog says: Your hug is not welcome human. Stop it.

May 18, 2015 23 comments

42-17207233As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog post, this week is National Dog Bite Prevention Week (May 17-23).

I’ve been planning for this week for a few months now; collecting videos, graphics and other information, so that I could share it with all of you.

Even with all the prep work, I know that not everyone will read it. This subject is not as sexy as the latest news story about a lost dog or harrowing dog rescue story, but it is a very real problem with huge impacts. Did you know?

It’s not just the emotional and physical damage one experiences when a dog bites, but it is also the cost. Not cheap is it?

One of the most common things people do, that can lead to a bite, is hug their dog.

Woman Watching Television with DogI know. I know. Your dog LOVES to be hugged. So do mine. Well actually, they really don’t. Jasper hates them. Cupcake will tolerate them. Daisy is the only one who actually invites a hug from time to time. How do I know? Because I closely watched their behavior when I did so. They stiffened up, pulled away, turned their heads and did several lip licks. Hugs are just not their thing.

You don’t have to be a dog trainer to see the signs that a dog does not want to be hugged. Just look at her body language.

  • Does she pull away from you?
  • Does she turn her head away from you when you try to get close?
  • Does she seem uncomfortable when you get too near her?
  • Does she put a paw up to keep you away when you try to hug her?

If so, then believe her. She is not trying to be cute. It is not her puppy dog way of trying to be funny. She is telling you that she does not like you in her space. (To paraphrase a quote from Maya Angelou – When a dog shows you what they like/dislike, believe them. They are not kidding.)

The video below provides a great example of a dog giving really clear signals that a hug is not okay. You don’t have to be a dog trainer to see all the signs, but I am glad his owner calls them out anyways. Observe how many signs and how many times this dog tries to let his owner know that he does not want to be hugged.

I wonder how often our own dogs give us these cues.

I wonder how often we miss them.

Dog Body Language – Test your skills (The results)

January 26, 2015 10 comments

Dog’s communicate with us, and other dogs, through their bodies. A raised tail, a furrowed brow, a tongue lick – all of these are signals of something the dog is feeling or trying to reflect back to us.

Have you ever heard someone say that a dog made an unprovoked attack on a child, an adult, or another dog?  Would you believe me if I told you that in almost every single case the dog was already telling the human he was afraid or nervous or uncomfortable or threatened?

It’s true. In almost every case, a bite or attack could have been prevented if only the human had known what her dog was saying and removed him before trouble could begin.

Understanding dog body language not only helps you better understand your dog, but it also helps you to better meet his/her needs.

Yesterday, I shared a few pictures with you and asked you to make some observations of the dogs in the pictures, and what they were communicating, via their bodies. Today, I will share my own observations. I hope that you will keep me honest and call out anything I miss.

So here we go.

Picture 1: Lab and St. Bernard

 

Well hello big guy. #dogpark

 

Both dogs are approaching one another in an arc, something Nancy Freedman-Smith called out in her blog post Socialization Tips For Adult Dogs: A Tail Of Two Collies. This is a normal way for one dog to greet one another. Leashed dogs often cannot do this which is why problems can often pop up when two leashed dogs greet one another.

Lab (my dog, Daisy)

  • Lowered head (lower than her shoulders)
  • Body is leaning back, while her head is stretching forward
  • Eyes are looking at the other dog
  • Ears are way back and close to the head
  • Mouth is closed and pulled back slightly
  • Tail is down and may be tucked close to her body

The combination of the lowered head, with her body leaning away from the other dog, and ears being pulled back and resting close to her head, indicates that Daisy is nervous about the other dog. She is unsure of his intentions. By lowering her head as she approaches, Daisy is telling the other dog she means no harm. You’ll also notice that her mouth is closed and drawn tight and that her tail is down closer to her body, another sign that she is nervous or unsure.

St. Bernard

  • Head is also slightly lowered (lower than his shoulders)
  • Body is leaning forward and slightly leaning away from the Lab
  • Eyes are looking are facing the Lab, but unable to tell if the gaze is direct
  • Although it is hard to tell, it appears the ears are slightly forward and slightly erect.
  • Tail is up and curved slightly over his back

The combination of the St. Bernard’s curled tail, forward leaning body and ear position, indicate he is an extremely confident dog. He appears to be keenly focused on Daisy. The slight lean away from her is somewhat at odds with the rest of his body language, so I welcome anyone else’s thoughts on that one.

 

 Picture 2: Sheltie

Maggie gets this close for chicken. #sheltie #puppymilldog

The Sheltie is this picture is my foster dog, Maggie. She is  former puppy mill dog and still tentative with me (and others).

  • Maggie’s ears sit far back on her head and pulled close. They are pricked and alert.
  • Her head is tucked close to her neck
  • Her mouth is tightly closed and lips drawn tight, but if you look closely, you can see her tongue has flicked out
  • Her eyes are wide and round and dilated. Her eyebrows seem to be raised high on her head and there is a slight ridge just below her eye.
  • Although it is hard to tell, her body appears to be leaning away from my finger.

The position of Maggie’s ears along with her wide eyes, raised eyebrows, and drawn lips are all signs that Maggie is stressed, nervous and afraid. She clearly is uncomfortable. Her tongue is likely out because she was displaying lip-licking, which is an appeasement signal in dogs (i.e., her way of telling me she means no harm).  As my friend Nancy shared with me when saw this picture, Maggie is pressure sensitive. She wants the cheese I am offering, but she would probably feel more comfortable if I could offer it to her using a stick so she could take it from me at a distance that would feel much more comfortable to her. (If you are curious about pressure sensitive dogs, you can read You’re Too Close! Dogs and Body Pressure from the blog Eileen and Dogs.)

Picture 3: Husky

Husky says hello

 

This is a Husky from our local dog park.

  • Ears are pricked and forward
  • Mouth is open, tongue is hanging out and you can see some of her teeth
  • Body appears to be balanced on all four feet, but with a very slight lean forward on the front feet
  • Tail is relaxed, but in a  natural curl (for a Husky)

My guess is this dog is relaxed, but ready to play. The pricked and forward position of her ears indicate she is alert and watching what is going on across the field . The slightly forward lean could indicate that she is ready to jump into the mix, if the opportunity arises. The relaxed mouth indicates the dog is happy and relaxed.

Picture 4: Lab Mix and Shepherd Mix

Millie crashes. Big dog waits for her to get up again.

 

The black Lab mix in the photo is Millie, a dog friend of ours from the dog park. Millie loves a good game of chase. She has never played with this dog before the day this picture was taken.

Lab (Millie)

  • Ears are back far on her head and pulled close (her ears are pulled back so far that the distance between them on her head is very small)
  • Eyes are wide and round and show whites along the top (also known as “whale eye”)
  • Her tongue is hanging out and the corners of her mouth are pulled back
  • She the front paw is slightly raised
  • Her body does not appear to be relaxed, but that may be because she is about to spring up from her prone position.

Millie’s ears, eyes and body seem to indicate that she is nervous and unsure. She is likely feeling anxious about the dog standing above her. The raised front paw may be just an indication of her trying to get up, but it also could be an appeasement signal to the dog standing above her.

Shepherd Mix

  • Head appears lowered, but the its position is even with her body (maybe even slightly raised above her shoulders)
  • Eyes appear to be hard and focused and you can see the ridges of her eyebrows
  • Ears are pricked and up high on her head
  • Ridges are evident between her eyes and even between her ears
  • Mouth is open and tongue is visible, you can see ridges just back and above her mouth
  • Her body looks to be balanced (I cannot tell if she is leaning forward or back)

The wrinkles between the ears and the eyes on this dog are quite pronounced. These wrinkles, combined with the position of her ears, indicate she is annoyed. Her stare is also a form of intimidation and a warning that Millie should tread lightly.

Reading List: 

These next five are all by Ann Bernrose of Woof Work Blog:

Dog Body Language – Test your skills

January 25, 2015 3 comments

I don’t know about you, but I have been seeing (and reading) some really great articles on dog body language and dog behavior lately. It’s really exciting to see so many of them out there and so readily available to dog owners who want to better understand their dogs.

Even though I have some education in understanding dog body language, I always like to learn more, and I especially like being able to practice my skills whenever I get the chance.

Reading dog body language is a skill that must be developed. You can’t just watch a video and suddenly know it. Even the best trainers practice their skills whenever they can. Understanding dog body language not only helps you to better understand your own dog, but it also help you to know what another unknown dog is saying, especially if it is in a dangerous situation.

You can see a full list of the articles I have been reading below, but I thought it would be fun to share a few photos with you today and see if you can tell what these dogs are saying. Give it a try and check back tomorrow. I’ll share my observations then. (The results are in. Head on over to the blog post that contains my observations.)

Picture 1: Lab and St. Bernard

  • Take a look at how these two dogs approach one another. How do they greet one another?
  • Where are their heads and bodies in relation to one another?
  • Where are their tails? Their ears?
  • What else do you see in this picture that can tell you more about these two dogs and what they are saying to one another?

Well hello big guy. #dogpark

 Picture 2: Sheltie

  • What is this dog telling you?
  • Where are her ears?
  • What do you notice about her eyes? Her mouth? Her body?

Maggie gets this close for chicken. #sheltie #puppymilldog
Picture 3: Husky

  • What do you notice about this dog?
  • Where are her ears? Tail?
  • Does her mouth look relaxed or hard?
  • Is she leaning forward? Back?

Husky says hello

 

Picture 4: Lab Mix and Shepherd Mix

  • What do you see in this picture?
  • Where are each dog’s ears? Feet? Body?
  • What do you notice about their eyes?
  • What else do you see?

Millie crashes. Big dog waits for her to get up again.

 

Reading List: 

These next five are all by Ann Bernrose of Woof Work Blog:

A dog training video: What do you see?

September 22, 2014 4 comments

The week before last I wrote about how videotaping yourself with your dog, especially during training sessions, can help you to see things you might not have noticed in the moment. Looking at pictures I had taken while working with Maggie made me realize how pressure sensitive she is and how I needed to change my approach with her.

It’s not just the every day dog owner who can be helped by videotaping themselves with their dog, dog trainers do it too. Sometimes they do it to improve their technique or sometimes they do it to observe a dog’s behavior more closely. For many, it is also a way to educate dog owners on how to train their dog, as I believe the video below was meant to do.

While I very much disagree with the trainer’s assessment of the dog she is using in the video, I also had the luxury of watching their interactions (on video) several times. Slowing down a video and watching it over and over again can help you to see so many things. I suspect the trainer in this video was so focused on making a specific training point that she missed all the behaviors telling her otherwise. Either that, or she did not recognize the behaviors at all.

So today, you be the trainer. Take a look at the dog’s body language and describe what you see. Is the dog distracted or is something else going  on here?  

You can see my observations and analysis below, but try to do a little analysis yourself. What do you SEE? What is the dog doing or not doing? What behaviors is she displaying? Are the ears up, back, or forward? Is her body leaning? If so, in which direction? What else do you see?

My observations of Bubbles, the Border Collie:

  • At the beginning of the video, Bubbles sniffs the ground several times and pulls at the end of a leash.
  • Bubbles does not look at the trainer, but looks in the direction of the camera and towards the group (perhaps her owner is there?).
  • Ears are back and she appears to be panting. (This is about the time the trainer mentions how Border Collies can become very distracted by their environment.)
  • 23 seconds into the video, Bubbles’ ears go up and she looks to the left (her left). Her body turns in that direction immediately afterwards.  Her ears go back down.
  • Bubbles continues to turn left as she goes behind the trainer sniffing and looking distracted. Her tail is down and very close to her body (almost between her legs.)
  • When the trainer mentions her name, Bubbles ignores it and keeps sniffing at the ground, moving further left and to the trainer’s right. Her ears are closer to the back of her head.
  • Bubbles continues to sniff the ground and moves behind the trainer again and to her right. Her head lifts up. Her ears are pricked and she is looking straight ahead and pulling in that direction. Her tail is down.
  • She pulls as far away as she can from the trainer and continues to look off in the distance. Her ears are up. Her body is leaning forward and away from the trainer.
  • The trainer shortens the leash and pulls Bubbles around and back to her and uses a treat as a lure. Bubbles’ moves towards the trainer with her ears down. She lip licks and yawns, sniffs the food, and then turns away. Her head is down and her body is leaning away from the trainer.
  • At 55 seconds, Bubbles’ body goes down lower to the ground. She is leaning away from the trainer and looking away
  • The trainer pulls Bubbles closer. Bubbles head is lower. She looks up and lip licks and turns her head away. Her ears are back and low on her head.
  • The trainer crouches down next to Bubbles and reaches her had out to her with the treat. Bubbles does another lip lick and turns away. Her tail is low and wags slightly for a moment.
  • At 59 seconds, her body is leaning away from the trainer’s. She rejects the treat in the trainer’s hand.
  • The trainer pauses to speak. Bubbles tries to pull away again. She lip licks and glances toward the trainer.
  • Bubbles lip licks several more times and glances at the trainer before looking away again.
  • She now pulls even further away from the trainer so that her head is the furthest away from her and her butt is closes to the trainer.
  • The trainer calls her name and her ears immediately go down and back on her head. It looks like she lip licks before her head and upper body goes down. She moves her body closer and her tail wags low, but she keeps her head as far as she can from the trainer.
  • Bubbles moves her body so that she is completely facing away from the trainer. At 1:18 she is leaning away from the trainer and has her back to her. She gives several more lip licks.
  • When the trainer calls her name and pull her back towards her again, Bubbles pulls again and then turns her body slightly horizontal to the trainer’s body when the leash is pulled toward the trainer. She sits and looks up.
  • She is offered the treat again, but turns away from it.  I could be wrong, but her busy seems hunched forward.
  • Bubbles turns her head further away and looks behind her, lip licks, and then starts to stand up.
  • She pulls away (lip licks), but sits back down because she has no leash length to pull away. She again has her back to the trainer.
  • More lip licks.
  • Bubbles continues to look away and to the side with her back to the trainer.
  • She pulls away as hard as she can and tries to create distance.
  • The trainer tries to engage Bubbles “one more time” and pulls her (using the leash) towards her. Bubbles faces towards the camera. The trainer reaches down with the treat in her hand and puts it in front of Bubbles’ nose. Bubbles glances quickly at her hand and turns away. She lip licks and yawns.
  • The trainer then knees her in the back-end, forcing her to sit. Her body is leaning away from the trainer.
    She glances up at the trainer. Her ears are back. She lip licks again. The trainer reaches her hand out with the treat again. Lip lick again. Bubbles opens her mouth when the trainer inserts the treat in her lip. You can to longer see her ears.
  • She takes the treat, turns her head away and lip licks.
  • Lip lick again.
  • Bubbles starts to stand up again, looking away. She stands with her back to the trainer. Her ears are back and low on her head. Her tail is now between her legs.
  • Her ears go up and down again. She lip licks. She sniffs the ground and pulls away from the trainer.
  • She continues to pull away in all directions from the trainer.

My assessment:

It clear from all of Bubbles’ behaviors that she was extremely uncomfortable. Perhaps it was because she did not know the trainer (as the trainer admits) or because she was unfamiliar with the setting or even afraid of the camera, or maybe, both. She displays a lot of calming signals – lip licking, look aways, yawning, etc. She also tries very hard to create distance between her and the trainer, over and over again.  Bubbles is not distracted by squirrel, but is uncomfortable and nervous. The trainer should have stopped as soon as she saw these behaviors. The fact that Bubbles refused the treat was a dead give away that she was way to nervous to be enticed by a treat. Not only did the trainer’s words not match the behaviors being displayed, but she did nothing to build the trust between her and Bubbles because she forced her to interact with her and even kneed her to sit down.  A better approach would have been to stop completely and give Bubbles her space and the choice of whether she wanted to interact or not.

Videotaping yourself interacting with your dog offers new insights

September 10, 2014 5 comments

As much as I know about dog body language, I am constantly amazed at how much I miss in my own dogs’ behaviors when I am interacting with them.  I am so focused on seeing the expected behavior I am requesting that sometimes I completely miss what they are telling me about how they are feeling about it. Ears back, ears forward, tight mouth, raised paw, lip licks… It all happens so fast that it can be easy to miss. If I am not totally focused on what I am really seeing, I completely miss it.

That could not have been more clearly obvious than during a recent session I spent working with Maggie. Despite being able to “watch me” and hand target when asked, Maggie is still pretty uncomfortable with doing it, even when she chooses to do it on her own. I have known this for some time and have tried to give her the choice in how much she wants to participate. But it wasn’t until I snapped some photos as I was working with her that I realized just how pressure sensitive she was and how much I had been missing.

Take a look at some of the pictures I took one evening while working with Maggie. What do you see? 

Lip lick and ears back and leaning back. Nervous Maggie. She was a little tentative with hand targeting tonight, so we did a lot of "watch mes."

I think I prefer another "watch me" thank you.

Maggie gets this close for chicken. #sheltie #puppymilldog

Eating from my hand. #puppymilldog #sheltie

If you said you saw Maggie lip-licking, displaying her ears way back on her head, looking away, and leaning away from me in some of these photos, you would be correct. She is ultra sensitive to body pressure. It makes her nervous to be this close to me. I need to back it up a bit and give her a little space. (As my friend Nancy from Gooddogz dog training said, a target stick, like a wooden spoon with peanut butter on the end of it, might work better for Maggie right now.)

But, I never would have seen this myself if not for the photos. Why? Because I was too busy looking for what I wanted her to do in response to what I said, instead of looking at her actual response (i.e., body language) to what I was asking of her. It’s a good reminder to me, and to anyone else who works with their dog, that videotaping my interactions with my dog can reveal so much more than what I see with my eyes. It might be uncomfortable, and maybe even a little embarrassing to videotape ones self working with their dog, but the information gained is so worth it. I will be changing how I work with Maggie moving forward by taking it down a step to be even less pressure-oriented than it was already.

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My experience with Maggie brought to mind another video I saw last year in which the behavior of the dog described by the trainer did not match what the dog was actually conveying in the video. I don’t share this to pick on the trainer, who sounds like a knowledgeable woman, but merely to point out what we can miss when we are so focused on what we expect to see and not what is really being displayed.

Take a look and tell me what you see. I’ll share my analysis of the video and the dog’s behavior next week.

 

Want to learn more about pressure sensitivity in dogs? Watch this video from Eileen and Dogs.

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

June 24, 2014 7 comments

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.

Are these dogs having fun or not? You decide.

June 23, 2014 13 comments

I think for many of us, recognizing when dogs are playing and when they are not can be difficult. Most of the time it isn’t until it has gone to the next level that we realize it is not play at all.

I remember the first time I brought my dog, Aspen, to a dog park. I wasn’t sure what behaviors I should consider safe or what should be considered concerning. I didn’t always recognize when she wasn’t having fun anymore and I should intervene. Thankfully, Aspen was very sophisticated in dog speak and would walk away when she didn’t like a dog’s behavior, and if they didn’t listen, she would give them a warning to let them know she had had enough.

Since having Aspen, I’ve gotten much better at reading dog body language in my dogs as well as in other dogs. I am more likely to intervene where I think trouble is about to start, but has not yet escalated, because I can see one dog is not having fun or there is a bullying situation going on.

Do you know when your dog is having fun and when he/she is not? Are you able to recognize when play has turned into something else?

I thought I would share a video of two (sometimes three) Great Danes interacting with one another at the park and let you weigh in. These dogs may be playing or not playing. They may or may not be having fun. Can you tell the difference?

What do you see in the first two to three minutes of this video?

Are the dogs having fun or not?

What body movements does each dog make that leads you to your conclusion?

Feel free to share what body movements or other things in the video stood out and helped you make your decision. If you get a chance scoot ahead and watch the last 2 minutes of the video. What do you see? Does it change your mind?

I’ll weigh in tomorrow and share my observations and what I think was happening. I look forward to your comments! (You can now see my assessment below.)

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