Dog Body Language Study

Observations? Analyses? Comments? I’ll post mine in a couple days.

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Passionate amateur dog trainer, writer, and learning theory geek. Eileen Anderson on Google+
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10 Responses to Dog Body Language Study

  1. ruthbyrn says:

    Should be entitled: Here is a dog being an absolute s—-.

  2. Front-Ray Diagram!!! 😀 I find Clara’s body language after Zani moves towards the ball very scary. Not that I think she’d do damage, but it’s definitely a level of stiffness and intimidatingness I don’t want to see in my dog (recovering dog-reactive), because for my dog, the next step is a muzzle punch and screaming in the other dog’s face. That said, she has never hurt another dog and I think after 7 years I can say she never intends to, but still.

    • Lisa says:

      I see this same stuff between two of my dogs frequently. It used to scare me because sometimes it would end up in muzzle punches, screaming, saliva and lots of furr flying. But somehow they’ve worked it out (used to intervene by distracting them away from each other). But when I see this now I just stand back and let thing flow naturally. The worst I’ve had in many, many months is a lunge and “Grrrrrr” from one of them. In the best circumstances one will pick up the ball, and then turn tail and run asking to be chased. Resoucre guarding objects like a ball or bone has gotten much better around here 🙂

  3. Marjorie says:

    Gee, that took me right back to my childhood with one of my older sisters! She could be a real bully and her intention was to actually do harm.

  4. Carolyn (and Molly) says:

    My first thought was that there is an incredible intelligence inside that head! She cleverly set that all up herself! I am a dog training novice new to observing dog body language, and certainly I would have some concern about the posture and what that means. However, considering her age, it doesn’t seem too far off normal teenage behavior in a multidog household.

  5. diana says:

    observations:
    clara’s tail is wagging a bit low and slow and then becomes still just as she drops the ball.
    direct eye contact with beagle, ears lifted and slightly forward, loose mouth that closes as beagle moves toward ball, then jaw drops and mouth tightens, she seems to catch/hold her breath, weight shifts forward, body tenses, tail comes up and wags faster, lip lick as she moves forward, keeping eyes on beagle most of the time.
    brief sniff or possibly nose contact to beagle’s head.
    beagle’s tail is high the whole time, avoids eye contact except for brief moment as ball rolls back toward clara, movements are slow as she watches the ball, lip lick as clara approaches. beagle then lowers her head, turns her head, sniffs the floor, moves toward the ball, then curves away as clara intercepts the ball and curves away from the beagle.
    lovely video. thanks for sharing.
    i won’t hazard a guess at interpretation except to note that the dogs are obviously discussing their respective interests in the ball and both doing their best to avoid any conflict by using calming signals.

  6. Thank you to all who commented. A special thanks to Diana, who came over from the FaceBook group Observation Skills for Training Dogs at my request and repeated her comments here that she had written there. I’ve mentioned that group before. Isn’t it great to read an observer’s account of what the dogs actually did before trying to interpret? Diana is good at that.

    Here are some observations about Clara and Zani and their play habits which might be pertinent to the interaction in the video.

    Clara and Zani have played together since Clara was tiny. They play only with complete supervision now because of the size difference and Clara’s assertiveness. I interrupt them frequently and they have learned to self interrupt.

    They play frequently. They play chase, bitey face, wrestling, and steal the toy. Clara self handicaps during almost all the games. Clara never catches Zani when they play chase, even though she is faster. She lets Zani catch her, and Zani hurls herself on Clara. When they wrestle, Clara lies down and Zani chews on her legs. Of the two, Zani uses her mouth a lot more during play. Zani will often snatch a toy away by stealth and when she does, Clara does not aggress about it. But Zani generally defers if they are both going for a toy at the same time (as in the video).

    Clara stares at Zani with a very erect posture (as in this video) often as a precursor to play. It is usually followed by her running and chasing Zani.

    Clara is ball crazy and releases them only with great reluctance. For instance, she has a natural retrieve to hand, and a trained “drop it” which both work very well for any object OTHER than a ball. Although she gives them up reluctantly, she doesn’t resource guard them against me in any other way.

    When playing alone, Clara frequently drops her ball and observes it. She will drop it on a hill and let it roll, chase it down, then carry it up to the top and drop it again. She plays a similar game on a slanted board, pushing the ball up and watching it roll down again. She drops the ball in holes and pushes the ball under objects and reaches in to pull it out.

    My Interpretation of the Encounter
    I tend to agree with Ruth and Carolyn that Clara made a bratty plan and I caught it on video. I haven’t seen another dog do what Clara is doing here, but it does seem that Clara is trying to get Zani to make a play for the ball, then making sure she doesn’t get it. I have seen dogs do things like that with a little less planning required: prancing around with a toy trying to get another dog to try for it, then darting away. That could be an invitation to chase. But so could Clara’s actions have been, for that matter. It is possible that Clara’s dropping the ball was initially a “nice” play invitation, or at least an experiment (as described above). “What will happen if I drop the ball?” But after she dropped it she could have changed her mind and taken steps to keep it in her possession. This would go along with behavior I have witnessed from her before. She will bring me a ball to throw, then can’t quite give it to me.

    Regarding the stare and possible aggression concerns expressed by Annieke and Marjorie: my teacher always says, “Watch the other dog.” I do not see fearful behavior on Zani’s part. I see interest and yes, caution. To me the thought bubble over Zani’s head is, “Is she about to be a jerk or is this going to be fun?” As Diana said, Zani lip licks when Clara approaches her head, and turns away as Clara pushes into her space, both stress signals. But right after that when Clara nudges the ball Zani makes a play for it. She turns sharply away as Clara grabs the ball, but walks casually after that.

    Jean Donaldson describes something she calls a “consent test” that you can do when you can’t tell whether two dogs are both enjoying play. You restrain the suspected bully and see if the other dog attempts to continue to play. Often Zani continues to want to play when my observation is that Clara is being awfully rough or bratty. Zani and I have a deal though, that I will help her leave play with Clara anytime she wants, and she makes it very obvious when she is fed up and wants out.

    On the evening I filmed this, the two dogs played on and off for 1-2 hours. After the filmed episode, Clara approached Zani with the ball several more times and dropped the ball on Zani’s back.(Didn’t get that recorded!) Zani got the ball on the rebound a few times. Zani did leave the area several times, but would return after taking a break. As I write this, they are separated by an ex-pen and Zani is lying on her back, reaching her nose through the wires at Clara, who is gently batting at her with her paws.

    Please know that I am very careful with dear little Zani. I will probably post some play footage in the future that shows Clara playing with good manners and Zani having a whale of a time.

  7. Pingback: How My Dogs Play - eileenanddogseileenanddogs

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