Clara Says, “I Love New Stuff!”

Three dogs on rug

The rug is the cool new hangout. Thanks, Summer, for pulling the quilt askew for the photo!

I made the video featured in this post for the sole purpose of recording how cute Clara is when I bring something new into the house. She is thrilled with novelty. But as usual, there was more to observe.

I bought a small rug to put in the den so the dogs don’t always have to be either on the concrete or on their individual mats, which are strong cues for certain behaviors. I wanted a little training space that had a better surface. (The last time I bought a rug was in 2011. Less than a month later I got an unexpected puppy, so that rug didn’t last very long. I must admit I hope that doesn’t happen again!)

Here’s a short summary of the dogs’ responses when I brought in the new rug and unwrapped it.

Clara

Clara lived up to my expectations. She was utterly delighted and charming. She nudged and bounced at me in her excitement and her tail never stopped as she checked things out thoroughly and attended my progress. Even though new people will never be her favorite thing, new anything else…you bet! In my book about living with a dog with dementia, I mention the enrichment possibilities of letting a dog sniff things you bring into the house. Clara is the one who taught me this, since she’s so obvious about it, but all my dogs enjoy it in their ways.

Summer

Summer was perfectly herself. The main issue for her wasn’t the new rug. It was the other dogs’ response to it. She dislikes any kind of high-energy behavior from them. She was content though to watch from her perch, removed from the fuss. Once the rug was down and the other dogs calmer, she happily jumped down and got on it.

Zani

Now this is interesting. Watch Zani in the movie and try to assess her attitude. Is she nervous? Scared? Her tail is down most of the time, at times almost pressed between her legs. Something I have learned over time is that Zani’s tail hangs low, and sometimes presses down, at times when it doesn’t necessarily indicate anxiety. Most stills of Zani I could take from this video would include body language that we associate with an unhappy dog. But Zani is interested and is not poised for flight. She moves around normally. The only part where I see her a bit worried is a momentary flinch around 1:09 when I lift the cardboard tube out of the rug.

I was first clued into this interesting behavior from Zani a few years back when someone posted in response to my Beginner Kongs movie. He said Zani was not a good example of a dog enjoying a food toy because she looked scared. It’s right at the beginning of that movie in case you want to check it out. He had a point–she is not the typical picture of enjoyment. At the time I theorized that hers was an anxious response to the camera. Only over time have I observed that she tucks her tail in several situations where she is not upset. These include while manipulating a food toy, when digging–a favorite activity–and frequently when exploring and sniffing. I have videos of these and one day will make a compilation. My working hypothesis is that it indicates a certain type of concentration. Just another step in my ongoing project of reading dogs better.

 

Link to the video for email subscribers. 

I would love to know if any of the rest of you observe anything similar to Zani’s behavior in your dogs. In the meantime, enjoy watching Clara!

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18 Responses to Clara Says, “I Love New Stuff!”

  1. Clara is hilarious. She acts about the rug the way Barnum would act if I was unwrapping a box of high-value chew toys.

    I don’t have the “outlier” tail issue, but the whites of Barnum’s eyes show most of the time, even when totally relaxed. I have a theory that it’s more common with dogs who have baggy lids and shaggy fur that normally covers their eyes. But it can make people think he has whale eye when he doesn’t. These “outlier” dogs keep us humble about reading dog body language!

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Yes, the outliers do that! Whenever we think we can take shortcuts, there they are, showing that to be a bad idea.

  2. Betsy Lane says:

    Our dog is super curious about anything new I bring into the house–happily curious, not wary–to the degree that I feel bad if I leave and come home without a cup or bag or something new for her to carry in for me! She, too, is not so sure about new (unknown to her) people coming into our house; with new people, she’s more “on alert” until she figures out they’re fine. Trying to put together furniture with her around is always interesting, as she tends to want to stand right in the middle of everything and check out every new piece!

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      That’s sweet of you to think of her! I have finally gotten in the habit of waiting to let Clara check everything out before I start putting things away….

  3. Zuri is Zani. Maybe dogs beginning wth “Z” do the tucked tail thingee. It intrigued me so much because I also noticed that when Zuri is munching on something she really enjoys, her tail is tucked really tight between her legs. No other dogs around, in a safe place. Anyone watching would think she is scared. She’s not. I took photos to use in a blog….one day…because it was so deceiving it you didn’t know she was not stressed. I feel similar to you, that in this case, it’s related to concentration or focus – not necessarily of something aversive. A reall lesson in context AND knowing the dog.

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Come to think of it, I think I have noticed that in Zuri! Maybe we should collaborate on a blog or coordinate somehow. I have a bit of footage….

  4. caroline beven says:

    Hi Eileen,
    Just a quickie – I think this is what we would call a ‘working tail’, so that fits with your ‘concentration’ theory. Our new dog – collie/staffie/spaniel mix – has it, though the previous – collie/staffie/lab – didn’t, so …
    No time for more – poor Coco has phantom pregnancy AND upset stomach! Wee lamb!
    Caroline

  5. lesnroy says:

    My Luke does the tucked tail thing, too. He’s a happy, well-socialized Vizsla, but give him a stuffed Kong to work on, and his tail is tucked the whole time. I’ve always thought it might be an involuntary protective mechanism – sort of covering your butt, so to speak – while he’s otherwise occupied! Who knows?? But, like Clara, he LOVES anything new, and gets very excited!

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Interesting theory. Covering up what’s vulnerable while you concentrate. That rather fits with Zani too. Thanks for the comment. I am loving knowing about these other dogs.

  6. Another vote for the tucked tail having to do with concentration or focus. My Mali girl, Fun, does the same thing. Many times when she’s definitely not afraid. She tucks her tail when she’s eating, or when she’s really excited about something but trying not to be a flying-off-the-walls idiot about it. From what I’ve observed in her, it’s more often a sign of tension/anticipation/arousal, than a fearful response.

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Hi Annieke, I’m glad to know about Fun. (What a cool name, too.) Hearing about all these other dogs is very gratifying. Thanks for the comment!

  7. * says:

    My 4y Spanish water dog gets very exited when I do new stuff 🙂 But when I bring home something new and act casual about it, she will sniff once or twice and then wait for something to happen. She is focused on me. So I´m not really sure how she feels about new stuff? My younger dog is always wary about everything in life (yet she has a very high energy level and is very reactive). New things can be interesting (at least if they are no bigger than a shoebox). Bigger things need time. She will get exited if the other dogs do and gets frustrated because does´t understand why and she will try to bite, play, wrestle etc. which no one likes, off course, because the timing is bad. Very overwhelming for her, obviously.

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      That’s interesting! I know that Clara is interested in new stuff separate from me because when I let her out of the room she usually stays in while I’m gone, she greets me quickly then runs to the front of the house to see what I brought in. Your Spanish water dog sounds very close to you. Your younger dog sounds very interesting and a big of a challenge. All our dogs help us grow, don’t they. Thanks for the comment.

  8. meghan says:

    Clara is such a joyful creature!

    Nala’s fascinating to watch around new stuff because she’s somewhat intermediate between Clara and Zani–she really seems to enjoy checking out every new object that I bring in the house, and has a sense of urgency about plunging her face into every bag I carry! But her tail is always in a low, quick wag, so I think she might feel a little bit ambivalent, especially since she can be so wary of novel objects.

    As for the low tail when she’s not fearful–yes, Nala does that too. Some of it looks like she’s physically bracing herself–for instance, so that she can get a better grip on a brand new knuckle bone she’s chewing. She also lowers her tail when she’s focusing on something, or stuck sniffing not a single, particularly interesting spot. But she *also* sniffs with a low tail when she’s nervous. To make matters more complicated, she just kind of has a low tail set. So, really, the only thing I can say is that if Nala’s tail is mid level or higher and wagging, she feels really confident and happy (or she’s chasing critters–which makes her feel confident and happy)!

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Physically bracing herself. Yes, I think that fits for Zani sometimes too! Leave it to Nala to complicate things!

  9. Deb Cunningham says:

    Everyone has such interesting observations about tail tucking — both with Zani and their own animals. Suzanne Clothier has an interesting behavior assessment tool called CARAT. I believe she’d categorize those types of behaviors as arousal. Check CARAT out if you’re super-keen on behavior profiling.

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Cool, I’m a little familiar with CARAT. Good point about arousal–sometimes with Clara I mistake arousal for “extreme happiness and enthusiasm.” There can be a fine line between excited and over the top. Kind of like little kids who get all wound up and run around screaming….

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