Dog Body Language Study: Intruder in the Yard!

Zani advancing
What is Zani so wary of?

My little dog Zani has so much personality, but it is rare for me to capture her feisty side on camera. She is almost certainly a hound/terrier mix. She has the softness and sensitivity of some small hounds, and can dole out appeasement signals as well as any beagle. I’ve shown her fearful side. But she is also a tough cookie. She holds her own in a household with two bigger dogs. She chases (and yes, kills) small animals. She tells me off sometimes. So when she was alone in the yard, alarm barking but not advancing on whatever was bothering her, I grabbed the camera. I knew it would be interesting.

The “not advancing” part was what clued me that this was something different. If there had been any sort of animal or human in the yard or close by, she would have moved forward with less hesitation. This was some other kind of threat.

(I was glad I had my camera ready a few years after this post when she again noticed something visually amiss. I think you’ll enjoy the comparison. In the 2019 incident, she is similarly wary but also in a more predatory mode, and her tail never stops wagging.)

It would be easy to make light of what it turned out to be. But you know, my little dog is brave. She weighs all of 19 pounds. It’s true that she didn’t start to approach the monster until I offered to go along, but she led the way. I do wish I could have had a view of her from the front. There is a section in the video where her body language gets a bit scary looking. It starts at about 0:46. I would get out of the way of any dog who was advancing towards me in that manner.

The other amazing thing to me is how fast she piloerects–and then how fast the fur goes down again when she determines that all is well. Here’s a nice piece by Karen London on Piloerection–do you think Zani counts as “confident” according to her observations? Thanks to Julie Hecht for a mini-discussion about this too.

I hope you enjoy watching this as much as I did. There’s so much more to observe than what I noted in the video.

How about your dogs? What scary things have they conquered?

Related Posts and Pages (featuring the adorable Zani)

© Eileen Anderson 2015                                                                                                                     

14 thoughts on “Dog Body Language Study: Intruder in the Yard!

  1. That’s so interesting that she noticed that rail was in a different place and that was threatening to her. Very alert watchdog! 🙂

    1. Thanks! The underside of the timber is darker too, from being wet. I think there was more contrast as well. Need to get out there with my “Dog Vision” app and take a look. This wasn’t the first time it had rolled over there. Thanks for the comment! I think she’s a good watchdog too!

  2. Oh that was very interesting to watch. Another great post Eileen. Thanks for sharing and for the slow mo commentary. 30 seconds seems like along time to bark; I wonder if she know you’d be coming out shortly. The tone of Zani’s bark sounds to me exactly the same as one of my dog’s but she uses it when she is ‘yelling at’ a particular cat in her yard. She’s not afraid, but for her that cat is a very serious issue. Any upcoming posts on interpretation of barking in the works?

    1. Hi Colleen–I was out there with Zani the whole time she was barking. 30 seconds may be an exaggeration, but I don’t think so. It took me that long to notice that her barking was not the usual kind and to get into camera mode. I like your comments about bark tone. I’ll keep that idea for something to discuss. I do definitely notice different tones of bark. (I have had two terriers who had a specific “turtle bark.” I would hear them out in the yard in the spring and would know the situation before I got out there. Turtle on the other side of the fence!) Thanks for the comment!

      1. My samoyed has a porcupine bark. It sounds quite high and stressed to me, I interpret it as conflicted. She certainly knows it will hurt to bite it, but she gets fixated on it, and every now and then she makes a grab just at the last available moment before I’m able to get her out of reach.

        1. Interesting! That would be a difficult problem to deal with. At least the turtles that my dogs get fixated on can’t hurt them.

    1. Cool! Lots of animals are better discriminators than we are, I suspect. It’s interesting the types of things that horses notice.

  3. Zani appeared to be specifically interested in the scent of the pole in a few places in the middle area. She then moved to where the pole had lain in the grass previously and sniffed in the area that would have been near where she sniffed the pole after it was moved. Could there have been an animal in the yard that marked the pole? She was not particularly interested in the end nearest you but only in the one section farther away. After she determined the end of the pole was just that, a pole, she advanced to the one section and spent time sniffing in that one area. .It was out of place but it also apparently smelled different.

    1. Those are great points! There could have been other changes such as that. That timber has rolled out of place before, but I think it looked different this time because it was very damp from the rain. But also you are right; an animal or even reptile could have been on or in the timber (it is untreated lumber and quite rotten). Thanks for the insightful comments.

  4. Mine pretty much goes with the flow when it comes to physical changes in the environment, but he does react to sounds with no visible source as a Sign Of Trouble–even if it’s a familiar sound. So someone walking up on our porch is cause for concern, but as soon as he can see that it’s a person making that noise (any person! he adores strangers most of all…) the alert is cancelled.

    1. I’m glad you mentioned that. I have a pet theory that some sounds are scary because their source is not clear. Thanks for commenting.

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