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