An alert Facebook reader sent in this video of two dogs posturing over some kibble scattered on the ground. Oh my, oh my, so much to say about what goes on here, but I’m going to hold my comments until you have had a chance to look at it.
Here’s my suggestion: Watch the entire video before reading any comments, and write down, as soon as you think you have enough information, 1) which dog is going to get the food and 2) why.
A couple of points to make before you watch it: First, I’ll tell you right off that there is no fight, so don’t worry that you are about to watch a canine snuff movie. Second, after you make your decision about who is going to win, continue to watch closely and note all the behaviors that could be communicative in nature. Then play it again (and again) to see what else you can see.
I’ll jump in with my own comments after a few days, but again, watch the video yourself before reading any of the comments. I can’t wait to hear what you have to say!
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: It is so GOOD to be back on the farm! The seminar in Chicago was great fun, thanks to all of you who came and participated, but I am so happy to be back home for awhile after being gone for much of July.
Willie continues to do well, even though we are expanding his exercise. He’s off leash all the time, but still no toys in the house and very limited outside. I have been letting him run around with a stick for a brief period (he picks them up himself in the woods) and this week I’ll go back to hiding a toy somewhere in the yard. Of course, what this means is that he is now crazed; full of energy that he can’t begin to dissipate. As all of you who have been through this know, it is much easier to keep a dog quiet who stays quiet all the time. Once you rev up the engines, even briefly… well, then, the tires begin to lay rubber. I’m thinking it is time to engage his brain and teach him some new tricks. We are still doing his daily exercises, and he loves those, but we’re working on mental exercise to burn off some of his energy given that we can only let him exercise for brief periods of time. But oh, I wish I had a video of his face the first time I took his leash off outside. I could get all damp-eyed just thinking about it.
Tootsie is a happy girl right now too. No thunderstorms for her to deal with (Or for me to work on with her; she became increasingly afraid of thunder this spring when we had storm after storm after storm.), Jim and I are back home, so there’s lots of cuddle time early in the morning and late at night, and no more noisy machines in the back yard. I’m teaching her a few new tricks, too: “Place” (Stand up with your paws on a bench beside the door to the yard), “Spin” (Needs no explaining!) and “Get Back.” She’s a fast learner, no doubt because she considers any food at all to be worth climbing Mt. Everest for.
Even better, today Tootsie passed her behavior evaluation UW Madison’s Pet Pals Program! The teams visit seriously ill children at the University of Wisconsin Children’s Hospital. We have lots of work ahead of us (volunteering at the hospital is a long, complicated process just for the people part of the team), and her final vet check won’t be until December. We won’t start in the hospital as a team until January or February, but still, I’m a tad excited and loved watching everyone at the evaluation go gooey over her. I wanted an “oxytocin pump” when I was looking for a lap dog, and I got a dog who melts hearts wherever she goes.Tootsie is as docile and sweet as any dog I’ve ever met, but she can be frightened by lots of noise. My job will be to be sure that she is enjoying herself and only works with the quietest children. In the photo here she had just been plunked on the lap of a “patient” in a wheelchair. You can see she is a tad unsure, but she remained sweet and docile and continued to wag her way into everyone’s heart. Soon she relaxed and enjoyed all the petting.
Well, I will guess, but I’m no expert though! The one facing away (dog A) sat after a hard stare from the one facing the camera (dogB). Dog A was also making an antagonist pucker BUT also licking her lips (anxiety) and blinking/squinting. DogB was able to maintain approach. No lip licking, no blinking. Dog B gets the kibble.
That’s all I know 🙂
Here’s my take…
Dog facing us: ‘I’d like that food…”
Dog not facing us: “Yeah.. but it’s mine! Back off…”
Dog facing us: *takes one step forward, slowly*“ Um, I think your mouth is writing cheques your body can’t cash son..”
Dog not facing us: *sits down* “Oh yeah, well.. still mine!”
Dog facing us: *steps forward again, slowly* “Easy son, I’m not lookin’ atcha, I’m just happen to be steppin’ nearer that food”
Dog not facing us: “Look, really… I don’t wanna, but it IS mine…”
Dog facing us: “I hear ya.. I do.. but, you know I’m gonna just take another step this way anyhow” *steps*
Dog not facing us: “ Um… well I’m not gonna back away pal..”
Dog facing us: “Yeah, I know oh I fancy a lie down, I’m just lying down nice and slow, I’m no threat…. OH would you lookit that my face is RIGHT in this food, omnom I’ll just eat a little.. omnom it’s kinda my omnomnom food now omnom cuz I’m nearer now omnom….’
Dog not facing us. “You SNEAKY F*%£!!!… I’m getting Mom!” *Walks away*
Kim Brown says
That was incredible. Good for the owner to know his dogs and let them settle their dispute.
Dog closest to the camera was the sure loser in the battle of wills for the food. They both started out at what looked like a fair challenge. Both dogs standing tall, tails erect. Both dogs ears were flat and there was little eye contact which shows neither is looking for a challenge.
What changed? The dog closest to the camera, did a head turn away from the other dog and then sat down. He may still be baring teeth and growling, but he’s already backed down from his stance. There was also lip licking between those growls. The dog farthest from the camera was blinking his eyes and making zero eye contact as he got closer to the food, also calming signals used towards the other dog.
I predicted the dog facing the camera. The other dog kept looking away then eventually sat as the facing dog approached the food and eventually getting it.
Deb Schneider says
Wow! I was waiting for the fur to fly, but when the dog with it’s back to the camera sat and the dog facing the camera stepped forward, I figured the latter would get the food. I couldn’t see any lift lipping, but I think the sitting dog did it once or twice. I heard NO growling, though I heard a dog bark in the background. Very interesting that the dog that got the kibble lay down. That took some tension out.
I was wondering what the idiot with the camera was thinking. It would’ve been a dreadful fight and neither dog had a collar. I was relieved the barking dog in the background didn’t show up….
claire s says
As soon as the back dog took a step, i guessed he was getting the food. Even though the other dog was growling, this dog in back was doing exactly what one of my dogs does, respectful pushiness.
The dog that got the food is the one I thought would win, based on the other dog looking away first – but he didn’t win in the manner I thought he would!
Anne Springer says
I guessed correctly. It seemed to me that the oncoming dog crept up little by little and did not receive much reaction, so even though he realized that the other dog wanted the food, I believe that he called what was really a bluff. This video, however, makes me wonder about the wisdom of those who were filming. Is it really wise to test the resolve of two large dogs without knowing if they will get serious when resource guarding???
Linda Trunell says
Observations – Both dogs standing and facing each other. Dog on left steps forward slowly with tail high and stiff. Dog on right sits, does lip lick and look away (appeasement or calming signals). Dog on left moves forward, looks at food and then at dog on right who does look away and lip lick. Dog on left sits and looks at dog on right. Dog on right does lip licks. Dog on left lies down and looks at dog on right. Dog on right does look away and then moves away.
Dog on left eats food.
The approaching dog is showing all the signs of respect and yet continues to move with great control towards the food even in the face of the sitting dog…the body position is misleading on the sitting dog but demonstrates great appeasement behavior as the other dog “slides” into position to eat. When eating begins the sitting dog leaves on his/her one. At first glance, it appeared to look like resource and space guarding by the sitting dog, but that dog was giving “calming” signals at the same time as sitting.
In my limited experience I would guess this is a case of a higher status dog allowing a lower status dog to take the food. The faceoff begins with the dogs mirroring each other, ears back, stiff bodies, high and tight tails. As the dog facing the camera (A) approaches the other dog (B), dog B sits, keeping its head high, ears back, stiff body. Both dogs at this point look away from each other. Then, as dog A approaches, his head drops slightly and he moves his body slowly, keeping conscious notice on dog B. As A approaches the food a second time, still slowly, he drops his head even lower, and angles it slightly toward B. He approaches yet again, one more time, still slow, head low and slightly angled toward B. Then he goes into a sit and glances, briefly, to B. Dropping his head even lower, and bringing his body tightly together, he then goes into a down position at an angle to B. He then puts his head down and smells the food. Once B moves slightly and turns his head away from A, A begins to eat and B walks away. It was hard to see the face of dog B, but it seemed that at each attempt A made to approach, B would move his upper lip, my guess would be to give a low growl or show some teeth. Dog A would only advance after B gave a signal of relief like a tongue flick and/or slight change in posture or head movement. I’m not sure if that is an accurate assessment. I’m fairly new to the dog training world so I’m still learning about canine body language. I’ll be interested to read what others say.
Rose C says
Awesome video to watch. I thought the dog on the right (RD) will get the food having ‘stood her ground’ when she sat and having seen her snarling and heard and see her giving obvious low pitched growls throughout. The dog on the left (LD) appeared to hold his head lower, ears back, and was going sideways in relation to RD as he approached the food. My thought was that RD was showing dominant plus resource guarding behaviors and LD is one of those dogs who would show appeasement behaviors but subtly and eventually gets to what he wants (and that RD was not really interested on the kibbles after all so she left at the end). But, but, BUT, after watching the video for the umpteenth and umptieth time, this is what I saw instead:
Both dogs were face to face initially and both their tails were up. LD’s body seemed more stiff and tensed, was leaning (and later moved) forward, his tail base was more forward. It sounded and looked like it was RD already making the growl at the very start but at 0:o4, LD moved his left hind leg forward and started giving low pitched short growls with RD looking away at 0:07. LD kept his growl and stare on RD, head up, and made a move forward (0:15-0:20) where RD eventually sat and LD removed his stare from her as he blinked. Dogs barking on background at 0:22 a distraction(?) and RD was able to look at LD’s direction but not directly at him. LD continues to approach the food slowly, both dogs giving growls, but at 1:03, LD’s head turns to RD’s direction and RD shifts her weight away. LD continues to approach food, both dogs still growling, and RD still snarling. At 1:33, LD looks and moves head towards RD’s direction with a growl and RD shifts her weight and then moves away. LD started eating the kibbles.
My inexpert interpretation, the incident showed RD testing LD’s dominance.
BTW, happy for Willie and his progress. And for Tootsie being groomed for her new job.
Tricia, I’m so glad to hear Willie is doing well. i’m glad you’re so happy to be home too. Sometimes, there’s nothing like it. In regards to the video, I can’t see well enough to look at the dogs’ faces or other small communications, but I can see the big things and I’ll tell you, as soon as I saw the dog who’s back was to the camera sit, I knew the dog facing the camera was going to get the kibble. I thought, by that sit, the dog was saying, it was ok. I remembered that in the book The Possibility dogs, Susanna Charlson wrote that a dog who sits gives up power, and that’s what it looked like in this situation. these are just my thoughts. If I’m off, just let me know. i’m always facenated by visual dog communication. I suppose it’s because it’s something I can never be fully a part of so I want to learn as much as I can about it. Weird I know. Anyway, I’m off to read the comments now. I wanted to post my inisical thoughts before reading the other opinions. Can’t wait to read what you think Tricia. 🙂
Thank you so much for sharing. This is an amazingly candid portrayal of dog thoughts and behavior. I was so surprised the dogs did not fight!
Robin Jackson says
Is this by any chance a mother (turned away from us) and son? I have seen similar scenes play out with a now adult male and a previously in charge of resources female.
In our house, we have a bossy female border collie (30 pounds) and a deferent male bc mix (75 pounds) who is 5 years younger. If she has something he really wants and she doesn’t care that much, he will sidle in to her, body low, often even crawling. But just getting closer and closer. She often glances away while he is moving. Before he actually contacts her, she will move away, leaving him the “victor.” There is a definite “sour grapes” message on her side: “That? I didn’t want that anyway.”
On the other hand, if it’s something she does really want, she will give him the eye as soon as he starts the sidle, and he will literally shake his head and then move off.
In our house, neither of these scenarios have to do with food. It’s usually position, the dog bed closest to something else going on. If it has to do with being closest to me, she will yield the spot to him. If it has to do with being closest to my 25 year old son, she will hold her ground and stare him off.
Anyway, I have seen the crawling thing before with adult male dogs and their mothers, fwiw.
Laura Anne says
Both dogs were standing “up” with stiff tails, ears pinned back, mouths tight. The approaching dog appeared to me to keep his head higher than the dog with the back to the camera. He looked directly at the second dog and appeared to “puff” his flews, maybe lift his lip and give a snarl. He also didn’t blink much at all. He turned his head a little away after the second dog had done so first. He continued to move very slowly and directly. He kept his eyes hard at the other dog until he had started to lie down, but he seemed to soften a bit when he did so. Always kept his eyes on the second dog, though, even when eating. Did he blink more after he got close to the kibble? I am not sure
At first I thought that the dog whose back was to the camera was going to be the one who got it, but on second viewing, noticed that he turned his head away and then sat, which seemed to me to be an” I am not sure that I can keep this kibble” posture. When he sat,he moved his body back and the tail slowly went down. I wish that I could have seen his face, because I wasn’t sure if he lifted his lip or not. Third viewing looks like he did, and that he might have growled a little.
This video was so quiet, and and that the dogs were almost in slow motion from the human point of view.
I agree with Tori’s assessment. And are those a million outhouses in the background?
As soon as I saw the first dog sit down I knew it would end without a physical fight. The second dog displayed calming signals to the other dog in order to keep a fight at bay and get the food. The second dog was very smart and thus got the food. By keeping the other dog calm he was able to get what he wanted, even the dogs know that peaceful “training”/work works better than aggressive behavior.
I would like to know the sexes of the dogs. That is an additional factor.
Kim Kuenlen says
The dog that sat down first is the loser. That dog also licked his/her lips which is a calming technique…
Beth Hatch says
Note the slight head turn away at the very beginning of the video. That is the clue that the dog facing the camera is going to get the food.
OMG Emma! that is absolutely perfect!
I so love this part of what you wrote:
(quote) “Dog facing us: “Yeah, I know oh I fancy a lie down, I’m just lying down nice and slow, I’m no threat…. OH would you lookit that my face is RIGHT in this food, omnom I’ll just eat a little.. omnom it’s kinda my omnomnom food now omnom cuz I’m nearer now omnom….’
Dog not facing us. “You SNEAKY F*%£!!!… I’m getting Mom!” *Walks away* (quote)
I’m so excited that this video is going viral! I first shared it to several behavior groups when my friend posted it because I wanted people to see how growling & posturing are part of conflict resolution & do not always lead to fights, especially between dogs with an established relationship. I actually own a half sibling to these two dogs (same mother). They’re Central Asian Shepherds & they are littermates, not quite 2 years old here. The dog facing the camera is a male named Tokmak & the dog facing away is a female named Hafsa. They were bred in Hungary at Midislander Unique Kennels & these two now live in Turkey with two other Central Asians & an Akbash, along with their owner, Nedret Killic. I have to tell my friend how many people have viewed his video! 8-D
Beth with the Corgis says
I must admit the slow-motion nature of the dogs’ interactions threw me for a loop. My own would have been in there eating instantly, and any posturing would have been fast and much less subtle. Breed traits, perhaps?
When I first started, I was sure the dog furthest from the camera would get the food, because the closer dog almost instantly did a look-away, and then the other dog stepped into his space and the nearer dog sat down.
As time went on (endlessly!) I had some doubts because the further dog also did some minor looking away and some half-blinks a few times as he slowly made his way to the food.
So it turns out my initial reaction was correct, but the long nature of the interaction left me plenty of time to second-guess myself.
Beth with the Corgis says
I also think that the dog facing the camera approached so slowly and carefully because he/she was not entirely sure the other dog had actually given up the game yet…..
Well, the body language was just exquisite… self-imposed slo-mo battle of wills. I’ve seen cats do that, no sudden moves that might trigger a response. I have to admit, until the sitting female lip-licked, I wasn’t sure if the male was going to have the nerve to keep going. And I have to admit, I was waiting to see if the dog facing the camera was male or female… I read somewhere (can’t remember where???) that males typically prevail in food resource disputes, all else being equal, so on gender alone, I was expecting Sitting Dog to “lose” if the other dog was indeed male. I reckon the tell was–one dog moved forward, the other dog never did. Still, I wouldn’t take it to the bank that the future outcomes would be the same–it seems possible to me that Ms. Sitting Dog just didn’t want it as bad in that moment. What a cool video!
The first time I watched it, I had the sound turned down, so I didn’t hear the growling, and I thought the dog facing the camera (DF) did a lip-lick and looked away first, which I thought were appeasement or calming signs and the dog with his back to camera (DB) would get the food. Even though he sat, DB kept his head higher and snarled every time the DF moved. The DF’s eyes looked like they softened, and he was looking away from the DB. As the DF kept moving forward and closer to the ground, I realized that he would be getting the food.
The second time I watched, I realized the DF was growling, not lip licking, and moved forward, causing the other dog to shift his weight back and sit down, before DF looked away, which should have been the clue that the DF was going to “win.” Why didn’t DB walk away right then? Maybe a sudden movement away would have triggered DF to go after him?
Oh, I love these!
13 seconds, the moment he took a step forward, I was reasonably sure the dog facing the camera would “win”. There were too many signals to parse them all out without writing a book, but basically, every time the dog facing away moved, he moved back or further from the food, and every time the facing dog moved, he moved closer. When the facing dog moved in, the other dog moved subtly back, and then sat down (a less confrontational posture). Even though he was still standing his ground, the moment he moved back, it was over.
The dog facing was very skilled and handled the interaction very well, I thought- balancing his initial hard stare, vocalization, and direct confrontation with non-confrontational gestures like avoiding direct eye contact, keeping ears low, and lowering his posture as he got closer to the food. The dog facing away was tense, and somewhat threatening- lip curls, growls, etc. but also nervous and avoidant. The winner’s demeanor said to me, “I don’t want to fight you, but I AM going to take this food, and you’ll have to fight me to keep it.” The loser’s demeanor said, ” I don’t want you to take the food, but I’m not going to fight you.”
Even as well as that ended up, it was uncomfortable for me to watch- both dogs were tense, and my instinct strongly says that it is a VERY bad idea to let dogs face off over resources like that. Sometimes disrupting a showdown that has already started can be more dangerous than leaving them alone- when dogs are wound that tight, the slightest extra stimulus can tip the balance and set them off, but why allow them to face off in the first place, much less film it? I suppose it is a valuable teaching tool, but rings all my alarm bells. (My instinct also says that the dog facing away isn’t exactly bluffing- if the facing dog had been less confident, less focused, or moved more quickly, facing away dog may well have struck at him and a nasty fight ensued).
On a brighter note, I am so pleased to hear about Tootsie’s adventures and Will’s steady (if frustrating) recovery. I always love these days as summer winds down into autumn- my favorite time of year. Cooler days, fewer bugs, such a sweet relief after the sticky, stormy, swarmy days of high summer. Here’s to Will and Tootsie enjoying the new (again) freedom and new challenges!
Samantha M. says
I knew the dog facing us was going to get it as soon as the other dog sat down. That is exactly how my Australian Terrier gets food/treats away from my MIL’s boxer dog and pretty much exactly how the boxer reacts. My food, fine I don’t want to fight you so I will sit here and pretend I don’t see you taking my food as long as you pretend you’re not really taking it. Well that’s how we jokingly describe what they are doing. The boxer has known the terrier since he was a puppy and helped socialise/raise him though so we assumed he was getting leeway because of that. I would be interested to know what the sexes and family relationship of the dogs in the video was.
The face off looked like the right dog thought he/she had the food and was saying to the left dog, this is mine. The sit down with the stare above the left dog’s head looked to me like I want this but I sure don’t want a fight. On second view, it looked to me like the the LD did not keep much eye contact, looking to the side a lot and glancing at the food, glancing at the RD. RD looked like he/she wanted the food but did not want to risk a fight, hence looking to the side and notably above RD’s head. Stiff posture in the sit, head held up and staring above the LD’s head but leaning back means, I don’t like this but I don’t want to fight. LD did a low but deliberate creep towards the food, mostly looking away from the eyes of the RD, saying I’m going to get this but I don’t want a fight over it and you are saying you don’t want a fight either. I think if the RD had shown more aggressive posture and had made more definite moves to protect the food, like a feint, LD would have backed off. The lie down at the end was a clear non-aggressive but pointed taking possession. Even then, the RD could have done the same and gotten some of the food but chose to walk off, giving an unhappy cede to the LD with the look back. I’m very interested in what you think this says.
Yay for Willie, yay for Tootsie
Heidi Korpela says
I think the tip off is right at the beginning when the dog facing the camera ever-so-slightly pulls the corners of his mouth forward, followed by one of his back feet moving a bit forward and a shift of his body weight slightly forward as well. The dog facing away shifts her weight back in response and capitulation.
I saw this video posted on another FB group and it fascinated me so I looked into who these dogs and people behind the camera were. These two dogs are litter mates (male and female). They are being raised together. The man seems to be a breeder of these Central Asian Shepherds. It seems that aggression is appreciated and encouraged in the dogs because they are being used as guard dogs and there may be a history of fighting some of the earlier generations of these dogs. Thank goodness these dogs don’t fight and none of his other videos are of dogs fighting. It is cool to see such high tension reduce to nothing. Supposedly the dog who won this time, hasn’t always in the past though.
Oh can’t resist! Although the male fluctuated between applying and releasing pressure on the female, after the male sat as well, he gave a deliberate, direct, sustained look that I read as, “I am taking that food now, fyi.” It was at about 1:18, and that moment totally sealed the deal for me. Many smart moves made by both to avoid altercation- lovely.
Great fun, and great to hear the updates from the farm!
I equated the first dog’s sitting as a signal that it did not want to spar over the kibble. My dog sits when she no longer wants to rough house with the neighbor’s dog. My dog never quarrels over food. The dog that ate kibble: I thought it significant that he sat & then went all the way down, eating while on his belly, in a submissive position. Nobody wanted a fight and they were signaling that with their body position, slowly and at first with tails up ready to defend themselves
Beth with the Corgis says
By the way, in my house my male would have gotten more but would have had no problem sharing with food on the floor (they will happily lick the same bowl when I make them yogurt “pupsicles.”
But if the female tried to nose in on his food bowl, he would have roared at her and sent her scurrying….
The first thing I noticed was the camera-facing-dog lower his head a little, but as I watched it again, I saw that while the head did go down a little, that was mostly because he was stretching out his neck toward back-to-us-dog. The first time through I missed that, and the little step forward with a back foot. I also missed back-to-us-dog begin to shift its head to the right at about ten seconds in, on later viewings, that was the first hint that he/she was going to lose.
I thought camera-facing-dog would probably win when I saw back-to-us-dog start to sit and was sure when the sitting was followed by pulling its head back a little and shifting weight away from the other dog and the food as camera-facing-dog first leans then steps into the space.
I was surprised when camera-facing-dog’s face changed; once the other dog sat his head lowered, he stopped holding or seeking eye contact, he blinked, and his eyes looked very big and almost forlorn. I started to doubt my own certainty that he would win, but back-to-us dog began to lower his head very slightly as the camera-facing-dog advanced then lip licked, body shifting slightly back and to the right.
I could go on, but by this point the outcome was clear and I want to leave some comment space to thank Patricia and Facebook reader; I really learned from this one. I’d heard that kind of body language usually called “submissive” termed “calming signals,” but while I liked that terminology, I’d never thought of a dog who was winning using them avoid escalation with the loser. I’m sure I’ve seen it before, but even though I try not to put too much stock in the “dominant vs. submissive” paradigm, I think it was nonetheless getting in the way of my ability to really notice and make sense of this kind of interaction. I’ll have to watch for this sort of thing as my nine-month-old Spring and I spend the next couple of weeks with her mother and brother. Their interactions fascinate me; there’s so much more going on then I ever understand. Time to get out the video camera.
I love these video exercises. I learn so much. My sense of things is that the two dogs are pretty well balanced in terms of status and that they both have good social skills. Dog with her back to us didn’t want the kibble enough to fight for it. Her sit to me read as “This is mine but I do not wish conflict with you” and the dog facing the camera used his social skills to deflect confrontation–look aways, super slow motion movements, making himself smaller–all the while moving closer and closer to the kibble; after all his sister had already said she didn’t want conflict so as long as he could avoid doing anything to change her mind the kibble was his. I didn’t expect that it would escalate into battle but the tension was high enough that I would have redirected the dogs had they been mine, probably I’d have scattered a similar amount of kibble at a little distance so they could each have their own.
Hooray for Willie’s continued improvement and boy do I hear you about trying to keep an active dog calm. I was opening the loop on the slip lead we’re using while Finna is still wearing the restrictive cloud collar and the instant I had it open enough for her head to fit through she bounced up and put her head it; “Hurry up Mom, I want to go out NOW.” So now I have yet another thing to watch out for. I may have to be institutionalized before we’re done.
And congratulations on Tootsie and her therapy dog career in the making. It’s incredibly fulfilling work for both me and my therapy dog. As the Director for the local TDI chapter it’s my privilege to mentor new teams. For most teams going with an experienced pair the first couple times is helpful. And the first visit is always the worst because handler and dog are both figuring out how it works. On the first visit Ranger and I made it was so stressful I was actually prepared for him not to want to go again but he sailed into the next visit with every sign of enthusiasm. And now he seems to seek out the more difficult harder to reach residents for his special attention.
I’m guessing that the dog on the right is the left dog’s mom, and though she wasn’t happy about giving up the food, she was willing to allow her son to practice his moves on her. It also looked like she had an ear cocked back toward the videographer the whole time; I got the feeling the outcome of the encounter could have been much different if it was just the two of them without an audience.
Emily Douglas says
This was a fabulous exercise!
I immediately knew who was going to win for one reason: This is EXACTLY what our dog Peaches does to all of our other dogs and it works every time. (although our scenarios are never tense or involve stand-offs like this). The biggest clue for me was the EYES. The eyes are soft, relaxed and blink frequently. Head is bowed, and the dog repeatedly looks away from other dog. Everything that dog did was appeasing. Also, a la the seminar last weekend, you knew it was over for the other dog the minute he/she shifted his weight back into a sit and let the other dog move forward. The center of gravity was working for the dog who won.
Ah, I love these exercises too! Thanks so much to Anna for spreading the video around and for giving us some information about the dogs. It is a perfect exercise for those of us who are behavior junkies. For me, during the first few seconds I was anxious that there was going to be fight, given that I knew nothing about the video and its result. For the first viewing then, I didn’t start breathing, and thus make a prediction, until the female (closest to camera) began to shift her body backwards and sit down, around second xx. However, on the second viewing I realized how clearly the male stepped forward and shifted his weight forward at second 13 when the female looked away briefly, and how the female shifted her body weight back at second 15-16, quite a while before she sat at 17-18. [Amazing how long one second is, isn’t it!] I interpreted the male’s step forward as being both assertive and exploratory. “What will happen if I just walk forward a few inches?” Once the female shifted back, even before she sat, I think we would all have good odds to be that the male would get the food and the female would withdraw.
However, I also find it interesting and important that the male continues to offer appeasement behavior to the female, lots of looking away, lowered head and blinking, along with a very slow, cautious approach. This while the female keeps her head high, growls and does an “offensive pucker.” Having watched my super submissive BC, Pippy Tay, get the bone away from my Great Pyrenees through a slow, cautious and veritably groveling approach, I am reminded that there are many ways to get what you want. The male here asserted himself in space, but continued to offer appeasement signals while doing so.
By the way, to a biologist, this IS potentially an example of dominance, dominance being defined as a relationship in which one of two animals consistently gets a high value and limited resource when it is put between the two of them. Even though the word has been vastly mis-used and defined, (sigh), if the male continued to get the food in similar interactions, he would be described as having dominance over the female. I often avoid the word myself, for obvious reasons, but it actually good to see such a clear example of a social interaction that gave rise to the term, even though has been so polluted and abused in so many ways.
Thanks for the congratulations about both Willie and Tootsie! Pet Pals does indeed have a new team go with an experienced team (you actually go first without your dog, very wise). My job is to learn all the rules and jump through the hoops (ie: on exactly what date was your last measles vaccine?) and most importantly to me as Tootsie’s owner, to be sure that she truly is enjoying the experience. Tootsie seems to love all the people she’s met, but she is also sensitive to noise and commotion, so it is critical to me that the visits are not stressful for her. Given what she’s been through early in life, I just won’t do it if she’s just trying to get through it. She does seem to love being a social butterfly, so we’ll just have to see. And Willie is very quiet today, I suspect he is a tad ouchy, so we are pulling back a bit and hoping a few days “off” will bring him back. We’ve all been there: two steps forward, one step back….
Willie to Finna: I know it’s hard, but our tall two-legs seem to be having an awfully hard time with all this themselves. Give her a big lick on the face for me (but without moving too much!)
I saw this a ways back and got a little stuck on the quality of the dogs coat that is facing away from the camera. It looks as if there are already some battle scars, so I was really waiting for something ugly to happen! In viewing it again today, it seems that the dog approaching the food begins with direct eye contact, I don’t know if it’s a hard stare, but certainly their gaze is locked. As soon as the dog facing away sits, the other one seems to take off the pressure by breaking the stare. Then continuing to approach with what looks to me like a very soft face, maybe almost passive aggressive? Curiosity has the best of me, and I would love to see this from different angles and hear a little history on these two!
Emma’s response is both highly observant and extremely amusing! 🙂
The funny thing is I first saw this video outside the context of this blog post. When I logged on to my YouTube account this evening, I noticed Trisha had uploaded a new video. I thought ‘Great!’ and immediately clicked on the vid to have a look. And after observing the dogs for about 3 seconds, I thought, ‘Oh no! A fight!? Surely Trisha wouldn’t have uploaded a FIGHT!?!’ hehe! It just goes to show how amazing and skilled dogs can be at avoiding and diffusing potential conflict. At first I actually tought that it was a dog looking at itself in the mirror, as they are obviously alike and also were mirroring each other in body language. As soon as the dog faing away from the camera sat down, that was the signal that conflict had been diffused as far as I could gather. The other dog was amazingly polite in his approach to claim the kibble though.
Somebody mentioned calming signals. Are they really stress signals?
i don’t consider a compromise reached via skilled communication to be a win-lose situation.
obviously neither dog is starving, so this is not an extreme circumstance where regular social rules might be abandoned.
it would appear to me that safety and maintaining the relationship was more important than the food to the dog that walked away.
the dog that moved toward the food was using appropriate non-threat signals to communicate his interest and intention.
the sitting dog (made anxious by the other dog’s interest in the food and displayed this anxiety by using low-level threat signals) understood this and chose to walk away in order to return equilibrium both internally and externally.
Trisha – Wondering if you are still planning to do a post on dog-dog resource guarding to add to the one you just did about dog-human resource guarding? I am fascinated by this subject and would love to see a post on it!
Rose C says
Anna, thanks for sharing the video. It is fascinating, captivating, educational, and everything else. And thanks to your friend who videotaped it and shared. Often, dog-dog interactions unfold before our eyes without forewarning. When we catch something on tape, it is always appreciated when they are shared. I can tell that the person who taped the interaction knows the dogs and was confident of what they will and will not do, and that the dogs know each other as well. And you are right, some (though not all) conflicts are resolved by the dogs themselves, reading off each other’s body language (though there are some that may not be good at reading others’ signals). Sometimes (not always), it is possible that humans can overreact to a situation and make it worse for the two dogs.
I wanted to come back to this as obviously my first response was a little on the ‘silly’ side, though I stand by it, obviously its not a mega serious, sensible appraisal of the video ( a little bit of silly is a good thing I think!)..
It became apparent to me quite soon into the video that these two dogs know one another and are probably (and in fact, are) related – both due to the behaviour, and their appearance, and heck, the fact that the food is thrown down on the floor…
So, that plus knowing there was no fight gave away quite a lot to begin with.
Because these two dogs do know one another, and know one another well, I think this heavily influences the behaviour we see – neither dog actually wants a scrap, both dogs do want the food though.
I’d hazard a guess that Facing Dog (FD) has practiced this sneaky yet ‘within the rules’ food snaffling behaviour a fair bit, he knows if he really pushes the issue WITHIN certain boundaries/rules, with Back To Us Dog (BD) she will back down…
So BD’s growling and lip curl is in many ways a bluff – FD knows that if he moves slowly, looks away, but keeps up the pressure, he will get what he wants.
FD also knows though that if he doesn’t respect the rules they have formed between them – if he were to dive in hard and fast – all bets would be off and BD would quite probably nail him.
I think this is why FD offers the slow deliberate steps forwards, the sit and then the lie down, revealing his belly and oh so sneakily getting the food – once he HAS the food and by the commonly understood rules, its in his mouth, its nearest to him, thus it IS his.. THEN he gives her a rather snarky look – ‘mine… now YOU f.. off’ and she moves away.
In some ways I am tempted to interpret SOME of FD’s behaviour as a subtle and devious twisting of the rules, and I have seen similar behaviour in a young pug, aimed at an older bitch – a very much ‘nee ner nee ner you can’t get me because I’m doing the behaviour that means this is allowed’ – she was rolling over and showing her belly…. in an obsequious and grovelling manner…
This allowed her to continue getting in the older bitch’s face and to continue being a total asshat even after multiple reminders from the older bitch (lip curls, walking away, turning head away etc).
Again I think these are the behaviours we will see when dogs know one another very well and live together – and you wouldn’t be anywhere near as likely to see them in situations with dogs who don’t know one another (you may see ‘testing out’ of these behaviours though!).
At 8 seconds the female turns her head slightly to the right…and the rest is history 🙂
Marie, thanks for the reminder about dog-dog resource guarding! So much to talk about!
Shana R says
Wow, what a great video! And thanks to the other poster who identified the breed and knows a bit more about the dogs.
I own Tibetan Mastiffs, which have a very similar temperament to this breed. I have witnessed similar exchanges between my 3.5 year old intact male TM and my 18 month intact female TM. They are not related, but the younger came to live with us at 9 weeks so they have an established relationship and really like one another. Most of the time 😉
I guessed the approaching dog would get the food, largely because of what I have witnessed in my own two. Like the dog facing away, my male tends to guard things from the other. He will growl (actually, I heard him growling from another room right after I started the video, and at first I couldn’t tell if it was the video or my dog). The video dog was doing that deep, low rumble, which should be enough to make the other one back off if they are serious about fighting. But then the other dog didn’t back off, and instead continued approaching, giving some diffusing behaviors – he began circling away, not holding direct eye contact, not blinking but making squinty eyes, and then he worked on getting small. My female will do that when faced with my male growling at her. He tends to guard his space (he has a large personal space bubble, she has no personal space bubble – there is frequent minor conflict over this) and he will curl his lip, growl, but rarely hard stares her. She will back up, lay down, or try to encourage play. If he’s guarding an item, he almost always gets up and leaves when she doesn’t leave first, or lets her take the item. If its his space, he will give up and let her be near him (god forbid, even let her foot touch his foot…) or move away and his behavior is much like the dog facing away. I think the second commenter, Emma, put it into human words well. And its something I see regularly, if not frequently, in my house. My dogs have a good relationship, they don’t want to fight over things, but disputes often take this route. I’ve learned to let it go but be ready to intervene. I can kind of tell, though I can’t say why, when it will escalate into a whirl of fur, and I will stop it then. On occasion I haven’t been in the room for a fight, which sounds absolutely terrible but at worst leaves some tufts of hair on the floor. It happened more early on in their relationship, and they now seem to be able to work things out like the dogs in the video.
A lot of these Asian guardian breeds, like the one in the video or Tibetan Mastiffs, still behave primitively and wolf-like. Its one of their charms, and also something that makes the guardian breeds not suitable for a lot of people. You have to know your dogs, and be willing to let them work it out as much as possible. Its almost like these status/dominance/resource disputes matter more to these breeds than it does the more domesticated western breeds, and if you are constantly interfering it tends to strain the dogs relationships. This is what I have been told by experienced breeders of guardian breeds. I manage mine a lot to take out the possibility of serious fights over resources – they eat separated and crated, for example, as food bowls are worth fighting over, seriously fighting. The guardian breeds are highly territorial, independent and primitive. They aren’t prone to fighting, per se, but they don’t hesitate to finish a fight if it comes to it. Its one reason my dogs never go to a dog park, are never off leash, and I will warn people my dogs will attack if their off leash dogs come near – even though they are well socialized and like to play with others, if I don’t know the other dog, I do know that if a fight starts, mine will finish it and probably win. I know I’m not the only one to use the “my dog will attack your loose dog, call your dog now!” approach to dealing with out of control off leash dogs, and I hate doing it because my dogs are nice, good dogs (sigh). But its better than a fight and injured dogs.
Anyway, just a little info on the personality and temperament (in general of course) of these big, guardian dog breeds, since I know most people and trainers don’t get exposed to these rare breeds very often. They have the guardian instinct as strong as a border collie has a herding instinct. Either kind of dog can be a disaster in the wrong hands, and just flourish in the right ones. They are also endlessly fascinating to watch!
(Interesting side note, in my mix of two intact Tibetan Mastiffs, I also have a 6 year old rescued deaf female Great Dane – only weighing 80lbs, smaller than the other two though a bit taller. She completely ignores any sort of growling or posturing from the TMs, and they never ever get into so much as a dispute with her. She plays with them, guards her own toys from them, tries to take their treats – sometimes I think they must know she plays by a different set of rules. If my dogs were the ones in the video, she’d just walk up and be like “Oh hey, food on the floor nomnomnom” and they would just stare at her wondering what the heck just happened. She’s very submissive, but they almost treat her with “puppy license” even though she is older than both. Its very interesting to watch.)
Beth with the Corgis says
I’d be interested in seeing who won if it were steak instead of kibble. I’d say these two haven’t completely sorted out rank (indeed, they are closely matched and might always test each other for the upper hand).
Up the ante and I would bet you’d see much heightened posturing, or even a scuffle.
I think these are dogs who were bred to have judgement but also not take guff from anyone.
Beth with the Corgis says
Shana R, thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for being honest in your assessment of what your dogs are likely to do (based on breeding) and keeping them out of dog parks. I would frequent them more often if more owners were as knowledgable and responsible as you are. There is nothing at all wrong with having a guarding breed, as long as everyone respects what his genetics tell him to do. 🙂
Of course it’s impossible to know, but I’ll bet they treat your deaf Great Dane that way because they determined that she needs protecting, and she’s part of the “flock”, so to speak, because of her lack of hearing.
Yup. On first viewing when she sat at 0:19 I mostly knew it was over and he would get the food. What was interesting was her more subtle look away at 0:07-0:08 that I didn’t notice until the 2nd viewing. On the 2nd viewing after noticing the look away I then figured it was mostly already decided at 0:07 and the rest was just a slow dance to get to the food with out any re-escalation.
Dog facing away from the camera was the first to turn his/her head away slightly to the right, thereby ceding eye contact. Immediately afterwards, dog facing camera took a step forward. That caused a very slight change in the other dog’s posture and breathing which was followed by a sit and a slight head raise. That was followed by the head turning to the left and then to the right so that the dog facing away from the camera was not directly looking at the dog facing the camera. Once that happened, the dog facing the camera began the slow and deliberate and non-threatening approach towards the food. Interestingly, the dog facing the camera seemed to give some appeasement signals to the other dog during the approach — initially its mouth moved a bit in what looked like a slightly agonistic display, but then it softened its eyes and blinked and even put its head down a bit, all the while continuing the approach towards the food.
But ultimately it was the first head turn that signaled who was going to “win” the food.
Kathy R says
What I thought was interesting was that the dog that eventually got the food took his first step forward with a hind leg and just a bit of a “huff”. The other dog then growled a bit louder but then glanced away. The “slow dance” that followed was facinating.
Roger K says
Both dogs tails straight up. “Warning I could get angry if you provoke me.”
BTC (Back to camera)
Low growl. “I’m standing over this food so it must be mine.”
FC (facing camera)
“I could fight but I will just stand and look at you so you think I’m not afraid.”
:09 BTC Quick glance to right. “I’m just a little nervous.”
:19 FC “I am just a little more relaxed.” One slow step forward.
BTC “I will sit so you know I don’t want to fight. But I won’t lay down just so you know I haven’t given up.”
:24 Both quickly look away. “I’m not really interested in that food.”
:32 FC Eyes still down, head down. Thinking to self “I really want that food. But I want to avoid a fight so i will move slow and see what happens.”
BTC Looking past other dog. “I think I’ll let you have the food but I will sit here in case I change my mind.”
:46 FC Concentrating more on food. Probably a little more confident. “I think I will try a little. Or maybe I will continue to look submissive.”
BTC Continues to look past other dog. “Maybe if I don’t see you, you will go away. I’m letting you look at the food only because its my choice to let you see it.”
1:04 FC Looks almost directly at other again. “I will keep my head low so you know I don’t want to fight. But my tail says I could.”
BTC Quick tongue lick. “I’m just a little nervous.”
1:17 FC “I’ll sit now you know we won’t fight. Nose down.”
1:20 FC quick glance at BTC, no reaction.
1:26 “I’ll just lay here.” Another quick glance. No reaction.
1:32 “Well I’ll just try a couple little bits.” Still no reaction.
1:36 BTC moves away. “You win I didn’t want it anyhow.”
I think that the dog with the back to the camera called the shots because of his initial proximity to it and because of all the calming signals of the one approaching the food. Even if the latter one ended up eating it – it looked to me like the other one allowed him to do so. Maybe he didn’t think that lowly kibble was worth a squabble…
Now I will read what everyone else thought.
Shana R says
Beth, you’re welcome! And I think you are right about the Dane, she is so sweet and innocent in her behavior. She never pushes limits, she really acts like a puppy in many ways. They must look at her like someone to protect. Sometimes they play too rough, but they back off when she tells them no more.
Good job owner! Letting the dogs settle this small dispute is the best way to keep the laws in order within the dog world. They are not human, so people, lets not point fingers at what we feel from our human perspective and lets keep it dog related. There is nothing wrong with letting your dogs settle a scruff among themselves, its the quickest way to make sure a hierachy is formed and it will prevent future problems.
As for who won? Dog that sat down is Alpha. Allowed dog facing camera to feed. No science about it and no deeper thinking needed. Dog facing camera was testing the waters, dog sitting was posturing and relaying the fact that feeding only took place with his expressed permission.
Lots of calming signals, in both of dogs. The female on the right “manages” the movements of the male using calming signals: the breath when he moves his hind leg, she turns her head when he looks elsewhere, she sits… it seems she’s saying “ok, you can eat, if you approach in the right way” When necessary, she gives a warning with her lips… I like when she licks her nose walking away. Maybe mother and son? Or flatmates and the male is the youngest?
Anyway, this video is fantastic! Thank you for posting it!
I have to admit, my first reaction was “what the hell is the owner doing filming this instead of intervening?” Even though there was no fighting, it was obviously a stressful situation for both of them – my first move would have been to throw more food down near the male (facing camera). I felt from the beginning that the male would get the food – the female, who was giving a low growl the whole time, actually was leaning backwards slightly at the same time. Once the male took a step forward, and the female leant back further, I was certain. I was fascinated that the male kept giving appeasement signals while creeping closer – I wonder how much of that diffused the situation. Even with your statement that there was no fight, my heart was in my mouth the whole clip – there was so much tension between those dogs, I don’t think they have a good relationship, and this incident certainly wouldn’t have helped!
Congratulations to you and Tootsie, Trisha – I hope she enjoys the visits. You have done amazing things with her considering her background. And good luck with Willie too – it is so tough having him unsound again.
Fascinating to read about your dogs and your knowledge. Would LOVE to see some pics, particularly of your Mastiff mixes??
Lots of talk about calming signals here but I though that this area was a bit controversial these days?
They can be confused with clear stress signals.
‘Alpha’ dog? ‘No science about it and no deeper thinking needed’ I have to disagree! Is this a useful description in this scenario?
Beth with the Corgis says
After reading the notes, I was interested in learning more about this breed and did some reading online.
One piece (I think it was Wikipedia) said that there is an ancestral history of fighting the dogs to see who is the toughest male, but they were not the dog fights we think of when we think of modern fighting rings. It sounds like it was more like the posturing that wild animals do to determine which is the dominant male in the area.
The article stated injuries were rare, any scuffles were usually mild, but there would be lots of posturing as the dogs sized each other up, and the “loser” would signal his loss by turning and walking away.
If that is true (and I don’t know how accurate the source is), it sure puts the whole clip in a slightly different light.
Thank you Anna and Shana R for beginning a discussion about breed-related behavior and conflict resolution. I too have had guarding dogs, Great Pyrenees (Bo Peep and Tulip), and used to describe them as 180 degrees of dogness away from my Border Collies. GP’s are not as “wild-type” as many of the other Mastiff breeds, especially, I expect, those seen in central Asia and northern Africa. However, they were also both extremely docile around people (both very well socialized), never started a fight, but, as Shana R mentioned, would never back down once one started. Tulip would never allow any animal to attack another, and she would intervene aggressively if it did. She once charged in, growling like a freight train, when a ram was smashing me against a fence post. (Luke, my BC, also tried to get the ram off of me, but the ram totally ignored him, even when Luke latched onto his lip and wouldn’t let go. It was Tulip’s ear shattering bark-growl and full charge that caused the ram to give up and run away.) Tulip also stopped a dog fight when two visiting dogs got into it at my farm, and once even allowed my silly BC Misty to attack her in a foolish moment, literally stepping on her with her paws and looking up at me as if to say “Really? Seriously?” I actually laughed out loud, and Misty crept away and sat in the garage.
At the same time, Tulip could quickly go still and silent if another dog, say one of my BC’s, deigned to get to close if she had a bone or any kind of “treasure” in her mouth. She never attacked, she simply posed exactly like the dogs in the video, in a clear posture of assertiveness. That type of “display” (to use the term a scientist would use) is common in wild animals, far, far more so than actual fights. Fights are dangerous, even for the winner, and animals with carpet knives in their mouths need to avoid them if at all possible. That is why so many animals resolve conflicts through displays as seen here, in which each movement and posture communicates the motivation, internal state and probable next action to the other. That’s why animal behaviorists rip their hair from their head when someone equates “dominance” with aggression. Aggression is the last (and worst) way that an animal in a conflict over a resource can get what it wants; far better to engage in a mutual “dance” that allows each individual to make the best choice.
Speaking of choices, it was mentioned that we can’t ever really know if two individuals both want a resource equally (and thus, could the conflicts such as those seen above between the dogs just be about motivation?). That’s a good point, but here’s an added perspective: I agree we can’t ever really know if two individuals want something equally. Indeed, I’d say it is even worse than that—that it is probably never the case that there isn’t some difference, no matter how small, between how much two people/dogs etc want any one particular thing. Even two people who are dying of thirst in the desert probably differ in some way to how much they want water—who is to say that one person doesn’t want/need it more than the other? However, that difference in motivation doesn’t preclude there being other factors involved in who ends up getting the resource. Does one bluebird want breeding rights more than another bluebird during breeding season? Maybe, maybe not, but both are highly motivated, and in that species, only one male is going to get to pass on his genes on that particular territory with that particular female. Many, many males will never get to breed in any year, and not because they have too little motivation. Which male gets the girls is not just about motivation, it is also about risk assessment: after a long series of displays, one male chooses to leave, and the other male “wins.”
So what we are seeing here between these two dogs is replicated in all the rest of nature millions and millions of times: two individuals resolving a conflict over a limited resource by posturing, displaying, and assessing its own chances of getting what it wants without getting injured. My guess is that the female of Central Asian Shepherd did indeed want the food, but made a decision that discretion was, in this case, the better part of valor. But of course, that is just a guess…..
Lynnda L in Mpls says
Wish I could have seen the faces of *both* dogs. And hear the growls — I thin k there was some growling, possibly by the dog with her back to the camera. [The dog facing the camera is a male and if they are brother & sister, the dog with its back to the camera has to be the female.] I assume the slooooow movements of the male [facing camera] help prevent a response from the other dog. A lunge is likely to bring on a counter lunge. Slow movement allows for a Stop in the action — possibly preventing a Reaction. Also gives time for the retreating dog to do so safely.
Some other breeds would have had less deliberateness in movements and a physical skuffle could have broken out.
Behavior discussion is fun. And videos rock!
Kathy Acosta says
It was interesting to see such subtle signals. It reminded me a little of how my Pug and pitbull used to handle similar situations that involved a treat or chew resource. I saw my Pug, Olive, approach Dolly (pibull) because she wanted the pigs ear Dolly had been chewing on. As Olive approached, Dolly put the ear under her chin, lowered her head on top of it and lifted her lip at Olive. At that point, Olive turned and walked BACKWARDS to Dolly and when she reached her, she sat down beside Dolly’s head. Olive then leaned over and started to lick Dolly’s ears. She licked and licked and licked and I could see Dolly relaxing more and more…Dolly finally relaxed so much, she kind of rolled over onto her side to relax even more, and when she did, Olive quickly reached over, grabbed the ear and ran off with it! Poor Dolly just laid there and blinked – she had NO idea what happened!!! Smart, cunning little Olive!!!
Sue, The Light of Dog says
My first question was, why is someone videotaping this and not intervening?! My guess is either they have done this before and they know the dogs have not fought in the past, they believe the whole “let them work it out for themselves” philosophy, or they thought they would get some great video for youtube. Regardless, I am glad there was no fight. I had predicted the dog who got the food would end up with it, but I would have liked to be able to actually see the face of the dog facing away from the camera. Though I would prefer they not set up this scenario again.
Elaine Bolton says
I took a preliminary guess in the first few moments when the dog with its back to the camera turned away. From then things might have changed but when he sat down I thought I was right. The dog facing the camera was so tactful in his approach – wonderful video with so many behavioural gestures of great subtlety.
Beth with the Corgis says
I think this gives a much more subtle example of “dominance” than the way our minds tend to interpret the meaning.
The dog who won the show down continued to show appeasement gestures. But appeasement gestures are meant to avoid conflict and are not necessarily a sign of “submission.” It caused years of confusion for me and I am just beginning to get a better understanding (I think) of the issue now. A dog who does not want to fight does not need to be submissive.
My male Corgi never wants to fight. He routinely gives appeasement gestures to other dogs (look-aways, sometimes putting ears close to his head, ground-sniffing, etc) to show he’s not a threat. Yet he is mostly a “dominant” dog and given a conflict over resources, he will get what he wants with, I’d say, roughly 85% of the dog population.
He is, however, well-liked by other dogs and is perfectly happy to let other dogs do their own thing too.
In the vernacular, I think we have confused “dominant” as it refers to status with “domineering”, which is more being a bully. But they are not the same thing.
Question, should we intervene if we see this happening? And if so, how to intervene? My first thought was the guy videotaping should kick some of the kibbles to the other dog.
@ Beth with Corgis- I agree that there is so, so much confusion about the word “dominant” and what constitutes dominance in a scientific vs. vernacular sense. It seems to me from my personal observation that. just as Hanna Arendt’s reflects that power is actually the opposite of force, true dominance in dogs may be the opposite of aggression and bossiness. Certainly the highest-status dogs I know are among the most confident and yet the least controlling.
I would say that Otis is a very high status dog- he has some of that protective and guarding instinct, and never shows what I would consider appeasement gestures toward other dogs, despite seeing dogs offer them to him daily. When he chooses to assert himself, he ‘wins’ conflicts nearly 100% of the time. When he was young, not all of this was true, but as an adult, on a scale of 1 to 10, I’d put Otis’ social status at about a nine. (I’ve only met three dogs I’d consider ’10s’, ever, and they absolutely radiated calm- they were completely unflappable, and completely non-confrontational, but when they wanted to walk somewhere, a crowd of rowdy dogs would part in front of them like the red sea).
But despite being high status, I don’t know that I’d use the word “dominant” for Otis. He just doesn’t often assert himself. If anything he very obviously self-handicaps in play, indulges puppy behavior, and never challenges the ‘possession is 9/10ths of the law’ maxim when it comes to food. But he’ll alpha roll a dog who is waaay out of line, he screens all newcomers to the group, he’ll charge in and break up a fight between other dogs, and when Sandy gets scared, she runs to HIM, even in preference to us. On the occasions upon which he has taken things from other dogs, he uses the “Jedi mind trick”, similar to the face off above in some ways, but without the tension or the appeasement postures.
I have seen him face off with tension, too, but that has always been in response to a charging aggressive dog. Three for three times, he has stopped charging dogs in their tracks with zero physical contact, but with a very silent, tense, slow motion communication like the one above- on the one occasion upon which I attempted to intervene, breaking Otis’ concentration on the other dog, the other dog attacked and landed a bite before Otis could react. He got the dog under control without biting himself, but I learned that once that kind of scene has begun, Otis is simply better at handling it than I am. (I’d be very worried about familiar dogs showing that kind of tension toward each other over a handful of kibble, though, and I hope the owner of the dogs above has a good management strategy in place for them.)
I think it may be more logical than it appears at first glance. Dogs who command high social status, signaled by respect and deference from other dogs, seem to be the most confident and most skilled at social interaction. Confident, skilled dogs tend not to be as reactive as insecure or inexperienced ones. Then maybe it becomes a chicken-and-egg thing- dogs more likely to get what they want without a fight may be less likely to fight for what they want….
I agree 100% with em about the correlation between confident dogs and what might be called “true dominance.” A friend of mine used to talk about “natural alpha’s,” meaning dogs who appeared to be accepted as “leaders” (another loaded word now, such a shame) without having to do much of anything except just be there. I would argue that “presence” is a real phenomenon, and that some dogs, like some people, naturally have it, and others don’t. My BC Cool Hand Luke, who I write about in The Other End of the Leash, was like that. He was an intact male who was never in a fight, never growled at another dog beyond one or two times in 12.5 years (and then quietly and softly), but clearly was accepted as the dog with the most social status by all the others. He didn’t posture, go stiff, glare, snarl or do anything threatening in any way that I could see. But all the other dogs he met appeared to respond to him as if he was the Chair of the Committee. This acceptance didn’t appear to be grudging in any way. Of course all I can do is speculate, but other dogs seemed to be attracted to him, and calm in his presence. He was a brilliant and invaluable dog to use for dog-dog reactivity cases, because he emanated calm, benevolent confidence. Dozens and dozens of dogs learned to relax around him, not just because he was so calm but perhaps because he was so centered (if I can use that word for a dog). I think dogs are like people in that some want power but have no confidence, and come off being reactive or bullies. Others don’t care about having any power in a social group, while others don’t nec’y seek it, but seem to have it naturally. What do you think, am I being too anthropomorphic?
Trisha: You have me trained I think. After seeing most of your videos, often twice, reading your books, and even seeing you live once, I was convinced based on your intro that this was an exercise in reading forward/backward shifting. Also, I remember your thoughts about looking at one behavior only at a time when observing a situation.
So, when I first watched the video, I focused all my attention on looking for ever so slight forward/backward movement of either dog. Out of the corner of my eye, I first saw the right dog’s back leg move forward. I had been concentrating on torsos, so that leg movement was just a glimpse for me. Then I saw the right dog lean slightly back (distinctly / prior to sitting down). That’s when I decided the left dog would get the food.
Because I was so focused on forward/backward movement, I had not noticed the first head turn of the right dog until after reading comments and going back to look.
And interestingly enough, what was so, so obvious to me in the first viewing and what I can still see so clearly in my head when I think back, I no longer see when I watch the video multiple times since. I don’t see very well (or at all) what had seemed like a clear backward movement of the torso of right dog that I remembered seeing the first time. Weird.
The first viewing: I think that I blew up the backward lean of the right dog in my head as I was so stressed watching. The movement is so subtle that I don’t see it now when I don’t have adrenaline focusing my observations. That’s my theory as to why I don’t see it any more. (But I’m grateful that Trisha mentioned it in her follow up post. So, I know I didn’t make it up.)
Beth with the Corgis says
Jack never stares or goes stiff. I’ve seen him give verbal corrections to dogs who barge into him while playing, but they are quick and effective and apologies are soon given and accepted (Maddie can correct other dogs til she goes hoarse and they all just ignore her; of course the resulting lack of control of her own space only increases her liklihood of correcting— vicious circle). On the contrary, he always approaches other dogs with soft, relaxed body language.
Somehow it came to be accepted that dogs who greet “on their toes” are dominant when in reality most of them seem to be insecure and status-obsessed.
But he is extremely confident and his doggie language skills are superb. I trust him to tell me if dogs are safe to approach or not, and we have met countless dogs whose owners describe as “iffy” with other dogs who are just fine with Jack.
I think that dogs are attracted to other dogs who are confident and make THEM feel good by using great social skills to keep the “conversation” going smoothly, which is really very similar to what attracts people to leaders. We don’t like leaders who snap at us, belittle us, or constantly remind us of our place (though we may listen to them out of fear or to avoid losing a job). These people see themselves as leaders, but their “followers” don’t truly respect them.
We like leaders who are confident in their own abilities, make their subordinates feel valued and heard, and don’t push their weight around for no reason but rise to the occasion when we need them to. Dogs like people who are this way, and they seem to like other dogs who are this way too.
Beth with the Corgis says
em, Jack will also break up scuffles. He comes running if a person says “ouch” or a dog yips. I can’t say he will face down a charging dog (though at about 14 inches tall, ALL the dogs who charged him in his life were over twice his height and seemed to want to kill him). He was attacked once by a bully breed dog and honestly he did not react at all.
There is not a direct correlation between size and status at all times, but there is, I think, some correlation: I can think of two dogs who Jack is deferential to, and both weigh about 100 pounds. He may be confident but he is no fool. Both of those dogs are very high status with everyone else too, and carry themselves in the calm, confident way you mention.
I would call Jack high status based on his ability to control both resources and spaces without any resistance from the other dogs, but most of the time he does not really care what anyone does; I don’t think status concerns him, but keeping the peace and making friends are both extremely important to him.
oops: In my post above, instead of,
“Out of the corner of my eye, I first saw the right dog’s back leg move forward.”
it should have read LEFT:
“Out of the corner of my eye, I first saw the left dog’s back leg move forward.”
re: “What do you think, am I being too anthropomorphic?”
No. Being anthropomorphic is only a problem when it is wrong. I think you are right in this.
Beth w/Corgis, Em, Trisha, Yes, yes, yes. I too live with one of those high status dogs to which other’s naturally defer. I have never seen Ranger offer affiliative behavior such as muzzle licking to another dog but probably 99% of dogs we meet offer it to him. If he wants something from another dog he gets it 100% of the time sometimes simply by standing there with apparent indifference–standing very near the dog and item he wants and looking elsewhere–often by trickery. What fascinates me the most is that once he controls the resource he’ll share it equitably. If Finna has taken the couch and he wants it he’ll stand next to the couch gazing out the window and she will get down. He’ll jump on the couch curl up at his preferred end, look at her, look at the other end of the couch and invite her back up. But he never joins her on the couch, she’s invited back up to join him because he’s the one that controls the couch. When he tricked his best pal out of the highly desirable stick that was about three feet long and one inch diameter the first thing he did was chew the stick in half then carried his half a little ways away leaving the rest for his pal. Fights almost never break out at the park while Ranger is there because he doesn’t let things get to that point. And on the rare occasion where a scuffle does take place in his presence he breaks it up and takes what looks to me like the instigator away to cool off. In six years I’ve seen him do a full on threat display only once to a Great Dane that kept trying to pin him against the fence and mount him. Repeated “nos” were ignored and after countless efforts to defuse the situation politely Ranger’s hackles went up, his body got stiff, his weight shifted forward, his lips peeled back, and he issued an absolutely terrifying growl. I truly had visions of thousands of dollars of vet bills after he took the Dane apart. The Dane took one look at Ranger and ran, tail tucked between his legs, back to his people. Ranger shook himself vigorously and went about his business. I’ve seen him back down dogs much larger than himself with nothing more than one deep bark and I’ve watched him teach giant breed puppies how to play safely with smaller dogs. He also reels in any stray in the neighborhood. In fact, it isn’t unusual for strays to break their way into the yard to be with Ranger. It’s a little disconcerting to go out and find Ranger romping with a dog or dogs that I don’t recognize but it happens. Finna and the cats will both take Ranger’s food away from him, unless Ranger raises an eyebrow in which case both Finna and the cats will make themselves small and walk away. Probably 90% of the time he’ll give up his food but if he’s not willing to give it up no one ever disputes it. Usually, he walks away from his food dish and goes to the humans to ask for more so I find it hard to argue that the other critters are taking a scarce resource.
Yet, dominant is never the word that comes to mind to describe Ranger. We tend to describe him as a dog with a tremendous amount of charisma so really, I have no room to criticize anyone else for anthropomorphism.
I’m not sure if I’m adding to the discussion on dominance vs confidence or not, but here’s how I see my dog Duke:
Duke is almost never dominant in the sense of taking resources. At the dog park, Duke almost always defers to another dog if that dog wants the same ball that Duke is going after. Duke is sometimes even one of those dogs who happily drops the ball or rope that is in his mouth if it looks like another dog wants it. (Then again, if Duke is after a game of tug, playing keep away with a rope may be what happens instead of dropping the rope, depending on what the other dog is doing.)
Yet while I rarely see Duke having dominance over other dogs in the scientific sense, I also see him as fairly confident most (not all) of the time. I haven’t given this enough thought to be able to articulate why I believe the term ‘confident’ generally describes Duke better than ‘insecure’ most of the time. (Not all.)
Some examples that come to mind right now are: Duke’s tail is high in greetings and he seems to really enjoy greeting all other dogs. Also, Duke generally moves away from a dog who say wants to mount him or play by putting paws on my dog’s back. But if the other dog doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer, Duke will turn around and bark, snarl, or knock that other dog to the ground. Whatever level that seems appropriate to yell “NO” without drawing blood.
I even saw a situation where a dog bit Duke pretty hard on the tail. (Hey, what’s that interesting rope like thing waving high above my head…) Duke was surprised, turned around and snarled, growled and chased that dog a good 10 feet – and then stopped. He turned around and walked back to the group of people and dogs who were standing around. (The people who knew Duke and had not seen his tail get bit were completely shocked to see Duke take off after that other dog. They couldn’t believe it since it was so out of character for Duke. I quickly explained what had happened.)
What I’m trying to say is that while Duke seems happy to let other dogs have the resources, he is also confident enough to stick up for himself when he needs to. He doesn’t take it “over the top” the way an insecure dog would when trying to defend himself. Perhaps a dog can be non-dominant and confident (most of the time) too?
Our first dog as adults (I use that term loosely) was confident in her sense of justice, and her presence and demeanor set the tone and the rules for whatever doggy interaction was happening. She never argued or postured, she just was. She helped raise lots of pups in her lifetime, and for years after her death, those Sadie-raised dogs displayed behaviors that she had taught them so it was very nice for us to be able to see evidence of her influence long after she was gone. We called her — still call her — the queen of dogs. Almost thirty years later, many people still fondly recall Sadie.
Anthropomorphism dates back to ancient art, mythology, and religion. Alice in Wonderland and Wall-E are more recent examples. I know there is debate over anthropomorphism in the science community, and my question is why? If the science is sound, ascribing characteristics that allow more understanding seems reasonable to me. I don’t think it means we are trying to make everything else human nor does it lessen the amazing life of dogs (or whatever else we’re observing or discussing). How else would I describe my dog who is having a very grumpy day or my dog who is worried about the supply of rawhide chews?
Beth with the Corgis says
em, Kat, Trisha or anyone else with high-status dogs: has your dog ever claimed another dog’s person right out from under the other dog?
I try to be careful with this one (I imagine it could provoke a fight, but again Jack is a good judge of other dogs), but I have frequently seen Jack go in and claim another dog’s person by sitting on the person’s feet and carefully positioning himself between the person and their dog. He does this while giving very sweet “I am just a tiny puppy, aren’t I cute?” body language to the person, which makes the person melt and fawn over him, while the other dog stands awkwardly by.
He does not do this with everyone, but only with certain favored people. Since the people and their dogs are well-known to us, it all goes smoothly, but I find it fascinating from the animal behavior perspective. And he sure does know how to turn on the charm and wrap people around his little paw.
Daniel H. Antolec says
What a great video! The winner is clear to read from the moment the dog on the left moved one step forward, and the dog on the right sat down. That dog offered calming signals and the dog on the left read them correctly, slowly approaching the prize. Both dogs wanted the kibble but the dog on the left wanted it more. Each dog understood that so there was no conflict.
Love Em and Tricia’s explanation of dominance and lack of aggression. I have witnessed this myself. What a great video to share and watch. I have to go back and watch by focusing on each dog individually so I can catch all the behaviors, but what an awesome video to use.
@Kat- Otis does that exact thing with his big dog bed that Finna and Ranger do with the couch! He’ll stand there and wait for Sandy to get up (very calmly, no direct eye contact, but she always, always, gets up), settle himself, and then happily allow Sandy to come back and snuggle in beside him. He will never just lie down beside her.
@JJ Duke sounds like a lovely, lovely dog. To, me that type of easygoing temperament is the most appealing of all. Like Duke, Otis generally just doesn’t compete or interfere with other dogs, and even when he does react to provocative behavior he only does the minimum necessary to get his point across.
@Beth- Hmm-I’m not sure I would say that Otis claims people in the way that you describe. He frequently approaches people at the park (he and Sandy are both among the most outgoing dogs that we meet toward humans, I’ve found) and frequently enjoys petting and attention from them for several minutes at a time, but the humans’ dogs don’t seem put out by it- sometimes they approach me, sometimes they approach Otis-and-Owner, sometimes they are off doing their own thing. He doesn’t block them away from their owners or from other people or sit on their feet (good thing in his case, ouch!).
There is a dog who does that at the park but she doesn’t sound much like Jack- She’s an Airedale, and I would describe her as ‘status-seeking’- She frequently mounts other dogs, she snarks at dogs and her owner if she has a toy that she doesn’t want to share, she snatches toys and things away from others and generally seeks attention. Otis and the rest of the dogs completely ignore her.
The only time that Otis will block a dog away from humans is if he has decided that a dog is untrustworthy. There have only been two or three of these ever in the years we’ve had Otis, and only as a result of very tense, erratically aggressive behavior on their part. If one of those dogs, tries to approach me (there was one who would try, an Akita who was very human-friendly but sketchy and reactive with dogs), Otis will stare and body block. The dog was welcome to mind his own business in the park, but he was not allowed to approach the humans. This is super rare, though. Most dogs can come up to me for a pat or even a cookie without any apparent resentment, though Otis and Sandy will line up to get their share.
Thank you for posting! I always learn as much from the discussions and I do from the posts.
I suspected the left dog would when once the right dog sat down. I know standing is considered more of a challenging position, sitting is neutral, and lying down is more submissive. I was surprised the left dog laid down at the end though. Watching the second time through, I noticed the licking in the right dog. Once that happened, the left dog seemed to move a bit quicker.
@Beth with Corgis I forgot to say! There is really only one dog that Otis ‘blocks’ from his own owners when the owners are not standing near other people, and in that case, he does seem to be making a point of doing it as a ‘claiming’ thing. I think I may have spoken on the forum about the conflict with this particular dog before but the summary is: This dog is insecure and especially so with big dogs. We see him regularly (nearly every day) but only in passing. The dog would bark, growl, and do short charges at dogs that got too close to his owners, mostly, with the most extreme reactions prompted by big dogs. He seems to be mostly bluster, never landing a bite,but would snap at dogs from time to time. For about a year, Otis tried to defuse tension with him in his typical way, by standing calmly still and waiting for him to calm down, then with increasing levels of avoidance until the point where Otis would see him coming and actually get off the path and stand aside in an attempt to avoid his reaction. The very great majority of the time, dogs like this respond very well, calming down and becoming comfortable, but this one only escalated the more avoidant Otis became.
Finally the tipping point came. We had to pass one another in a confined area, so I collared Otis, who stood quietly beside me, and expected the other dog’s owners to do the same. They didn’t and their dog charged, more aggressively than usual. Not willing to hold Otis still while this dog charged in to bite him (as it seemed was likely to happen), I released him and Otis leapt for the dog, offering his first (and last) defensive reaction. Once he saw Otis loose and coming for him, the other dog turned and ran, and got maybe 20 or 30yds before Otis caught him. He hit the ground, cowering. Otis barked in his face once or twice and that was it. After that, for just over two years, this dog wouldn’t even look at Otis. He wouldn’t pass near him, he wouldn’t make anything like eye contact, and if Otis (who was completely relaxed in the presence of this dog ever after the incident) made even a suggestion of a move in his direction, he would run the other way. He has slowly started getting over it, and can now usually pass by normally, but it took a lot of patience and reassurance to get to that point.
Anyhow, this is the one instance where, when he sees him coming, Otis would (and sometimes still will), pass between him and his owners and stand close to them (affection from them is a plus but not necessary), with a relaxed face and posture but looking directly at the other dog. Not with a hard stare, but a pointed, ‘ do you see this?’ look. It might not be all that noticeable, except that the other dog will visibly deflate when he does it, lowering ears, head and often tail, and slinking out in a big circle around him. This only ever occurs in passing, we never linger together, and Otis will follow me rather than stay with the other dog’s owners, so the whole episode is unlikely to last more than a few seconds. As the other dog has relaxed, Otis does it much less often and I imagine he will stop altogether (he hasn’t done it in the past ten or so meetings, at least). He never does it to any other dogs, but it is pretty clearly a status-claiming situation. The dog used to be nasty when Otis approached his owners, he bit off more than he could chew, and afterwards putting him in his place Otis made a show of temporarily claiming the thing that the other dog values most, even if it has no particular value to Otis. Not claiming to keep it, mind, just to show that he could. As long as we’re anthropomorphizing, that seems to me an awful lot like saying, ‘see, I can take ANYTHING of yours if I want to. So you had better toe the line with me, bub.’
The dog with his back to the camera averted his head and lowered his ears very soon after the standoff began. It was all over after that although there was still some “posturing” going on after he sat down. Maybe hoping beyond all hope?? The other dog was a very gracious winner, never really guarding the food once he got close to it. It seemed like they both knew they could win if they wanted to but didn’t really want to fight.
Em – thanks for your kind words about Duke. In reading about Otis, I also thought he sounds like a great dog. I’ve thought that if our dogs got together, they would probably be good friends. Oh, the trouble they would cause us though!
On the topic of dog A blocking dog B from dog B’s owners:
I’m not sure about Duke. What I can say is that Duke *loves* to go to up to every human standing around at the dog park and lean against them. Since no one has to bend down to pet Duke, I’ve never seen anyone not pet him. It usually looks like an unconscious movement. Human standing. Dog at hand height. Human petting dog. No awareness needed. Duke even has a method where he lays himself across a couple standing together so that they can both pet him at once. One person gets the head, while the other person gets the back half.
While Duke is leaning against these owners, what is happening with the owner’s dogs? I haven’t made a study of it, but there have been times when I noticed dog B standing 5 or 6 feet away looking at their owners over Duke. Sometimes dog B is circling around looking for an opening. Duke and the owner are just standing there in bliss, communing silently with each other.
Or are they (in *innocent* bliss)? Most of the time, I think that keeping a dog away from the rightful owner is unintentional, but every once in a while I look over at Duke and think, “Are you being a little bratty snot? Are you intentionally keeping that dog away from her owner? Do you see this and just not care? Or are you just doing what you do because you can and it feels good and you don’t notice the consequences?” I honestly don’t know. But I suspect that every once in a while, I don’t have a very nice dog.
Beth w/ Corgis, I honestly can’t think of any time where I’d say Ranger “claimed” another dog’s person. He solicits petting from every person in the park but he typically positions himself at their side so not in any way blocking access to the person. He doesn’t do anything like what you describe of Jack.
Ranger did pee on a person once. Her dog would go out of his way to seek conflict with Ranger. If Ranger saw that dog at one end of the park he’d stay at the other but as soon as that dog noticed Ranger was in the park the dog would charge him, snark at him, and even jump on him. The woman constantly made excuses for her dog’s bad behavior and would call Ranger a wimp for not engaging in what she tried to claim was play. One day when she was standing in the park talking to someone Ranger walked over to her and calmly peed up and down her leg. He soaked her pants. After that she never wanted her dog to “play” with that nasty Ranger. I’ve always wondered what prompted him to do what he did. He’s never even thought about peeing near where a human was standing–peeing on dogs is one thing but not on people–before or since. One of those occasions where I really wish I could read his mind.
Beth with the Corgis says
JJ, I think Jack’s PRIMARY motivation is to get close to people he adores. He loves to meet and greet, and always has, but there are a small handful of people that he is smitten with, and he goes up to them and stands on his hind legs and kisses their faces and sits on their feet in obvious bliss. These people feel the same about him (it is not for nothing I call him “The Mayor” because he does tend to glad-hand, and I think he has more friends and contacts than I do).
But he is so conscious of other dogs’ body language, comforts and annoyances that I cannot believe that he is unaware of the other dogs’ nervous circling and jockeying for position. I have heard it said that nothing dogs do is by accident. Well, I don’t believe that is true of dogs any more than it is of people (and my Maddie has innocently gotten herself into trouble on multiple occasions).
But IS true that many of our dogs’ seemingly random actions, like sniffing the ground, are intentional communication signals. And for a dog as skilled in dog-dog communication as Jack is, and as adept at keeping the peace… well, I can’t help but think he is eyeing the other dog sideways and going ‘Neiner, neiner, nei-ner, I can have your person any time I want him (or her).”
He has never growled or postured or given hard eyes to another dog in this situation (and I would intervene if he did), but in these circumstances he DOES position himself in just such a way that the person’s dog is only able to approach from behind the person. Again, this is only with a select few, not with every person/dog team.
Bonnie H. says
Kat, maybe Ranger was reading YOUR mind when he peed on that woman! Sometimes I swear my dog can read my mind.
So cool! I did think the male facing the camera would win in the end. When I saw him take a step forward I thought it and then when the other dog sat down I thought it was pretty sure. Stil wasn’t 100% sure til he casually reached down for a bite and she walked away though!
My male dog does not guard his food or chews at all and my female dog does. She will try to get his chew if she finishes first and will come up to him wagging her tail very low and fast with her head down and turned away slightly and then he either leaves it or I intervene.
Loved seeing the film and reading the subsequent post. Jealous of the people witn dogs like Otis, Ranger, Jack…
We had a true ‘dominant’ dog, Chenak. Walk him pas a fence with a couple of sheperds going berserk, he’ld just pee against the post and prance on :-).
The current lads, almost two now, are still very much the adolescents… Sigh…. Combined with not being reliable off leash (prey drive) makes for some very hard socialisation…
I’m very happ though that I found a large fenced in field where they have playdates now witn a regular group of about 10 dogs to hone their doggy language skills. Seperately, by the way, since they act like inseperable twins…
Larry Winkler says
Who will “win” seems to be a loaded question. I don’t know these dogs’ history, who is dominant, if either, for example. I concur with Tori if the back-facing dog is dominant. My guess is that is true, since front-facing was very submissive as he approached the food.
My guess is then both won. BF won because he forced FF to acknowledge BF dominance, while FF got the food.
Early in the video the dog with his back to the camera, slightly shifted his weight back, but just before sitting. To me, that signaled giving ground.
Alexandra W says
Came in to this discussion late. My instincts led me toward the correct answer, but then I started second-guessing until the final moment. I need to go with my gut more often – when I was at the dog park earlier this afternoon, I found that I was the best judge of “what would happen next” when I turned off my mind, perhaps a reminder that I pick up on a lot of the dog body language as communication purely, and that the academic part of my brain can sometimes get in the way of that communication.
Romeo is an only dog, but he has lived with cats for years; my parents’ kitten (well, 2.5 year old cat, now) absolutely adores Romeo, but Romeo isn’t so sure about the cat! It’s funny to watch them play, because both of them want to engage with one another, but the cat has no idea what Romeo’s play bows mean, and Romeo hates getting dive bombed without warning (aka how cats play). Romeo gets very possessive of the couch and bed around the cat in part because he knows that if he falls asleep in the same room as the cat, there’s a fair chance he will be woken suddenly by a sudden assault from his feline companion. This isn’t the kind of subtle dominance people are talking about upthread – Romeo just uses his superior size and strenght (30 lb beagle vs 10 lb cat) to push the cat off of the furniture and “escort him from the room”, and then he falls asleep. The cat doesn’t seem to mind though – he will try to sneak back in for a cuddle once Romeo is too tired to object.
How do we even characterize interspecies communication? Can you talk about a dog being dominant over a cat, or vice versa? While I sometimes joke that my parents’ cat thinks he’s a dog, as he was fostered with dogs and lived with Romeo ever since he was adopted, it’s clear that Romeo knows precisely what my parents’ cat is. My favorite example of this is that Romeo doesn’t offer play bows much, and usually they’re quite subtle. HOwever, a few days ago Romeo invited play from the kitten, and offered a deep, exaggerated play bow for an extended time, say 10 seconds, before ducking in to play. It was almost like an American abroad shouting his English in the hopes that the French sommelier will understand him. Romeo can’t speak “cat”, but he hopes that if he speaks “dog” loud enough the cat will understand him!
@ Beth w/ Corgis re the dog taking over people. My sister’s standard poodle does this to me with my dog who is a lot younger and bigger. I ask my dog to heel and he inserts himself in between me and my dog doing a perfect heel. He frequently pushes himself in between me and my dog doing a very clear claim of me. When I ask him to do something else he does it perfectly. We are in his territory as he has never visited me (far distance). The 2 dogs get along really well except for an incident when the poodle was persistently stealing my dog’s stick in fetch-swimming because the poodle can’t swim. My dog finally got tired of it and told him in no uncertain terms to knock it off. And he did. The poodle does not do this to his own people, just to me. My dog has not reacted to the pushiness, she just gives way, maybe going to someone else. She is otherwise not very submissive or timid and seems to get her way often with other dogs.
The above lecture is fascinating and explores the effectiveness of faking body language (in humans and primates) in order to assume a more confident or ‘alpha’ like behaviour in situations where you may feel socially threatened. The effectiveness is measured in raised testosterone levels and lower levels of cortisol, which are typically found in people who are natuarrly confident and display typical ‘alpha’ postures and behaviour. The woman delivering the talk is inspiring and I found it immensely moving.
This got me thinking about dogs’ body language and other signals. Do they ever fake it I wonder? Does outward behaviour always reflect inner emotional states? Are they cognitively capable of displaying another outward behaviour to posture and threaten, even though internally they may be anxious? Do ‘calming signals’ reflect inner emotional stress only and are displayed to help self-calm the animal? Or, are dogs capable of empathy and use the signals to help the other dogs?
‘Calming Signals’ and the work involved seem only to have been explored by one person and I am fascinated to learn if perhaps they can be misinterpreted in stressful situations. Important when dealing with reactivity and aggressive cases I feel.
Nic1, I once observed my 90 lb Ranger use calming signals toward a reactive Yorkie. We’d gone into a local store that allows dogs and Ranger was being all bouncy and excited because, ‘Oh boy, going shopping with Mom and there will be people to pet me and maybe even treats” (he’d been there before and was anticipating another great time). A Yorkie in a shopping cart saw the bouncy big dog and began barking wildly and leaping at the sides of the cart in a threat display–clearly trying to frighten the big dog away. Ranger saw the Yorkie freaking out and immediately stopped bouncing (by which I mean a strutting prancing walk not jumping up and down), sat, turned his head, and yawned. I can’t imagine that Ranger felt a lot of stress at a confined Yorkie barking at him so my sense would be that he offered the calming signals of sitting, yawning, and turning away as reassurance for the Yorkie. The Yorkie relaxed as soon as Ranger offered the calming signals.
@Kat – the problem I have with calming signals is how do we know that Ranger is not self calming in reaction to a stressed dog? I’d say we don’t for sure based only on observations and interpretations. I’d like to see more work done in this area. Perhaps measuring cortisol levels as a response to a perceived stress trigger? It does imply that Ranger had to suddenly think ‘ooh that dog is not happy. If I sit here and yawn, this may help that dog’. Why would he want to help a strange dog? I am not saying that this can’t be possible, but are dogs truly capable of that level of awareness?
Nic1, I completely agree that it would be nice to have some solid science to look at. In the meantime we’re stuck with observation, interpretations and asking questions. I think your question of why Ranger would want to help another dog, especially one that is much smaller and not in any position to even attempt to damage him, is an especially interesting one. I’d suggest that the answer lies in the fact that dogs are social creatures and as such require a certain amount of empathy to navigate canine society and human society as well. We’ve all seen time and time again how our dogs react to our moods which indicates the capacity to recognize feelings in others. In the dogs who hate one another thread there’s quite a lot of discussion about the stress everyone, dogs and humans alike, feel when two dogs cannot get along. The Yorkie was obviously feeling stress at the sight of a dog big enough to eat him in a couple bites. By offering calming signals Ranger could communicate his lack of hostile intent to the Yorkie and reduce the level of stress in Ranger’s vicinity. Since stress can be contagious reducing it is in Ranger’s self interest. Ranger probably lacks the cognitive capacity to express it in those terms but I’m sure he has enough awareness to grasp “Yorkie feels scared and stressed, if I calm him down it will be better because I won’t be around his stress.” Or perhaps he really does care about others in his vicinity enough to want to make them feel better. Or maybe he’s doing calming behaviors simply to make himself less susceptible to the stress exhibited by the Yorkie. Given, however, that the Yorkie immediately calmed down after Ranger exhibited calming behaviors I’m comfortable with the idea that they were directed at the Yorkie.
Rose C says
Agreed with everything that you said, Kat. I was having a hard time formulating in words these very thoughts.
As already mentioned, ‘calming signals’ are intended both to calm one’s self or another dog. Many of these signals are seen both in a stressed dog and in a dog who is trying to calm another one down. I agree that it would be great to have some solid science to differentiate one from the other. However, if we would take all other things and the surrounding circumstances into the context, I believe we will be able to tell. As in the incident with Ranger and the Yorkie, Ranger being known not to be stressed in this particular environment, it was possible that he was calming the anxious Yorkie. And yes, I agree too, that the fact that the Yorkie calmed down must have meant that it responded to Ranger’s signals. Why would Ranger try to calm an unknown dog? Again I agree, empathy neurons. Plus, generally, it is in the nature of dogs, not only to avoid conflicts, but also to bring calmness and balance and avoid chaos.
On measuring, say, cortisol levels: A dog who is trying to calm himself down is also experiencing some degree of stress. I would think his cortisol level is also increased though not as high as a dog who is severely stressed. However, at the point when a dog goes from being mildly stressed to being moderately or severely distressed, there would be other known signs that will clearly indicate this. I’ve also learned that a dog that is more than mildly stressed may also stop giving these calming signals.
With regard to the question if dogs are cognitively capable of faking these signals, I strongly doubt it. I am inclined to believe that their outward behavior reflect their inner state, unless they have some physical, physiologic, or pathologic condition that may inhibit them from displaying these signals. Or, that their display was misinterpreted or ignored. I’ve read that dogs have the cognitive capacity of a two year old. I don’t think the dog’s mind has the capacity to fake these signals as faking involves a significant degree of deception. And if they are capable of deception, they will not be called dogs. They will be called, er, humans? 🙂
Kat, many thanks! I guess it comes down to knowing your dog, looking at the behaviour in context and understanding what your own dog is socially capable of. It’s interesting to discuss this and learn from you because with my own dog, I would definitely interpret a yawn as a clear stress signal as opposed to her attempting to calm the other dog down. In that particular context with my dog, I feel that would be a safer strategy and it would certainly push me towards giving her and the other dog more space.
In this course (written by Canine Behaviourist Sarah Whitehead), I can’t see any clear reference to ‘calming signals’ as a way of understanding communication with your dog although there are references to understanding and reading stress and sociability signals. Having undertaken the course, I think Sarah is focusing on communicating that it is important for owners to be able to read signs of stress in dogs, first and foremost and understand how to manage situations to keep it to a minimum. Of course, life is not stress free but misinterpreting or ignoring these signals when not every dog is going to be a social superstar may lead to a distressed dog is the impression I get. Perhaps some people may think that their dogs are coping when they may be barely holding it together. I suppose it is erring on the side of caution really, but it is a very interesting and controversial area as are other aspects of behaviour work. I read recently that Dr Karen Overall has been quite critical about BAT (http://functionalrewards.com/overall/) in her book ‘Clinical Behavioural Medicine for Cats and Dogs’. These are two professionals that I consult regularly and have found both their respective relaxation and BAT protocols immensely effective with my own dog.
Are there any studies that suggest dogs are capable of empathy with other dogs?
I know that there have been some studies with people yawning at dogs and if a dog yawns back that may indicate some level of emotional recognition or empathy.
If ever I get a bit stressed, it tends to be annoyance at the computer. I don’t have to even say or express anything, but my dog senses it and either tries to paw at me for soliciting attention or runs upstairs and lays on the couch, depending on the intensity of frustration!
There is definitely a lot of anecdotal evidence that points towards shared empathy but I’d like to see more work.
Nic1, knowing the dog and seeing the context are definitely a significant part of the picture. Ranger does have excellent social skills and the two dogs were about the distance of two checkstands apart (I’m guessing around 16 feet) plus the Yorkie was inside a shopping cart/trolley so couldn’t move around much or get out. Ranger is one of those dogs that I’d describe as wanting everyone in his vicinity to feel good. If it had been my other dog, the rehabilitation project, highly reactive, never properly socialized, psycho bitch from hell dog… Well, first she would never have been there in the first place but if in some future date she was sufficiently under control (her own as well as mine) to be in a situation like that I doubt she would exhibit calming behaviors to the degree that Ranger did. She would definitely be showing stress behaviors, lip licking, tongue flicks, turn aways, and yawns. And isn’t that an interesting distinction right there. Behaviors like turn aways and yawns I’m entirely comfortable labeling as calming signals when offered by calm, confident, high status Ranger but when exhibited by fearful unsocialized Finna I call them stress behaviors. I wonder if I had a dog whose character was between my two extremes if I’d say they were trying to calm themselves with the behaviors described. In other words, with Ranger the behaviors were easily interpreted as an effort to defuse the situation and manage his environment, with Finna the behaviors would be a cry for help because she’d be very close to completely over threshold, but still another dog might be trying to calm themselves as well as signal a lack of hostile intent to the Yorkie.
The course you linked to sounds absolutely fascinating. Too bad all my dog budget has gone into vet bills lately. I’ll have to bookmark it for when I’ve rebuilt the fund. And thank you for the link to the BAT rebuttal. We use BAT with Finna and while I know my timing still needs a lot of work (too often I let her get fixated on a trigger and have to offer her reminders that she has options) I can see that she’s making progress and I can tell that if she’d been handled with BAT during the critical socialization period she’d be a truly awesome dog today. She would never have been the kind of calm and confident dog that Ranger is; she’s simply not wired that way, but she would be an empowered dog that knew she could safely navigate her world rather than the reactive mess we’re gradually reforming.
Oops, I meant to add that I’ve seen plenty of examples of people misreading their dogs and it’s something I try really hard to watch out for. A lot of the time I see the misreading take place it’s when dogs are around kids. Many people seem to think that if the dog is not actively fleeing in terror or threatening to bite the kids everything is fine. Yet if you watch the dog the poor thing is tongue flicking, cringing away, whale eyed, and tense. Ranger spends a lot of time with kids since he goes to the library and listens to them read. He loves kids and probably 90% of the time is completely relaxed and comfortable but there are kids that are a little too unpredictable or clueless parents that think it’s fine to let their crawling baby crawl over his tail and paws, (he’s too big for the baby to crawl over him), or the disrespectful child who thinks he’s just part of the furniture. My job is to intervene the instant he says he’s not comfortable. Between looking out for Ranger and managing Finna I feel pretty confident of my ability to read canine body language and often I just want to shake people and shout at them that they are doing their dogs a tremendous disservice and are asking for trouble. When possible I try to offer gentle and helpful comments to the people on the other end of the leash but I fear many of those comments fall on deaf ears.
@Kat – I agree with everything you say too.
It really seems to be dependent on the nature of the dog in question as to how we would interpret these particular signals. It is also a question of semantics: ‘Calming’ to me implies a completely different state of mind to ‘stress: both words are used in this context to describe the same outward behaviour really. I guess that is why I possibly find it potentially misleading and possible to misinterpret? If a dog is displaying calming signals, that does not implicate that the dog is calm himself. Does that make sense?
The canine body language course is really enjoyable and I have found it extremely useful. I would imagine that Sarah is hoping to spread the word that we owe it to our dogs to learn to understand how they communicate and hopefully ease the frustration, as you describe so well, when we see people letting things escalate until they end up shouting or blaming the dog when really, they have simply failed to read the earlier signals and body language. There is a module on the signals of pre-emptive aggression of which possibly a lot of other people don’t pick up on in their dogs, hence the escalation, shouting and frustration. It’s all compleletly manageable if some people respected their dogs for being dogs and not humans in furry coats or simply took some time to learn about natural canine behaviour and communication.
It’s nice to try to reach out to people and take the opportunity to help indirectly, but don’t you find that some people are so entrenched in their thinking about dogs that all you can hopefully do is hopefully plant a seed? Only yesterday someone explained to me that they were having problems with their dog hiding under the table when they told it off. She was refusing to come out and the problem was escalating (naturally!). My reply was that ‘I rarely tell my dog off, because it’s usually myself who has failed to teach her what I want from her’. She looked at me as though I’d just been shuttled in off Mars….
I concur regarding BAT – utilising it was a turning point in extending my own dog’s social confidence curve, despite having done loads of DS/CC and LAT previously. She came to me as pretty reactive too, well to most things really – dogs, cats, certain people and children and was also freaked out by SEC. She is now much more confident in her environment, knowing that she has alternative options that don’t cause her stress. It does seem to work well in my experience and it sounds like you have made great progress with Finna too in that regard. Ranger, well he seems like a proper mentor dog, all credit to you for bringing out the best in them both. They are both lucky to have you Kat. 🙂
The dog facing the camera was my vote for who was going to get the food. As soon as he was moving forward and the other dog started shifting back I could tell. Even though the dog with his back to the camera was growling and appeared more likely to bite it was obvious he was insecure. The other dog was exhibiting calming signals (eyes averted, coming in at a curve once he started moving, sitting, and finally laying) Yet he never stopped his forward move towards the food- he was clearly exhibiting signals that said he wasn’t looking for a fight but was going to get that food. Staying confident and controlled was the key for avoiding escalation into a full blown fight yet getting what he was after. It is similar to people the most insecure are often the ones who go overboard and act tough by being overly animated or loud, the truly confident stay in control and patiently work their way to what they want and most often succeed.
Pam Barnhart says
9 seconds in, it was over…The Dog closest to the Camera broke eye contact and looked away….
Both dogs are trying to hold or to get food lying on the ground. I am amazed how they managed to get room in this close contact: they managed it to make distance in between by body language while there wasn’t physically room. For example looking away, looking above the other dog, pulling own ear back, making sit or lying down. Yes, there was a lot of tension in this situation but they managed to calm it by making room while there is no physically room by there body language as I wrote above and thereby, they take the wind out of there sails and finally, one gives it up and let the other one eating. I am impressed how they managed this tricky situation in a foxy way. Take a look at their mouths and corner, to their forheads and ears, where is body’s center of gravity, at which directions is their body axis and so on. This is important for understanding what they do communicate.
Wow, Two dogs want to take a food. The right Dog so Intelligent he use ahingsa and get a food.
No war and no blood. Good method to take a food.
Eva Sheila says
I’m very late with my comment, and I don’t have sound on my computer, but I enjoyed watching those two dogs. Here are my comments (and a question):
Is this a mirror? No, postures seem alike, so surely the dog who “has” it (is closest to the food) will get it. But wait – the ears of the dog facing me (B) are a little bit more up, so he seems more confident, while dog A has the ears back and down, more defensive. Also one hind leg is out of axis, not quite as straight as dog B.
And dog A seems to have the head a little bit more forward and down than dog B (?)
uh ooh. Looking away from the food and from eye contact will prevent trouble, but it will not gain you the food
Wait – I overlooked the foot forward at 0:07 (hind leg of dog B goes forward – that is the reason for the head turn one second later).
0:16 – 0:20
Very subtle move forward, and like a puppet on the same string dog A shifts the weight backward and lands in a sitting position).
As soon as the dog sits, the other dog lowers his head – less threatening (reward for good behaviour ;-), talk about timing) and then slowly turns his head away (appeasment) AND towards the food (very clever tactic)
The rest seems a very clever choreography to get closest to the food (lying down, what a brilliant solution) without undue provocation.
I’m thinking about tail position. I realize, that when we meet unknown male dogs that try to make a favorable (and flirtatiously male) impression on my female dog, they almost always wag their tail from the upright position towards the left (left as seen from the dog – when I look at it, mostly I see the head of the dog, and the tail wagging to the right),. but the tail stays up.
The dog that wins the food has the tail a tiny bit towards his right (for the onlooker – little left tilt) – is this just my imagination or has the direction of the tail a meaning?
The dog furthest away understood the dog closer was the most dominant, that is why he moved to the food very gingerly with lots of respect.
The dog closest appears to have been told to let the other dog eat first even though he has a lower ranking, from the owner/ trainer. This was difficult for the dog, but he reluctantly sat to indicate ‘ I’m allowing this’
I’ve seen this video many times, and it still bugs me. Maybe it’s partly because I always worry that each of those ‘sheds’ in the background holds another dog like these–is this a breeding facility? Someone gave the opinion once, though, that they’re just some kind of outhouse or storage shed. Anyway, I don’t think it represents responsible ownership to set up this kind of situation so you can videotape it. However, it says a lot for the good sense of dogs that they make much better choices in life than do we humans.
I think this interaction is a lot less serious than people make it out to be, and actually it’s kind of hilarious. After watching it again after many years, it’s clear to me the dynamics. If you know how to tell apart female/male dogs, you can tell the left-side one is a young male, and the right-hand one is an older female. Watch the male’s expressions, which are very very subtle: the expressive eyebrows, the deferred gaze. He’s acting /cute/, like a puppy. Begging for food. “Please, sir, can I have some more…?” The female’s gaze IS dominant: unwavering, semi-hard-eyed. When the male lies down, he SHOWS HIS STOMACH. The female isn’t going to hurt a puppy, so she defers begrudgingly. This enormous dog has PUPPY LICENSE!!! This isn’t a dominance issue, it’s a domestic squabble. If these were labradors, one would be rolling on its back dramatically, but these dogs have much subtler expressions.