Body Language Study: Fear and What Else?

Dog body language study starring Summer

I had my camera running at just the right time this week. I just love this clip of Summer interacting with…wildlife. Nobody got hurt. But I should add that it was rather foolish of me to allow this interaction at all. You never know what might be living in the detritus under your hose reel–but the dogs knew there was something.

So….comments are open and let’s hear your speculations about what is going on with Summer! She is fearful and jumpy, but what else? Do your best to base your comments on observations of specific actions.

I’ll participate in a limited way in the comments (no spoilers from me!) then publish a followup blog with my own observations and a bit of history. Enjoy!

Link to the video for email subscribers.

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Copyright 2016 Eileen Anderson

28 thoughts on “Body Language Study: Fear and What Else?

  1. Wow! I think she’s a genius, and actually very brave, for removing the styrofoam pail because she knew something was under it. I know many dogs–including my own (12.5 year old female GSD)–who would bark, back up, and re-approach repeatedly, looking to their human for help. The dogs I know who would be most likely to do what Summer did are terriers or Dachshunds, plus a Boerboel. All are highly independent dogs who seem hard-wired to solve problems on their own. PS–Summer’s coat is so pretty!!

    1. Thanks Betsy for your kind words about Summer! I think she’s pretty too, and brave. And you nailed it: she is independent in most cases. (Unless there is a piece of kibble under some furniture, then she is all over me to help her!)

  2. Her ears are pricked, she’s intent and focused, her posture is a little forward–to me she looks curious but cautious.

    1. That is one of the most fascinating videos I’ve ever seen! Interesting that the startle response maintains and the cat doesn’t habituate to the sound. The startle lessens there for a while, but comes back in full force when the cat starts advancing on the metronome. Thanks for posting!

  3. First, I noticed Summer’s tail. I have never, ever seen her with her tail like that, and I’ve probably watched every video you’ve posted on this blog! If I remember correctly, she usually carries her tail high and curled over her back, particularly when she’s aroused over prey. So that was definitely noteworthy.

    Next, I noticed a few things that made me wonder whether Summer is resource guarding the prey from Clara, just a bit. What I noticed in particular was the way that she looked not at you, or even at the snake, but at Clara as she backed away rapidly once she picked up the styrofoam bucket thing. Her gaze and her pricked, forward ears both seem to be pointed at Clara there, and her commissures look a little tight to me, although it might just be through necessity in order to grip the bucket. I also noticed that Clara puts her ears back and moves away from Summer while she’s solving this puzzle, and thought that might be a reaction to the resource guarding.

    Then I started to speculate wildly, so please forgive me for the silly idea that follows. 🙂 I know that Summer is really into turtles, and always gets really excited and aroused by them. I wonder if she smelled something similar to a turtle–reptile/amphibian smell–and saw something covering it, and didn’t quite recognize it, but it was familiar enough to a turtle that she just HAD to find out, you know? But was also really worried about the not-quite-turtle, if that makes sense.

    So I would say–anxiety, prey drive, a wee bit of resource guarding, and wishing it were a turtle. 😉

    1. Such great comments. Yes, Clara is less interested in reptiles but also aware that there are times when it’s not really wise to get in Summer’s way. Poor Summer though! I agree, I think she was trying to get the goodie out of the hose reel and all to herself. Too bad there was a hole in the bottom. And I’d give it even money that she thought perhaps the Styrofoam was a new type of turtle shell!

  4. She’s bouncing between caution and interest in the beginning. Then Clara comes back over and Summer grabs the styrofoam to pull it several steps away from Clara. I’m thinking very mild/polite resource guarding from Clara..

  5. I see resource guarding. Once she has the styrofoam container and the other dog approaches, her mouth pulls back slightly as she looks at the other dog. I agree with the prey drive, but don’t know if there’s an observable body language to prey drive?

    1. You got it! (I didn’t notice at the time, although this is very normal behavior for the two of them.)

  6. I think she’s resource guarding from Clara. When Clara approaches, Summer’s tail (at least the base of it) goes up. When she pulls the styrofoam away, it looks like she is looking at Clara.

  7. she eyeballs the other dog after she pulls the foam canister out. Interesting; my dog would have just tossed it aside, intent on the lizard. Are these dogs competitive over food and toys?

    1. They don’t get much chance to compete over food, but yes, they do guard and steal objects from one another. They are mostly peaceful about it, having worked things out over the years. Yes, definitely some guarding here. As I and others have hypothesized, I think Summer thought the reptile was in the styrofoam or the styrofoam was part of it.

  8. I see curiosity and caution, problem solving, don’t see fear really, my Sophie is part JRT we think, she won’t move treat puzzles for food even, knows foods there but barks commands to us! When my sisters dog came up she’s quiet watching him toss the puzzles, then she dives in for treats.

  9. Fascinating video and discussion; what fun! The one word I thought of that describes Summer’s body language is “conflicted”. Her back half, so to speak, says to me “stressed”. base of tail is low, tail held tight against body, but not tucked, leg muscles tense. Front half, forward,vacillates a bit. Gingerly picks up the styrofoam container. Ponders if she thought the snake was still in the container as she moved it away? I don’t see resource guarding, but, that’s just me. I see some similar kind of “conflicted” behaviors when my Border Terriers come upon some similar Unidentified Crawling Object in the yard 🙂

  10. Conflicted, based on positioning of legs/paws and weight, with a mix of interest (approaches styrofoam repeatedly) and caution (low tail, tense legs, weight backward). She focuses her interest and behaviors on the styrofoam and not the lizard. Backs away with the item in her mouth while Clara checks out the escaping lizard. In that move, she looks sideways at Clara, with ears pricked forward, backs up several steps with the item in her mouth, brow looks furrowed but hard to tell. I don’t see prey interest/drive, but interest in getting and keeping the styrofoam.

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