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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:

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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:

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.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

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.

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”.

Dog behavior – Stop assuming and start asking questions

February 7, 2013 14 comments

Recently, Debbie Jacobs from Fearfuldogs.com shared a video demonstrating how we can misinterpret a dog’s behavior.

Is your older dog suddenly refusing to sit on command? Maybe it’s arthritis.

Is your dog suddenly afraid to go outside? Maybe those new wind chimes you placed outside is scaring them.

Does your dog suddenly stop and refuse to move on a snowy street during your walk? Maybe the salt the city put down is hurting their paws.

Our dogs are telling us something all of the time, we just have to take the time to listen to them. I think the biggest mistake we (myself included) make when it comes to our dog’s behavior is not taking the time to understand the “why” behind it. Is it because there is something of higher value to them in their environment? Possibly. Did he have a bad experience in this environment that is affecting his ability to do something now? Could be. Is what we are asking of our dog confusing? Very likely.

It’s so easy to scold our dogs and assume they are refusing to obey us because they don’t want to do it or they don’t want to listen, but before we jump to the easiest, and most often the incorrect, conclusion we may want to take time to really listen to what our dogs are telling us.

Before making a judgement about their behavior we should… Watch. Look. Listen.

Here is that video Debbie shared. Take a look and let me know what you think.

Jasper hates rude dogs. Does your dog too?

April 17, 2012 12 comments

Jasper playing with his friend, Clover

Yesterday, I posted a great link to a piece written by Suzanne Clothier titled “He Just Wants To Say “Hi!” It’s rather lengthy, but I highly recommend all dog owners and dog lovers read it.

In the piece, Suzanne shares an email (see below) from a concerned dog owner who is confused by her dog’s “aggressive” behavior towards “young, hyper dogs.” If ever there was a description of Jasper, this was it. Cream and Jasper are hewn from the same cloth when it comes to young, hyper dogs. They don’t like them. Most especially when the young, hyper dogs who get in their face don’t recognize (or ignore) the behavioral cues being displayed to them as a warning.

Jasper’s most easily recognized behavioral signals are: a stiffening of his body, his tail curling up and pointing towards his head and the curl of his lip. If a rude dog chooses to ignore those signals, then Jasper will put them in their place. And, he has done so on several occasions.

As his owner, it is my responsibility to intervene before Jasper has to say or do anything. I try to call Jasper to me when I see trouble coming. I have also caught many a hyper puppy before they could get to him and also warned them (and their owner) off before they can get to Jasper. I try to be the one who keeps Jasper from having to express himself with these rude dogs, but on occasion, one does get past me. And, then I have ask the owner to call their dog back to avoid any issues. Unfortunately, not all of them have great recall.

The one thing I haven’t done very well is explain Jasper’s behavior in a way that makes sense to the average dog owner, who does not understand dog body language and behavioral cues and does not see their dog’s behavior as being “rude.” So, I often end up placing the blame on Jasper, not because he is necessarily doing something wrong, but because it’s easier to explain “He just doesn’t like young puppies.” or “He doesn’t like dogs jumping on him.” or “He doesn’t like other male dogs (which isn’t true).” than to explain that my dog doesn’t like your “rude” dog.

I know I am doing Jasper a disservice by explaining his behavior in such a way as to make people seem him as an aggressive dog, but how else do you explain rude dog behavior in such a way that it makes sense to the average dog owner? I welcome any ideas you may have.

In the meantime I will continue to intervene, dodge and defer to avoid moments like Suzanne mentioned in her piece.

Dear Suzanne:
You don’t know me, but L. is a friend of mine, and she suggested I write to you regarding the strange behavior of my dog. I have a female (spayed) golden retriever, 3 years old, named Cream. Cream comes from good lines (champion show), and is “almost” your typical golden: sweet, goofy, lovable, loves ALL people. Recently, Cream became a certified therapy dog through the Delta Society.

Yet Cream has one problem: she hates young, hyper dogs. If a dog starts jumping all over Cream, Cream gets aggressive – starts to growl, shows some teeth, and if the dog doesn’t take the hint after a few seconds, Cream will “attack” the dog. Every time this has happened, it’s happened very quickly, and I get Cream off the dog immediately (and “correct” her – laying her down, holding her muzzle, shaking her a bit, saying “NO!” very sternly, etc.). Cream doesn’t even like young dogs to lick her – she snaps at them if they do.

Now, Cream only displays this aggressive behavior with young, hyper dogs. Cream has regular dog pals that she plays with almost daily – they wrestle, play bite, and run around together. Some of the dogs she plays with are older, some are the same age, some are even younger, the youngest now being about 9 months old. She plays with both sexes, but she does seem to prefer males. (Cream was spayed at 10 months.)

Cream is in good health. She’s on a raw foods diet, had titer testing this year instead of vaccinations, had a full blood panel and thyroid check and both were fine, has been CERFed and her eyes are fine. She does have some mild hip dysplasia, but it doesn’t bother her, and she shows no symptoms. She’s been very well socialized since she’s been a pup, and I bring her everywhere I can (shopping malls, parks, sometimes to campus).

Cream’s been through lots of obedience classes, beginning when she was a pup at 4 months old in puppy kindergarten. For the past several months she’s been going through a basic obedience class with young dogs – I’ve been trying to recondition her behavior towards young dogs. I’ve been food rewarding her when she shows no aggressive behavior to a pup.

It’s been going okay, but two weeks ago, a young mastiff puppy got away from her owner, and came charging at Cream. She crashed into Cream (and it was just because she was over excited – she wasn’t being aggressive) and Cream came up growling and snarling. Then last weekend, a black lab pup did the same thing, and Cream had the same reaction. Throughout the class, Cream won’t even look at the puppies – has her back turned toward them the entire time.

I’ve got the dog trainers of the class stumped, as they don’t really know what to do. Cream’s normally such a sweet dog, good with commands, great with people. Cream’s also wonderful with children, and has an endless supply of patience with kids – they can pull on her ears, hug her tightly, pull on her tail – and Cream loves it. Cream’s fine with dogs who are calm, even friendly towards them, with her tail wagging, and she might even try to get them to play.

Cream has had some bad experiences with dogs. A pit bull jumped out of a car when we were on a walk, and attacked Cream (Cream was about 7 months old). She’s had dogs run out of houses and attack her, and dogs who were supposedly tied up, get loose and attack her.

So, do you have any suggestions or theories for us? Well, I’d really appreciate any thoughts you have on our situation.
Lee Anne

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