Month: December 2022

Happy Gotcha Day to Lewis!

Happy Gotcha Day to Lewis!

Closeup of a brown and white dog's face while he rests his chin on a green toy. He is looking straight at the camera.

I can’t believe it has been a year. But indeed it was December 28, 2021, when I welcomed boisterous eight-old-month Lewis into my life.

If you want to see the list of things I first identified as difficulties, here it is. But instead of creating a progress report based on that list, I’m just going to write about the ways we have learned to live well together.

Lewis’ and My Achievements, Successes, and Fun

• Lewis’ door-related behaviors are good. He waits until I check out the yard and tell him to go ahead, and will continue to wait if I cue the other dogs to go out first. I never did specific training on release cues, but he knows when I am cuing the other dogs and not him. Waiting at the door is for the dogs’ safety, not some kind of dominance rule!

• I taught Lewis through classical conditioning that riding in the car is cool and leads to great adventures. I had to go slowly at first, because he had issues with both the crate confinement and the movement of the car. At some point, I’ll write a post about it. He loves going places, including to the vet, where he lived for more than a month as a puppy.

• Lewis and I have a great play relationship. He is game to play anything. Tug, balls, fetch, and anything that involves running. (See the video!)

• He loves training games, too.

Portrait of a brown and white dog's face. His mouth is open in a smile.

• He has really taken to nosework, surprise!

• He is progressing nicely in Dr. Mindy Waite’s husbandry study, funded by Fear Free. Here’s a video of a session.

• He settles where I ask him to on the bed at night (rather than pushing Clara around).

• I haven’t worked much on extending crate duration, but he hangs out in the crate sometimes, and I ask him to go in there for short periods with the door shut for management. He eats most meals in there.

• I taught him the household’s sleeping schedule; he is no longer on vet clinic time. In fact, I had to get up earlier than usual yesterday, and he stayed in bed and declined to come along when I offered to take him outside!

• He has learned to enjoy walks. He walks decently on lead, largely because his normal pace is slower than mine because of sniffing. But we have worked on it as well. Much of his fear of new things is gone.

• He’s made a couple of human friends on our walks and exhibits moderately good greeting manners even while being thrilled out of his mind.

• He has a good recall, and I know we can work it up to great.

• He has been very cooperative during some periods when I or my partner was not feeling well and I didn’t have time to play and do things with him. He was able to relax and accept the downtime with the rest of the household. This was a long time coming, but who can blame him! Teenager!

• He has made friends with the neighbor dogs on both sides of the yard: doodles on one side and Danes and a Border collie on the other. We incorporate them into our games; when he is playing with me, he will also run to each fence to include them (or, sometimes, taunt them). He goes on his own sometimes, and sometimes I cue him to do it (“Go see your friends!”). You’ll see this in the video.

• He holds back from going for dropped food or other items and doesn’t lunge for other dogs’ treats.

• He waits his turn quietly when I am training other dogs (thank goodness!). He can even station in the same room while I train another dog, although we haven’t worked on it much since I wrote about it last May.

• He remains mouthy but no longer grabs sleeves, and seldom tries to grab things out of my hands.

• He is affectionate and continues to be good-natured.

• He is fun!

Video

Here are some highlights of our year together.

Copyright 2022 Eileen Anderson: all text, photos, and video

Related Posts

Most of my other posts about Lewis are linked in the text, but here are his intro post and the “list of challenges” posts one more time.

Puppy New Year!
Training a Teenage Puppy

Dog Facial Expressions: Can You See the Stress?

Dog Facial Expressions: Can You See the Stress?

A white dog with brown ears lies on a purple mat in a vet clinic. The muscles in the dog's face are very tight and bunched up.

In February 2013, I published a set of photos of formerly feral Clara at the vet. Trainers worldwide have used those photos, with my permission, as examples of extreme stress in a dog’s facial expressions.

Clara was terribly afraid. She panted, paced, and panicked. We were working on desensitization and counterconditioning to people slowly, in much more controlled situations. But every once in a while she had to go to the vet, and we just had to get through it.

Her fear and panic were obvious.

The photos of 16-month-old Lewis in this post were also taken at the vet. Lewis is friendly and enjoys meeting new people, even at the clinic. But Lewis was stressed as well.

I won’t go into arousal vs. distress vs. eustress here, though the interplay of these is a fascinating topic. That’s a post for another day. Nor do I want to get into “how much stress is OK?” or related philosophical and ethical questions.

My focus here is a simpler one: stressed dogs look and behave in many different ways, and some of them can be harder to spot than others.

We always need to look at the whole dog when reading body language, not just a part. We’ll get there. But this is a tricky case, in that we tend to associate the behaviors Lewis is exhibiting with happiness. I think it’s informative to look at a small part—Lewis’ facial muscles—before going to the big picture.

Photos of Stress Face

Maybe this is overkill (who, me, belabor a point?) but every photo below shows bunched-up muscles on Lewis’ right cheek between his eye and his mouth. And the corner of his mouth itself (commissure) was tight. His pupils were dilated. I took many stills from a one-minute video, and they all showed the same thing. Be sure to zoom in on at least one or two of them.

I’m showing the photos before the video on purpose because it may be challenging to see the stress in the video before you know where to look.

Video of Lewis in the Vet’s Exam Room

This is the video from which I grabbed the image stills. As you’ll see, Lewis was bouncing up and down a little, getting on and off his mat. He was gobbling food, and he was wagging his tail in a fairly happy way. He oriented to me most of the time. He was not calm, but at the time, he didn’t seem upset. But now that I have studied the video and stills, his face shows the stress.

Note: partway through the video, I started to toss treats rather than placing them on the mat. This was not a good idea, since tossing treats can add to excitement, and Lewis was already ramped up. I did it only for that brief period, and that was because it was hard to keep him on the camera screen and put treats on the mat at the same time.

What Was Lewis Not Doing?

You’ve seen Lewis now, and can tell he was excited and tense. How does his behavior compare to Clara’s, or that of another terrified dog? Here are some things he wasn’t doing.

• He wasn’t constantly panting.
• He wasn’t trembling.
• He wasn’t pacing; he just got up and down a few times.
• He wasn’t frantically looking for a way out of the room.
• He wasn’t licking his lips constantly or having trouble swallowing.
• He wasn’t hypervigilant. He oriented to sounds, but didn’t startle.
• He wasn’t flushed or shedding.

If you’d like to see the comparison, this short video includes footage of Clara’s February 2013 visit to the vet where she was so frightened.

Greeting the Vets

Back to Lewis.

It’s always such a bother when you have to drop the camera to participate in real life, isn’t it? When the vets came in, I couldn’t film Lewis’ over-the-top greeting. What you can briefly see is that I grabbed his harness firmly, so he couldn’t cannonball into the vets. Again, having a dog who likes people is awesome. But his greetings verge on frantic, and show he is not entirely comfortable with the situation.

Look at his ear movement before and after the vets entered the room.

In the photo on the left, a vet turned the handle on the door and Lewis was watching and listening, with his ears lifted forward. In the photo on the right, the door was open, and humans were visible. Lewis’ ears dropped, and you can catch briefly on the video that his tail was wagging wildly. As he greeted the vets (not shown), he exhibited puppy-like appeasement behaviors. He crouched low to the ground and flattened his ears as he shot forward. I would approximate what was going on with him as saying both, “Hi, I love you!” and “Please don’t hurt me!”

A Final Look: That “Open Mouth” Thing

This last comparison is fun. Marge Rogers and I, in our book about puppy socialization, talk a lot about looking for an open mouth and relaxed jaw in puppy body language. An open mouth is one of the easiest indicators a pup is relaxed and comfortable in a situation. But there is always nuance.

In the photo on the left, Lewis was sunning himself on the grass in the winter. The weather was cool, and his mouth was shut. But look at his soft eyes and smooth face. He was relaxed, only perhaps a little curious to see what I was up to. Here is the uncropped photo in case you want to see the rest of his relaxed body language.

In the photo on the right from the vet clinic series, Lewis’ mouth is open. But is he relaxed and comfortable? Hell no. There are those bunched muscles and tight mouth. You can even see the tightness in his lower lip. This is the opposite of the relaxed jaw we look for when trying to determine whether a dog is comfortable and happy in a situation.

This is a comparison collage of two pictures. Both show the same white dog with brown ears and ticking. In the photo on the left, the dog's facial muscles are relaxed. In the photo on the right, the dog's mouth is open but his facial muscles are very tense and bunched up.

It’s new for me to live with a dog whose stress can look like happy excitement (or for whom the two commonly combine). Now I know one “tell” to look for. Stay tuned for further adventures!

Related Posts

Dog Facial Expressions: Stress
Shelter Puppy “Smiles” from FEAR after She’s Adopted
Dog Body Language Is Crucial to Puppy Socialization
Is That “Smiling” Dog Happy?
Does a Wagging Tail Mean a Happy Dog?
Dog Body Language Posts and Videos

Copyright 2022 Eileen Anderson

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