I am not sure if the title is more reminiscent of canid communication or some strange, alien kind of cookies, but let’s go with the former. I’m writing this post because I’d love your interpretation of 3 canid behaviors that we’ve been discussing in the comments on one of my posts. I had mentioned a “muzzle punch” somewhere, and in response one commenter inquired if an air snap or muzzle punch was more predictive of a potential bite. Here, in part, is my response and a video with a great example of a muzzle punch from one dog to another: [“Muzzle punching” being a quick forward motion of the muzzle, jaws completely shut, making contact with another individual, “Air snaps” are when a dog moves exactly as if biting, but bites the air instead of an individual or object. Some people just call these ‘snaps’, meaning the mouth opened and shut but there was no object between the jaws. “Tooth clacking” is when the mouth is opened and shut rapidly several times in a row, and there’s a very clear noise of teeth snapping together.]
Here’s from my comment:
“I’m not sure anyone knows the answers about comparative levels of intensity [of the 3 behaviors] and whether they are universal or not (some dogs seem to only muzzle punch, some only tooth clack or air snap.) I do know that “muzzle punching” can be done at varying levels of intensity. Will does it on occasion on the back of my leg when I have run into another area and (I suspect) am not doing what he wants me to do. I take it as a slightly rude, but not aggressive “Yo! You!” It most often happens when I’ve been moving fast, and I suspect in his case it also relates to his strong-eyed herding tendencies.
I don’t say that as an excuse; when Will does it I’ll turn and say his name in a quiet but shocked voice and go back to working on teaching what I do want (Will go slow when Trisha goes fast). His “punches” are more like taps–they can be felt but are not in the slightest bit painful. In 20 + years I have seen one or two dogs punch their owners so hard that they caused discomfort or pain, but that seems very rare to me as I look back on it. Usually they are much more benign. I would love to know what others think of them, how they are interpreted. . .
I’ve always taken air snaps and tooth clacking (mouth opened and shut rapidly, very clear noise of teeth snapping) as more of a threat than a muzzle punch. But I’ll have to think long and hard about why I say that. I”m going to write some of my friends who work with wolves and ask what they observe. Tooth clacks usually seem to be given as a dog is directly facing a person, often looking right into their eyes, and they have always felt to me like “Hear that? Those are teeth! Big, white, sharp, bit-ey teeth! And I know how to use ‘em!” This is not the same as a dog who is doing “tooth chattering,” which is a much faster action, sounds more like the dog is shivering, and usually seen in dogs who are highly aroused and barely able to contain themselves (could be aroused in any way). I don’t see “tooth chattering” as a social signal, while I think “tooth clacking” is. Air snaps also occur more as threats to me than muzzle punches. There’s just something about a dog purposefully (I would argue) keeping his or her mouth shut that I find meaningful. I would LOVE your thoughts on this, and I’ll do some more research on it next week. The video is at the end of this post (of Kalladin, an adolescent collie and Tulip, my Pyr, at the farm in the “play pen.
Meanwhile, back at the farm: Not much time at the farm now, leaving in a few hours to speak at the Border Collie National Specialty. Lassie threw up 5 times this morning, oh dear oh dear. I know.. dogs throw up a lot, but you know, she’s 15+ with compromised kidneys. I talked to my vet, gave her pepcid, extra water for dehydration. She seems fine now, wanted breakfast (gave her a tiny amount as a test, all went well), so I’ll wait and see, but damn I just hate this….. she’s probably totally fine. I’ll keep you posted.
Here’s the video (watch closely, it happens FAST! I use it in seminar to train trainers to be good observers!):