A Picture’s Worth a 1,000 Words?

Maybe not a 1,000 in this case, but what words would you put with this photo? What do you think is going on here? I’d love to hear what you all think. I know the dogs, the context and what happened before and after, so after I collect your input I’ll let you in on the story.

This might be a fun exercise for us to play every once in a while, yes? Let me know if you like the idea. I’ll write another post on Monday and describe the dogs, their relationship and what happened immediately after the photo was taken. But before that I’d love to hear how you evaluate what you are seeing.

And no fair cheating if you saw this on Facebook last week! It’s just such a great photo I couldn’t resist putting it out here. So… what’s going on here between these two dogs? What are the most likely things to happen next?


MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Glorious weather, lots of grass and happy sheep! And happy Willie too, because we’re managing the time to practice our driving skills (or lack thereof).  I’m thinking of entering him in a sheepdog trial this fall that will have a demanding course and difficult sheep, so we have lots of work to do. Tootsie is good too, although she wasn’t a fan of the thunderstorm yesterday morning, but she is already improving greatly with some counter conditioning and cuddles in the bed.

There’s a last chapter in the kitten chronicles too. You may remember that I spent weeks taming the wild things enough to trap them in a cage, took them into the house and began truly taming them in the bathroom converted to a kitty condo. Great homes were found right away for two kittens, and two others went to the good folks at Dane County Friends of Ferals. I kept Callie the Calico in hopes she could grow up to be a healthy, happy barn cat, and that her mother, who I trapped and had spayed, would stay around with her. You may recall I can’t have a cat in the house anymore and have a barn scurrying with rodents, so it seemed like a win/win. But, as often happens, life has other plans. Instead of staying around with Callie, momma cat began trying to lure her away into the woods. Callie, still a young kitten and too small to be spayed, was absent from the barn for increasing periods of time. Her mom was never in the barn anymore. Even when she’d been there with her kittens, she stayed in the upper hay mow and avoided the area in the lower level with the grain and thus, the mice. I actually was trapping mice for her and bringing them up to the haymow on the upper level of the barn and presenting them to momma cat. You may laugh out loud here, who could blame you?

After recovering from her spay surgery, momma cat began to move into the woods and lure Callie there with her. AT one point there was NO little kitten in my barn at any time during the day, except to come and eat dinner at nine o’clock at night. She came running down from the woods, presumably away from her mother, rubbed all over me and ate her dinner. (I should say here that I have no idea what exactly her mom was doing and even if she was still alive, I’m just guessing it was her mom who lured her away from the barn. I can’t imagine what else would have, and she always went in the direction her mom took in and out of the barn.)

That was enough for me. No way was I going to let a tiny, mostly white, hawk-bait of an unspayed kitten become yet another wild cat living in the woods and having litter after litter if she lived that long. The decision made, I went to the barn at 9 pm, ready to pick up Callie the Adorable, bring her back in the house and find her a safer place to live. No Callie. I called and called. No Callie. I walked back to the house, sick with worry, and back to the barn 15 minutes later. No Callie. This continued for a gut wrenching and endless 45 minutes, until she finally dashed toward me from the woods around 10 at night. I picked her up and carried her into the farmhouse, snuggling my face against her fur, allergies be damned. Dan Johnson, bless him, of Friends of Ferals came to pick her up the next day, and within  just a few more days she’d already found her perfect, forever home.

And here it is, with Veterinary Technician Jenny Maahs. She is as over the moon about Callie as one could be, and I’m thrilled that it has all worked out so well.

And here’s more good news: The remaining two kittens, the two little ginger girls Brava and Gabby, are available right now (Friday the 17th and Saturday the 18th) at the Catapalooza at the Dane County Humane Society in Madison, WI. Here’s my request: If you adopt one (or both?), please, please give Friends of Ferals permission for me to contact you and send you a present. If you’d like to come out to the farm and see where they were born I’m sure I could arrange that!




  1. Donna in VA says

    Fun exercise.
    Red jacket dog: “I’m in a really bad mood! And you’re the first dog I get to take it out on!”
    Yellow dog: “Geez, don’t sneak up behind me like that! You scared the crap outta me! Buzz off”
    Red jacket dog: “Well, OK since you’re bigger than me. But leave me alone! I’m in a really bad mood!”
    Yellow dog” “Great! Go bother someone else!”

    I think the yellow dog was startled (big tail) but not retaliating (mouth open but lips not drawn back). I don’t like red coat’s expression very much. Can’t see his tail but his posture looks stiff to me.

  2. Keli says

    Won’t ruin the description of the photo since I saw it on Facebook….but the lure of visiting Willie, Tootsie and Trisha, by just adopting a cute kitten may have some REAL appeal 😉

  3. Jennifer Laus says

    When I was growing up, we had an unspayed “outdoors only” momma cat who had kittens every year (yes, I know). Anyway, when the kittens got to be about 6 weeks old or so, she would start taking them out to the woods. If we didn’t locate them and get them back fairly quickly, they would lose their tameness, so we started to confine the litters once they got to about that age. We kept one of her kittens early on, and she spent the first few months of his life taking him out in the woods and leaving him there. We kept “going for a walk” calling him until he showed up and came back with us. He finally got old enough that he quit going with her and stayed home.

  4. Kat says

    I’m sorry you are catless now but delighted Callie has found such a splendid home. Does your local shelter have a barn cat program? Ours has a program for those cats, like your Momma cat, that are never going to be happy living as a pet cat. You can adopt these cats to be barn cats, or as I like to think of them, freelance rodent control officers.

    As for the two dogs, it’s so hard to judge with just a photo, a tiny slice in time since there is no context. If the two dogs know each other and are frequent playmates I’d say the white dog has gotten snarky over some perceived infraction and the yellow is trying to defuse the situation. If these dogs have just met I’m separating them right now before the white dog attacks. The white dog is definitely more aroused than I like to see. Yellow dog seems to have good social skills, showing appeasement and calming behavior.

  5. Jeff says

    Red Jacket Dog: “Quit making fun of me, I can’t help it my mom dresses me this way! She makes bacon man, you know how addicting that stuff is, it drives you do doing insane things!!!”
    Yellow: “Sorry man I didn’t know.”
    Red Jacket Dog: “Well now you do.”

    Personally I think this is just a snapshot in time. This could be total play. I have seen pics of my super love everyone and love all life lab mid play and it looks mean or aggressive. However, watching him play at that moment the picture was taken it was all fun and games.

  6. says

    I’d’ve preferred to see more than one picture, but looking at the still, I’d have to say that the Labby-looking dog with the blue tag looks either worried, or less committed, to the game of bitey face that little red coat seems to be trying to initiate. I can’t see red coat’s tailset, so I don’t want to commit one way or another to “aggression” versus “play”, as to me, the ears seem up but not on full-alert, and the eyes aren’t laser hard. I can commit to the Labby-looking dog not seeming as enthusiastic about the situation, and the open mouth might be the beginning of a calming signals yawn, and the head is about to turn away to the same end.

  7. Nathan says

    They’re sidled up against each other and looking toward rather than at each other. I think this exploded into a game of bitey-face.

  8. Nathan says

    Looking at it some more, I want to edit my response–I think white dog is giving a warning, but it’s still play. Yellow dog appears to be saying, “oops!”

  9. liz says

    Oh fun indeed. I’d say that Yellow Dog takes a step or two away from White Dog as indicated by direction of Yellow Dog’s body. Then they pause for a sec and engage in a game of bitey face or chase. (Perhaps Yellow is in process of doing a kind of wind up of energy to swoop in low to White and immediately play…) Don’t think White Dog means any harm as indicated by direction of gaze (away from eyes/neck) and Yellow Dog’s reaction of relative comfort (not overly arched or forward). They’re usually better at reading each other than we are! Wish I could speculate more but a neck/back injury makes sitting for more than a few minutes unbearable, or requires medication not conducive to coherent thoughts. Hope to have another chance in the future!

  10. Tammy says

    Hmmm, I have the opposite thought. They are in the middle of play-fighting for the lack of a better word. Yellow dog will continue his/her hipcheck and turn away from white dog charge. And it will continue until that snow is gone :)

    Just my quess, not an expert at all but I know how goldens play and there are lots of body slams and teeth!! If I was to take a still picture, it would look like they were fighting and had all intentions of biting someone’s head off.

  11. Samantha says

    My reading

    Red coated dog is snapping at the other dog for some reason, possibly protecting an unseen treat or toy or just doesn’t like the dog.

    Yellow Dog taken aback/by surprise and is all like “Chill dude” and is offering peace maker body language, looking out of the corner of his eye starting to yawn and turning away.

    Of course I could be completely wrong I find it hard to tell body language from still pictures.

    My dogs do something similar when chasing squirrels for some reason one of my dogs does not like his buddy chasing the squirrel too and will stop mid chase to tell him off and their body language looks a lot like this.

  12. Joan says

    The dog tag of the yellow dog is swinging left – that says he is moving right towards the red-jacketed dog. Just coming for a sniff to see the red coat? Lips are covering teeth – appeasement. Dog with red coat is wearing it for the first time and just a bit annoyed (at something)?

  13. Kathy says

    Looks like play to me! The lab is in mid-hip-check and the white dog is about to go for the face-nip. They look like dogs who know each other and they (judging from the trampled snow) have been playing for a while. The lab’s mouth is loose, eyes are soft, tail is up, but it doesn’t look particularly stiff. White dog’s tail is outstretched, (peaking out from behind the lab’s haunch) but that could just be for balance. Even though white dog’s teeth are bared, his ears are forward, not pinned to his head as I think they would be if this were true aggression. All in all, these two look very much like Mico and Argus, my two year old herding breed mixes: they play fairly roughly, but then settle down and lick each others’ ears and mouths.
    I think the next move is for the lab to run madly around the yard and the white dog to chase him until the next collision and face nipping session.

  14. Beth with the Corgis says

    So sorry the cats did not work out! For some reason that made me sad.

    I have to say that the dog in the jacket looks snarky to me, though still under control. Yellow dog might either diffuse, or this could turn into an argument. I would be terribly surprised if there were an actual fight, but there might be some yelling going on between the dogs, depending on how the yellow one responds.

    However, as others have pointed out, it’s hard to tell from a snapshot. Some dogs play really rough and are more realistic with their mock fighting bouts than others. Now I’m off to Facebook to see what happened! I promise I won’t share what I find. :-)

  15. Jane says

    It looks like play to me. The dog with the jacket looks like a youngster who is a little full of himself, and I picture the Lab as an older dog who is experienced in playing well with others. I think a game of bitey face is likely next.

  16. says

    I basically see play. the white dog looks a lot more energetic about the play or even slightly impatient/frustrated. I have seen that look with those teeth when 2 dogs are playing and one bite was a bit too hard–kind of an OUCH, growl impatient retaliation back to play….

  17. em says

    Glad to hear that Callie is in a loving home!

    I love these photo exercises, but I agree with just about everybody; it’s hard to say with confidence what’s going on in a still shot. My gut says play-neither dog seems tense or angry/fearful, but I don’t know exactly what I’m seeing that suggests that to me- I think it’s the fact that their bodies are curled into one another, not the posture I’d expect if they were truly uncomfortable with one another. Based purely on facial expression, it might be possible that the white dog is getting annoyed with the yellow dog in a ‘knock it OFF!’ kind of way, or perhaps escalating the play past the intensity level that the yellow dog is comfortable with, but the yellow dog seems chastened, not scared, so I’d be surprised if there was any real conflict between them.

    Photo analysis games are always so interesting! It’s fascinating to see how differently different people can interpret the same image. It would be an interesting experiment to show people a series of dog interaction photos and see how they “read” them. I’d be interested to see how much difference there would be between the impressions of general public vs. dog owners, casual dog owners vs. trainers or behaviorists, different styles of trainers, etc. Especially when the breeds/colors/sizes of dogs involved may be inclined to inspire bias.

    Obviously no one on THIS forum would be swayed by it, but I wonder how many people in the general public would find their interpretation of this photo “colored” by the fact that the toothy dog seems to be a bully breed while the larger yellow dog seems to be a retriever mix? Would people’s impressions of what’s happening in dog photos be affected by the size of the dogs, the colors or breeds? I’d predict that a big black dog of a “bad news” breed, interacting with a smaller, lighter colored dog would get the least sympathetic “readings” from the general public, but I’d be interested to see whether that carries over to trainers, behaviorists, and other animal care professionals as well or if experience and training can overcome breed/size/color bias.

  18. Rebecca Rice says

    Having carefully avoided reading the comments, here is my interpretation. My first thought was that the dog on the right (the white boxer-type, hereafter referred to as the “white dog”) was showing an agonistic pucker, because of the wrinkling on the nose and the exposed teeth. However, noting the position of the tongue, if the dog tried to bite, it would get its tongue. Plus the ears are forward and looking pretty loose, not tense. So I would say that that dog is feeling pretty secure, and probably playful. The lab-type dog is looking a little worried to me. The ears are back a little, and the tail is tense and straight up. The mouth is open, but not showing teeth. Given the swing of the collar tag and the position of the white dog’s foot, if I had to guess (which I do!), I’d say that the two dogs had been playing, and the lab hip-checked the white dog who is coming back with a slightly higher level of intensity than the lab is comfortable with. They might be getting ready to mouth-wrestle, or the lab may be getting ready to do some calming signals. Personally, if one of these were my dog, I might try to do an interrupt to de-escalate the situation before letting them go back to playing.

  19. Joanna says

    I love analyzing pictures like this — good practice for reading body language — but I hate posting publicly because I have a fear of being wrong and ending up embarassed! But here I go:

    White Dog looks playful to me. His muzzle is wrinkled up and lips are pulled back to show his teeth, but his eyes are sort (not wide open, or whale-eyed), ears are perked up and not pinned forward or back, and his stance is all askew (not braced for battle), and also low rather than high and posturing.

    Yellow Dog’s ears are back pretty far, his brows are pulled together, and his mouth is open with the lips forward to cover his teeth. Normally I would say that that is a dog who is uncomfortable and defending himself from the playful dog who is being too pushy, and may be about to give a correction. However his body is curved toward the White Dog as I would expect in play, and his tag is indicating that he’s moving very quickly to toward WD. His legs are balanced right underneath him, indicating that he’s stationary. He may have just done a hip-check in play, which would explain why they are so close. His tail is straight up, indicating arousal.

    Based on how close together their bodies are and how they’re aligned, I’d guess that they’ve already been interacting for a bit before the photo was taken. White Dog is rushing forward in play to initiate tooth-play, and Yellow Dog is on the defense — either just as part of the play, or because White Dog is coming on too strong.

    Geez, I hope I don’t end up embarassed!

  20. says

    My impression is that yellow dog overdid something before: like he did run into the space of the white just a bit too unpolitely, or hit him or slammed into him more than it is wise. Or came to close to something the white one owned. Yellow looks like he fully accepts the overexcitement of the other and just wants the white to return back into play mode. Suppose they did play minutes later. Ute

  21. Beth with the Corgis says

    I wanted to add one thing that went into my initial analysis: when I see all of a dog’s teeth (front and back) I think “happy grin”. When I see an open mouth with NO teeth, I think “dog taking pains to show he’s no threat.” But when I see ONLY the front teeth, I think “Uh-oh, that dog is showing a threat.”

    Yellow dog is covering his teeth with his lips, but white dog is curling the upper lip to expose front teeth while pushing the back lips forward over the back teeth.

    That’s what led me to my initial conclusion that white dog is annoyed, and it’s up to how yellow dog responds to see what will happen next.

  22. LaDonna says

    I see this very same action played out in my house quite often. I have a mother and son and they love playing what I call “Grizzly Bear”. Mamma shows all of her teeth, son submits and then they wrestle again. They love the game and I love watching them. I will tell you that when Mamma has had enough of the game, the game ends and son respects that decision.

  23. Debbie says

    It looks like play to me. If these were my dogs, I would expect the next thing to be either a lot of wrestling or a chase.

    I’m glad about the kittens, and glad you were able to put a stop to about 1,000 or so new feral cats. Phew.
    Plus they’re adorable.

  24. Laura says

    Hi Tricia
    I’msorry that the kitty is gone,but so glad she has a forever home. Sometimes, decisions like that are just terrible to make, even when you know it’s for the best. I was wondering something, I think the pictures are a great idea, but would you please write a description of what’s going on in the photo? Not what youwould read from it, but just what the dogs are doing. I’d like to play the game too and I also think that the more I learn about dog body language, the more relaxed I can be around my dog when he’s playing with other dogs. With other guide dogs, it’s usually not a problem because they’re all sowell socialized, but even then there can be scuffles, so anything I can learn would be great. Hope I can play soon, and I’m glad Willie-boy is doing well. Isn’t the weather up here just gorgious?

  25. Mireille says

    Great idea to practice with photo’s. Forces you to think about what you see. My gut reaction was also that the dogs were playing and not fighting, mainly because they look a lot like my two sibes when they are playing. The yellow dog does look a bit uncomfortable though. Might be that the next step would be disengament and a ‘shake off the stress” movement,


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