Body Language. You have to see this.

Today is a lesson about the importance of understanding dog body language. Watch the video once, then watch it again. Stop the video frequently. Observe.

I’ll add my comments as well as some from trainers from my Facebook groups. More comments are welcome.

  • Initial shake as the person entered the room. Referred to as “Calming Signals.”
  • Tempting even for me, but the first thing she does is lean over the dog.
  • She immediately starts invading his body and it becomes more still. She pets over the top of his head and all the way down his back. His expression changes and the tail drops.
  • Famous last words from bystander, “I’m a good boy. There’s nothing wrong with me.” If she’s doing an evaluation, this is supposed to be a careful test scenario, not one where you say the good words in hopes that it will make it so. Does that make sense?
  • The tech is rubbing the dog fast and furious. This was my comment on Facebook. “One thing beyond body language that I noticed b/c of my own dog. I don’t think my dog enjoys being rubbed fast, furious, and continuously like that. Not with the head, not with the ears. I was cringing. He will lean into a person, even come back for more, and roll on his back even if someone is doing that, but I see the difference in his face. If someone is petting more slowly and carefully, he has a big smiley smile on. The other kind of petting gives him a similar kind of expression on his face. If annoyed, however, my dog is more likely to try to escape at all costs.”
  • Stiffened body.
  • The obvious growl and barking that is dismissed as just “talking.”
  • I would have to watch again, but I thought I was seeing a pretty hard stare when he was barking at her.
  • Fast, hard eye blinking. When my dog is being pet in the way he likes, his eyes will blink very slowly and start to doze.
  • Back starts to hunch into a curve.
  • I caught what looked like a nervous lip lick – it happened subtly and very quickly.

This dog reminded me enough of my own that I decided to recruit my neighbors for a quick little contrast film. Ranger’s body language could be interpreted ambiguously to some extent. I happen to know that he loves these neighbors and seeks them out every day.


The body is quite similar (my dog is a’ leaner’ and he also tends to hold his tail funny even when he’s emotionally all right). At one point, I instructed my younger neighbor to pet Ranger a little more vigorously. Ranger never seems to particularly enjoy this type of petting; especially his ears, top of head, and neck area but he’s not a high risk for people he knows and likes. You’ll probably see a difference between the two dogs in this regard. Ranger is tolerant but does want to leave and shake it off.

Ranger also tends to greet people he doesn’t know with a very mild version of what the dog in the first video did…with caution. He reaches forward and wants to smell and wants someone just to offer their hand–preferably palm up and under his chin. He doesn’t want fast movements. Once this greeting takes place (especially if I am around to mediate it and provide reassurance), he will loosen up very quickly.

Children used to be out of the question. He would get really riled up and bark non-stop. After having worked with him a lot, they are just about invisible to him now. He runs around them, usually doesn’t bark, and has the very few and exceptional children that he actually seeks attention from. I would never, ever let a child approach him on their own to place him in a position where he cannot escape and they aren’t retreating or respecting his body language. That is a setup for a fail.

Here are some other things I noticed–you can add your own:

  • Ranger turns his back to “Sissy” to sit down. Some people see this as a sign that a dog is ignoring them. I usually think that Ranger trusts the person enough to do this. He doesn’t feel a need to keep an eye on the person.
  • He has a happy waddle when he wants to have affection.
  • His mouth drops open when he’s enjoying affection.
  • Ranger has plenty of options and lots of space. We have to take the leash a couple of times because a small dog appeared in the yard next door but otherwise he is free to come/go. In the previous film, I see a dog that has few options. It is indoors in a tight setting and someone is encroaching into his personal space.
  • Because I’m filming, I’m adding a little bit of weirdness by standing so close with an iPad. Also, it probably affects my helpers a little because I think that Sissy normally sits on the porch to pet Ranger and pets him more slowly. Wanted to show a little closer face-to-face proximity and the easiness that is always very clear between them, but I think you can tell (even though he might have liked to go see the dog next door). He seeks her out.
  • Not shown here also is Ranger’s usual preference of flopping himself onto his side for chest and stomach petting. This could probably be interpreted a couple of ways – seeking more affection or insecurity. I’ve seen him do this with a child a couple of times and I don’t necessarily find it to be a clear indicator that he’s comfortable. The difference seems to be that if he likes it and a person stops, he starts pawing at them for more. Not so when it’s a child and I’m pretty sure he’s just trying to be polite. At least I am quite sure that my dog really does want to escape if pushed. He is not seeking to fight to make it stop.

And, here’s a photo of one of his favorite people, Kathy. Notice that he voluntarily hops into a chair to be near her. He leans into her. He pretty much isn’t satisfied until he feels an arm around him and then he displays that enormous smile.

 Photo Jun 22, 12 58 51 PM

Obviously, another major difference is that Ranger is not in some kind of survival mode of being in a shelter where his levels of Cortisol are elevated and he’s being pushed into fight or flight mode. Extra caution is really needed in that type of situation. In fact, I’m not entirely sure how Ranger would act in the exact, same situation. It would make me very sad to imagine him being pushed to reacting like this when he is very much a people loving dog.

Stay safe out there.

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