Tag Archives: dog behavior

Body language (2)

In my last post I explained to you how to read canine moods by looking at our ears. Someone asked me what to do with this knowledge. Well, I think it is good just to know, you do not necessarily have to do something with it (what is it with humans, that everything has got to have a purpose?). But if it makes my human readers happy, I will explain some more.

When you know what kind of mood a dog is in, you can make a decision what to do (or not do). For instance: you are walking with your dog and suddenly your dog stops and pulls her ears flat to her head. This means she saw or smelled something that scared her. In that case you, as her human, should be beware too. So don’t drag her along, but investigate. Maybe your dog was scared by something that is not really dangerous, like a big and dark bag of garbage lying in your way. Then you can walk along, acting as if nothing is the matter. But maybe there is something dangerous in your path, like a bad tempered cat or a mean dog hiding in the bushes. In that case you should be grateful to your dog, because she warned you against this danger. Of course in this situation you do not go on, but you take another path and walk happily on.

Grassy walk

I notice a lot of humans are worried about bad mannered dogs. Some humans are very scared of all dogs, which is a bit silly because most dogs are friendly. But bad mannered, aggressive dogs: yes, it is sensible to be scared of them. Although there is a big difference, which you will understand when you look at their ears. An aggressive dog that has his ears flat to its head, is unsure or scared. An aggressive dog that has his ears pointing forward, is very sure of himself. Mind you: both dogs are dangerous, they will attack when they have to. The difference is that an aggressive dog with his ears flat is unsure and therefore will only attack when he sees no other way. He reacts out of fear. The aggressive dog with his ears turned forward reacts out of habit, training and character. These are the ferocious guarding dogs and police dogs.

All right, I can hear some human readers ask the question (again) what to do with this knowledge. When you are a human with an aggressive dog, it is good to know the difference. Because when your dog is aggressive out of fear, you can help him getting more sure of himself. In the end, he won’t need to be aggressive anymore and he will become a happy, well balanced dog. When your dog is aggressive out of character, congratulations! You and him can go to the police dog school and do some thorough training. In the end you will have a very obedient, very strong dog that will make sure you are safe, whatever the circumstances. You will be able to leave your car unlocked or your bag outside the supermarket when you go in, because no one will dare to touch it with your dog near it.

If the aggressive dog is not your dog, but you meet him on the street, there is only one thing to do: go away. It doesn’t matter if the dog is behaving out of fear or character, you do not want to interact with an aggressive dog. Do as I do (and as every dog does): ignore him and go the other way. Do not look at him, certainly do not look him in the eye because this is very rude and will only challenge him. Do not try to walk past him. Cross the street, take another path, turn around and walk along in a leisurely way. If the dog is in a courtyard, do not go in – why would you do that, anyway? It would be very unwise and you know, the dog has a point, guarding his territory.

Some humans say you are a coward when you cross the street to avoid a confrontation. I think this is very silly, something only humans can come up with. Humans seem to make a lot of things way too difficult. Why on earth would you want to confront an aggressive dog? Do you think you will change him, make him behave better by confronting him? You won’t. You will only end up at the doctor and it will hurt. It will cost you a lot of time, time you could have spend walking on the beach or sleeping on the sofa in the sun. I don’t have to think long what I would prefer.

Body language (1)

Readers of this blog will know that I sometimes write about canine behavior, because there are a lot of things humans do not seem to understand about us. I believe that by writing about these misunderstandings, I will make life better for humans and dogs. That is one of my Ambitions. This time I would like to write about body language, to be precise ear language.

If you want to understand dogs, it helps if you know what to look for. You can start by reading our ears. We dogs can move our ears in a lot of different ways, no matter what shape they have. It is easier to read this by dog breeds with big ears, like German shepherds. But when you know where to look, you can also read the flappy ears of breeds like labradors. Look at the root of the ears, where they are attached to the head.

Basically, there are three major positions. The first one is when we are alert and interested in our surroundings:

Body language alert

You can see both dogs (the German shepherd is my friend Boss) have their ears turned forward. When we look like this, we are ready for action: playing, running, guarding, anything.

The second position is for situations when we do not feel too sure. For instance when we are impressed by another dog, cautious or scared of something. Then we turn our ears backward and stick them to our head, as flat as possible.

Body language submissive

The dog on the left is lying on the ground and moving her ears in a position that tells the black dog: okay, you are the boss (for now). The black dog is not feeling too sure either, her ears are flat as well, although she is dominating the one lying on the beach (notice she is almost stepping on her, another sign of body language I will write about later). This probably is because the picture was taken by Nicoline, my personal trainer, and Nicoline told the black dog to behave. The black dog was busy dominating the other one, but while doing so thought ‘uh-oh this might not have been a good idea with Nicoline so close’. This happens a lot to dogs, especially the not so smart ones: they act first and think later.

Notice that the lab next to the black dog is totally relaxed, ears in a neutral position. But hey, he is a very dumb lab. He probably did not get what was going on, thinking about balls.

Then there is the third position, I will call it neutral. It is when we are relaxed:

Body language apprehensive

Mind you: this can change very fast. We dogs react to our surroundings almost immediately (that is, the smarter ones), so we can go from neutral to alert to submissive in a split second. When you want to understand us, you have to be a good observer. But that is the fun of it, right? Never a dull moment.

Of course, these are just the three basic ear positions. There are a lot of other ones, for special occasions. I for instance have a wide array of positions, which I use as I please. This one is for when I feel hungry and P is eating something that smells lovely. It is something in between alert and neutral. Of course in this situation I am very alert (food is my top priority), but I do not want to give the impression of being too pushy. That is why I wear my ears like this:

Method cropped.jpg

This is for when I want something really, really bad:

Being very sweet

And then there are dogs that have a body language that is beyond any description. Like this one. What does it mean? Your guess is as good as mine:

Body language your guess is as good as mine

 

Fighting?

There are some big misconceptions, things humans don’t seem to understand about us dogs. I wrote about misconception number one: dominance. There is another big one: fighting.

Let me tell you about something that happened on the beach, lately. I was playing with another dog – a dog looking a bit like me, being ultrafast. We ran like hell, chasing each other. We had great fun. Her human had just told M that her dog was scared of practically anything, but I did not recognize that. She was a bit nervous, yes, but not scared. Anyway, we played rough. That is how I like it: bumping into each other, chasing each other, sometimes biting each other in the legs to invite the other dog to run even faster.

So we were racing on the beach, me chasing the other dog and biting in her hind legs to tease her. She did not like that, stopped, turned around and snapped at me. This happens sometimes. I don’t mind, it is only a clear signal that my motivation technique is not appreciated. In that case I stop, we pause for a while and usually we start our play all over again. But this time the human of this so-called scared dog got very hysterical. She shouted ‘oh no, they are fighting, I don’t want this! Go away!’. So M called me and we went on together.

I thought this very strange. The human obviously did not understand the difference between playing and fighting. I admit I was a bit rough on her dog, but we weren’t fighting. When we walked about a hundred meters she released her dog and it came running towards me to resume our play. But M did not feel like an argument with this hysterical human, so she told me to get along with her and I said goodbye to the dog.

Maybe one of the reasons why humans can’t  see the difference between playing and fighting, is that we dogs often play rough. We sometimes bark and even growl, we show our teeth. This is because playing is also a way of testing how strong we are, compared to each other. We do this with our humans, too! What do you think we are doing when we are playing a pulling game with you? We like the fun, but we are also testing if you are still strong. It is all in the game for us.

So this is playing, something very different from fighting. When are dogs fighting? I can tell you this: seldom. I mean really fighting, with the purpose to seriously hurt the other dog, not the barking and growling and biting-in-the-fur stuff that is playing rough. We hardly ever really fight because the risks are very high. When we city dogs get hurt in a fight we are taken to the vet, but when you are a stray dog, you could die. No dog will take such a risk if it is not really worth it.

For a real fight the stake must be very high. Such a stake could be a territory a dog defends. Or a pretty willing female, in that case a male dog will fight with another strong male dog who wants the same female. All the other things, like food, are not worth a real fight. If you look carefully how dogs behave in this situation, you will see a lot of snarling and growling and sometimes even an attack, but the dogs usually back off quickly. No one gets seriously hurt. We are pretty fast in determining which one of us is stronger and the strongest one gets the food.

Humans are not very good at really noticing what is going on, so I’ll help you out a bit here. How to tell the difference between playing rough and fighting? This is something Nicoline, my personal trainer, tells the humans she trains. She says that as long as dogs make a lot of noise, they are not really fighting. If they start snapping and showing teeth without making a noise, than the going gets though. When this happens with the group of dogs she walks with, she intervenes – she is a tough cookie, did I tell you that? She is brave. I would never intervene in a dog fight, I would just run. Which is a very sensible reaction, by the way.

Sorry for this long blog, it takes a lot of words to explain something that is not difficult to see for us dogs, but apparently it is for humans. I hope you will understand it now. A little test, to make sure you get it. Look at this picture. Is this fighting?

Fighting

Maybe it is a hard question to answer, because it is a picture and you cannot hear the noise.  This is me with my German Shepherd friend Sem. And no, it is not fighting (we made a lot of noise). Me and Sem like to measure forces when we meet each other. As you can see, we show our teeth, although in this picture Sem is not paying much attention to me anymore, because another dog was approaching. Sem is not very well mannered, he doesn’t know how to behave with a lady like me. Ha! I’ll show him next time I meet him.

Dominance?

Humans and dogs have lived together for ages, but still there are a lot of things humans don’t understand about us. For instance: humans categorize dogs in being ‘dominant’ or ‘submissive’. A dog that is bossy they call dominant. They say it is his character, they believe he will always be a dominant dog. But that is not true, because every dog is dominant, now and then. It is not his character, it is the situation that matters, and the way we interact in this situation.

Maybe humans think their dog is dominant because he behaves in a bossy way when he is with them. For instance: there is a little dog living on the other side of our street – she is a mix chihuahua / Jack Russell. She usually goes out with her female human, barking all the time and snapping at other dogs. But last time I met her, she was walking with her male human. She was as sweet as a cheesecake, walking next to him, not barking and not even once pulling the leash. Does she have a dominant character? No, of course not. She is only bossy when her female human is with her. She reacts on the situation.

If you want to learn more about dogs, just look how they behave when they are with other dogs. When a dog is well balanced and social, you will see that sometimes she is bossy and sometimes she is not. Me, I grew up in a shelter amidst a large pack of dogs. One learns how to behave in such an environment, believe me! I am not a very submissive dog, I can be really bossy sometimes. But not all the time. When I meet a dog that is friendly and playful, I am friendly too. With my Staffordshire friend, for instance:

Social 1

Sometimes, when I meet a dog who behaves a bit bossy, I like to challenge him. I don’t care how big he is (this one for instance is huge, but when I stand on my long hind legs I can be very tall!), it is the energy that counts. By the way: some humans think this looks like fighting, but it isn’t. It is only measuring forces.

Social 3

And sometimes I meet a dog whose energy of that moment tells me to show respect:

Social 2

Humans will say he is more dominant than I am, but this is not true. He is more dominant in this situation. If he would walk into my house, or try to steal my food, I would certainly fight him and chase him away. Like I said: it is the situation that matters and the way we interact in this situation. This includes the humans that are around. Did you ever wonder why every dog gets calm and submissive when Cesar Millan is near? Because his energy is very clear. Only dumb stubborn dogs challenge him and we all know what happens to them!  Same with my personal trainer, Nicoline. She walks with a lot of dogs and we all respect her. There are some dogs in our pack that humans would call dominant, but with her none of us is.

It is true that some dogs are more bossy than others. But no dog is bossy all the time. This whole idea of dominant dogs that will always be dominant in any situation is a huge misconception. Don’t believe it.

Go and play?

Yesterday something happened and it got me thinking. Thinking about humans and dogs and that sometimes we really do not understand each other. Some humans, that is, not my human M, of course (hey, I still have to get my dinner and I know she is reading this)! Maybe this sounds familiar to you, I’ll explain what happened.

We were in the forest, M and I. I was sniffing around, there were two other dogs doing the same. A few minutes before we had met each other, sniffed each other and then got along with investigating the surroundings. Then this human came walking towards us, with her dog. Her dog was not happy to be there, we smelled that immediately. So we left her alone. That is what balanced dogs do, you know: if you want peace, we give you peace. Simple.

But the human of this dog did not like that. She kept on saying to her dog: ‘Oooh, here are some friends for you, go and play! Go on!” Her dog obviously did not feel like it. Her tail was between her legs, she was looking away from us, her tongue licking her mouth nervously. She wanted to get away, but she was on a leash so she couldn’t. Her human dragged her towards us, telling our humans that her dog was afraid and it would be good for the dog if she would play with friendly, well mannered dogs (I think she meant us). The humans started their usual chitchat about dogs and the weather. The poor nervous dog had to stand near us. The other dogs and I ignored her as much as we could, feeling a bit embarrassed for her.

In the end we did not play with her, of course not. You can not force dogs to play. And you know what? Not every dog wants to play with every other dog. Sometimes I don’t feel like playing at all. Sometimes a dog wants to play with me, but he is not my type. Or the other way around. That is absolutely fine. We dogs don’t care: we say hello and go our own way. It is the humans who make such an issue about this. That is what I was thinking about. Why do humans think we should play so much, even with dogs we do not know? Do humans play with every stranger they meet in the street? Of course not! Why do they think we want to?

Managing rude dogs

Everyone with a good looking, muscular body can tell you you have to maintain it. So do I. It takes a lot of training to get a body like this, I can tell you. We train every day. Usually, we start here:

Grassy walk

It is near a canal and has lots of lovely smells: mice living in the grass, dead fish that lie on the shore and duck shit. One day I even found a pile of little white buns!!! I had to be quick then, because I know from earlier experience that M does not want me to eat this. Of course I outwitted her and managed to eat at least three buns before she chased me away.

After our warming up at the canal, we go to the forest. This is it:

Forest also

It is pretty, hey? There are lots of dogs there, usually, to play with. There are some mean dogs too, which I avoid. Sometimes avoiding is better than fighting, you know. Especially if they are bigger than you. Managing mean dogs is very easy, I’ll tell you how to do it. When a mean dog approaches you (head low, staring at you, backhairs standing up, sometimes even growling already – all very nasty and unmannerly) you act as if there is something very interesting next to you. You stop, turn and start sniffing. This means you are not looking at the rude dog anymore, which always takes him by surprise. Then you walk on in an airy way, sniffing here and there, still not looking at the ill-mannered dog, until you are past him. Then you turn around, laugh him in the face and run as fast as you can.

By the way: this method only works when you are a fast dog. Otherwise just keep on walking and sniffing and ignoring the rude dog, until you don’t see him anymore. Then start gossiping and post his picture on Twitter. Or, better: enlist him and his boss in a Cesar Millan training. That will teach them!

When M is busy, we go home after our walk in the forest. Sometimes, when we have more time, we walk on to the beach. This is it:

Beach

It is great. I like it even more than the forest, because I can run really fast here. Sometimes there are little crabs for eating. Usually there are a lot of other dogs, so I can fetch their balls and invite them to play with me.

After two hours or so (I know, because M tells me) we go home. I get a nice little doggy snack, a big gulp of water and I can sleep for the rest of the afternoon. Life is good.