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Posts Tagged ‘understanding 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.

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Doberman Dog Evaluation: A study of dog body language – What do you see?

November 5, 2014 3 comments
Doberman Card

Photo credit goes to Jack Huster via Flickr

I try to always be present and conscious of my dogs’ behavior when we are out and about together, but like many dog owners, I can be easily distracted by what is going on around me and who I am engaging with at that moment. It can be easy to miss something when so much is going on around you. We can’t be hyper-attentive to everything all at once.

I imagine that many dog agility people can relate. Events like agility require an owner to do many things at once. They need to read their dogs’ behavior and the cues they are giving them so they know how they feel about it. They need to know the course and the task at hand so they can accomplish their goal. They also need to be hyer-focused and attentive to what we are doing so we don’t make a mistake.

Being hyper-aware of how a dog is feeling in these moments can be hard.

Although I think the owner in the video below is aware of her dog and his behavior in certain settings (since she mentions his avoidance at one part of the course), I wonder if she was aware of how he was feeling throughout the course? Maybe she was and was trying to help him work through it. Either way, it makes for a great study of dog behavior.

Watch the video below and share what you see. How does the dog look as he travels the course? Are his ears up or down? What is he doing with his head? His feet? His body? What does he do when meeting new people? What does he do with his mouth? Can you see what his eyes are doing? 

I have put my own observations below (due to the length of the video, I assess the first two minutes), but see what you see before taking a look at my observations and summary. How good were you at reading this dog’s behavior? What did I miss?

Dog body language before Working Aptitude Evaluation (WAC) begins (first 30 seconds):

  • Ears back
  • Panting (it might be a hot day so this may or may not be stress induced)
  • Circling handler
  • Couple of lip licks
  • Body is facing away from the man with the clipboard and as far away from as possible. His butt is closest to the man and his head is the furthest away from him.

WAC Begins:

  • Red starts to trot alongside the owner, and then ahead of her, as they move towards the woman in the blue top. His ears are alternating between up and down and then going to straight down and back as he approaches the woman (the neutral stranger).
  • As they get closer to the woman, he veers off to the left, creating distance between them, only to come back around as he reaches the end of the leash, and circle behind her. His ears are down.
  • At 32 seconds, his mouth appears drawn tight and his body hunched. He gives a lip lick.
  • Red moves around the woman and closer to his owner, ignoring both, but placing his body so his head is further away. He looks away from her and in the other direction.
  • Red completely ignores the woman and moves further away from both his owner and the woman,. almost taking up the full length of the leash.
  • At 38 seconds, they continue to the next woman (called the Friendly Stranger).
  • Red trots ahead again and as the approach the friendly stranger he lowers his head and keeps his ears down and back. The friendly stranger leans down, puts her hands on her legs and looks at him.
  • Immediately, he veers off to the left in an attempt to avoid interacting with her.
  • When called by his handler, he veers back towards them. his ears are down and his head is lowered to the same level as his shoulders. He is panting.
  • Instead of stopping at the Friendly Stranger, he walks right between her and his owner and keeps on going.
  • He turns around when he reaches the end of the leash and heads back towards the women. His head goes up briefly as if to say hello, but then lowers and he goes right back through the middle again and off to the other side. His head is lowered, body hunched and ears are back.
  • He quickly circles back and lifts head again, but only briefly, He then sees the man with the clipboard and does a lip lick and a couple of head turns.
  • At a little before the one minute mark, the handler and man discuss next steps while the dog paces. He does not interact with the man or owner, but instead paces or turns so his head is away from them.
  • He does a couple of lip licks, head turns and pants.
  • At 1:13, he hides behind his handler’s legs.
  • They turn and head towards the white truck, there appear to be no people around besides his handler. His ears come up. He trots along. His gait looks more relaxed. His tail is up.
  • He goes around the back of the vehicle and then heads back towards his owner. He looks up at her briefly.Hi ears go back and as he sees the man with the clipboard he changes directions and circles back towards his owner.
  • A couple of look aways.
  • At 1:30, the man and handler move to the right. Red follows, trotting alongside his handler and then ahead of her. His ears go up and down. Tail is up and he briefly sniffs the group before a shot goes off from the gun.
  • When the shot goes off, his ears comes back, his mouth is drawn tight and his tail goes down (1:38).
  • His ears go up briefly, but go back down when the 2nd shot rings out. He circles his handler several times as shots 3 and 4 ring out.
  • He trots ahead of the handler as they move away from the woman with the gun and his ears go up and prick forward.
  • At the 2 minute mark, he stands next to the handler, touching her legs. He looks away several times as she speaks with the man. His ears are back and his eyes appear to have a ridge between them (2:06).
  • They head towards the woman in the chair. Red looks away as he walks by his handler. His ears go up and down, but at 2:13 they prick forward as he sees her handle an umbrella.
  • The umbrella opens and he veers back, ears are back on his head. He checks out the umbrella very briefly and then looks around it and then at the woman. He turns his nose up towards her and then veers back towards his owner. His ears are way down (2:16).

Summary:

Based on my observations, I would say Red was very uncomfortable throughout his evaluation. His body language indicated he was nervous, stressed and most likely would have preferred not to have been there at all. His body language indicated that he was stressed. He used avoidance (creating distance between himself and the people and looking away) in almost every circumstance to distance himself from the people in the assessment. Even at the end of the video, Red cant wait to distance himself from all of it, pulling on his leash and removing himself from the area quickly.

My guess is that Red is not a confident dog in new situations or ones in which he is forced to interact with strangers. This type of activity is not fun for him at all.

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