Category Archives: Animals

Communication Signals in Dogs (Part 1)

This was one of the questions for my Coursework for the ISCP Diploma in Canine Psychology:
Observe a group of dogs and people together, and note the body language and vocalising that occurs between them. Write an essay of between 1,000 and 2,000 words about the communications signals you have perceived, and how other dogs and people have responded to these. Include your reasons for the conclusions you have reached.

Here is my essay. I’ve split it into 2 posts, as it’s rather long, and also because Part 2 is a summary of my conclusions:

I was in the park by myself and noticed a couple sitting under a tree with 2 yellow Labradors gambolling nearby off-leash, doing their own thing, sniffing at tree trunks and following scent trails. There was another dog, a brindle Staffy type playing Fetch with its owner about a hundred feet away from them. There was also an older woman walking her small Shih-Tzu dog on its lead along the path by the park.

The brindle Staffy’s owner must not have noticed the Labradors, because he threw the ball in the direction of the Labradors, and as the Staffy went after it, the Labradors noticed it and stopped their play. One of the Labradors adopted a forward-facing stance, with its tail held straight out almost level with its body, and with its paw held up. It resembled a German Pointer.

The Staffy had until now been concentrating on fetching the ball for its owner. Now suddenly there were these 2 yellow Labradors standing in his field of vision. And his ball was close to them. He had been running to catch the ball, fixated on it, but once he noticed the 2 Labradors eyeing him, he slowed down and started to walk instead in a large curve. His body was therefore facing the Labradors sideways, not head on. When the Staffy reached his ball, he grabbed it, and after casting a cautious eye back at the Labradors, began walking almost nonchalantly back to his owner. When he felt he’d reached a safe distance, he started running again towards his owner.

During this time, the Labrador owners had suddenly realised that their dogs were potentially about to meet a strange dog, with unknown consequences, and they got up on their feet and started walking quickly towards the Labradors, with the dogs’ leads in their hands. One of them, the man, started calling the dogs to them, and whistling. I could hear the tension in his voice.

The Labrador doing the German Pointer impression relaxed its body, and started to wave its tail gently when it heard its name being spoken by its owner. It looked towards the retreating Staffy, then back at its owner, then back at the Staffy again, as if asking for permission to go forward towards where the Staffy was. The other Labrador, which looked smaller and younger and could have possibly been the offspring of the bigger Labrador, was shifting its weight from foot to foot nervously, wagging its tail low and whining. It too, was looking back and forth between its owner and the Staffy.

When the Labradors’ owner started shouting and whistling, the small Shih-Tzu dog walking along the path with its owner suddenly got excited and started lunging forward, pulling his owner. She pulled back on the lead, tightening it, and started shortening it. This made the Shih-Tzu all the more excited, and it pulled against the tension even more, all the time making excited yelping/whining noises.

The younger Labrador found this excitement too much to endure. It broke away from where it had been standing nervously, and started running towards the Staffy. The other Labrador, after a moment’s hesitation, did likewise.

The Labradors’ owners, naturally concerned at what would happen should the Labradors and the Staffy not manage to become friends, broke into a run after their dogs, calling and whistling for the Labradors to stop. This only made the Labradors more excited and they ran even faster towards the Staffy.

The Staffy and its owner, meanwhile, were trying to make tracks to get away from the approaching Labradors. The man was trying to clip his lead onto the Staffy’s collar and walk it away from the park, but the Labradors were too quick. I heard him yell in frustration as the Labradors reached within 10 feet of the Staffy.

I was watching this and hoping there would not be a fight between the dogs, that the owners could manage to get their dogs introduced to each other properly, or that the dogs themselves knew the proper doggy etiquette for making new friends.

Before the Labradors reached the Staffy, they slowed down and started turning their bodies away from him, and almost looked as if they were walking away. When in actual fact they were approaching the Staffy in a large curve, showing calming signals that they meant no harm. One Labrador curved to the left, the other curved to the right. Together, as they criss-crossed in front of the Staffy, they looked almost as if they were collies herding sheep or cows.

The Staffy, now being held in a tight grip by his owner, could only stare balefully at them. Maybe his owner wasn’t aware that the Labradors had friendly intentions, or maybe he wasn’t sure if his dog was able to understand the calming signals, or perhaps he himself did not know what the curving body language meant. He kept his hands tight on the Staffy’s lead, so tight that the dog’s front legs were almost raised off the ground. This only made it more tense, and it started twisting its body around, to try to release itself. But this only made its owner tighten his grip even more.

All the time this was happening, and it was only in the space of a few seconds, the Labradors’ owners were still shouting, calling and whistling for their dogs. They were also by now rattling the chain on their leads, hoping to distract the Labradors’ attention from the Staffy.

And the little Shih-Tzu was still pulling and lunging to get to the Labradors and the Staffy. The woman, who looked to be in her 60s and rather frail, was having a hard time holding the Shih-Tzu back, small as it was.

Then I heard the woman cry out in pain, as the Shih-Tzu must have torn its lead from out of her hands. The next thing I saw was this little white barrel of fluff tearing straight towards the Labradors and the Staffy, yelping excitedly and trailing its lead behind it like a long red ribbon.

Now the Labradors found themselves caught between the tantalising Staffy in front of them, and the little maelstrom of a Shih-Tzu, coming up from behind them. Everyone froze, dogs and humans, apart from the barreling Shih-Tzu and his frantic owner trying to catch up behind him.

The Staffy’s owner decided this was exactly the distraction he needed to get away safely with his dog. Quickly, and wordlessly, while the Labradors were frozen in place, he tugged at his dog’s collar and got it to move. The Staffy was reluctant at first to move, but his owner tugged at his collar again, urgently. And then man and dog exited stage right, at a brisk jog.

The little Shih-Tzu suddenly found himself between the 2 large Labradors, who were naturally startled but also curious. As it was too late for any of the humans to intervene, the dogs were able to conduct their proper introductions, doggy style. Which involved an almost formal Sniff-n-Greet, firstly done by the larger Labrador to the little Shih-Tzu, who stood still but quivering as he subjected himself to it. The younger Labrador, not to be outdone, also had a good Sniff-n-Greet of the Shih-Tzu. Now with both Labradors sniffing either end of his body, the Shih-Tzu had no choice but to simply stand and submit.

Once the Labradors were satisfied with their greeting, they allowed the Shih-Tzu to sniff and greet them too. Which was quite funny to watch, as he was so tiny compared to them. But the Labradors were patient and tolerant, and once the Shih-Tzu had satisfied himself, the younger Labrador did a play bow towards the Shih-Tzu. The little dog responded in kind, and then all three dogs took off in a madcap game of chase. The little Shih-Tzu got bowled over by the bigger dogs a couple of times, but he managed to keep up. One of the Labradors even let him pin it down and stand on top of it, before rolling back onto its feet and dislodging the Shih-Tzu.

By this time, the Shih-Tzu’s owner had caught up with the Labradors’ owners, and they were enquiring if she needed first aid for her hand. I think she was alright, it may have been just a rope burn or even just the shock of having the lead slip out of her grasp. At any rate, all three humans seemed very relieved that their dogs were able to play together instead of fighting.


Love Locked

At the Dogs’ Refuge Home where I volunteer, they’ve set up a novel idea for celebrating people’s love for their dogs. It’s called “The Trellis of Love”.


For AU$25, you get your name and your dog’s name placed into a padlock, which is then placed onto the trellis for evermore. You also receive a paper certificate to commemorate the event. It’s such a romantic notion, like that evinced by the (many) Bridges of Love in Paris. (The trend seems to have caught on and spread to other countries around the world – read this Wikipedia entry on “love locks“).


This year, I hope lots of people visit the Refuge to adopt a new furever friend for themselves, or a playmate for their existing dog. I hope to see that Trellis of Love filling up soon with lots of love locks. After all, our dogs deserve all our love, as unconditional as the love they give us every day of their lives.

Love is not just for Valentine’s Day, it’s for Always and Forever. Dogs will give us just that, day in, day out, without a complaint or bouts of anger, and certainly without a battle of egos. The same can hardly be said of us human beings, we who profess to be the “superior race”. Give me the love of a dog any day.

Dog Observations: Memphis (Part 3)

In this final part of my Observations, I write about how Memphis’s behaviour changed from when I first met him, until the day he got adopted from the Dogs’ Refuge Home:

Over the space of the 10 sessions I enjoyed playing with Memphis, I observed how his behaviour changed. He went from being a fearful dog, with fear-aggression issues, to a beautifully affectionate dog, displaying high levels of intelligence. He stopped being startled, barking and growling at everything and everyone. His body language improved drastically – he went from skulking around or cowering in a corner, to bounding around excitedly whenever I approached his kennel door. He never once tried to slip out of his enclosure past me. Instead, he would politely stand away from the door, tail wagging enthusiastically, eyes big and hopeful. When I entered his run, he would immediately nose around me to find out what treats or toys I had for him. Once I accidentally left the zip on my treats pouch open, and Memphis promptly “robbed” me blind of treats. I noticed that when confronted with the choice of squeaky toy or treats, Memphis always chose the squeaky toy first.

Memphis also stopped barking at strangers standing outside his run. In fact, he was often so enamoured with his squeaky games of fetch that he was often able to completely ignore everything that was happening around him. I taught him how to Sit, Give Paw, Lie Down, Roll Over and Wait, but I suspect he already knew those tricks and our play sessions only served as practice reminders. Again, when there was a squeaky toy at hand, he would often ignore cues to perform those parlour tricks, preferring to “kill” the squeak first, and only then would he turn his attention to trick or treat. He certainly knew how to prioritise!

You may remember earlier I mentioned Memphis “eyeballing” and giving the “whale eye”. I attended a Training session on dog body language and micro expressions at the Refuge, and the Trainer had used Memphis as an example. However, the more time I spent with Memphis, the more I’m convinced that his “eyeballing” and “whale eye” is actually part of his physiognomy…his eye sockets are just built that way, so that no matter what he was looking at, or what his mood, the whites of his eyes would always show, making him look soulful.

One incident with Memphis will remain forever etched in my mind. It was the day he was adopted. That morning, when I went to see him, he didn’t want to play fetch like he normally did. Instead, he seemed very content to just lie down on his bed with his head in my lap, and let me rub his tummy. He would glance up now and then and lick my face. I believed his doggy senses may have picked up something was afoot, and he just wanted cuddles to make the most of what time we had left together.

I missed seeing Memphis leaving the Refuge with his new furever family. But they have shared photos of his new life with them on the Refuge’s Facebook page. Memphis is very much loved by his new family. He goes to the dog beach, he loves the park, he’s made many new friends. His new “dad” even has Memphis’ name tattooed on his arm. He looks happy and well-adjusted, a far cry from the frightened dog not so many months ago.

I just wonder if they’ve discovered what he’s like with a squeaky toy. 


Dog Observations: Memphis (Part 2)

Here, in Part 2 of 3 of my observations on a Refuge dog, as part of my coursework for the ISCP Diploma in Canine Psychology, I describe how I first made my acquaintance with Memphis. Part 3 tomorrow concludes my observations.


When Memphis first arrived at the Refuge, I remember he was kept tucked away in a quieter part of the compound, where there was less human traffic. Even so, whenever I walked past his run, he would growl and bark at me. I noticed that he would always give me the whale eye. In the beginning, I knew nothing about Memphis’ history, but I could see that it was fear-aggression that was driving him to behave the way he was.

About a month after he first arrived, Memphis was transferred to the main Kennel compound, otherwise known as “General Population”, or “On The Floor”. This meant that he was in a prominent position for potential adopters to view him, and that his chances of being adopted were vastly improved.

It was about this time that I asked for permission to spend time with Memphis in his enclosure, as a Canine Carer. This permission was given informally, as it was generally felt that Memphis was not quite ready for human contact. He was still growling, barking and eyeballing visitors who stood outside his run.

I spent 2 days observing Memphis from outside his run. He would come up to the fence willingly, even wagging his tail, and he would take one or two treats out of my hands. And then, just as suddenly, his behaviour would change and he would back away, growling and barking at me. I continued with giving Memphis treats through the fence, and progressed until he would allow me to stroke his side and pat his head.

Then, I plucked up my courage and entered Memphis’ enclosure, from the inside. It was a big step for me, as there was a chance he would become aggressive towards me. To prepare for this, I had treats and a squeaky toy ready, as I’d been told he loved squeaky toys and playing fetch. I also had a tug toy ready, in case he liked to play tug too. Memphis greeted me in a friendly manner, took a treat from my hand, and got really excited at the sight of the squeaky toy. I sat down on his bed, and he willingly came up to me for a cuddle and pats. I threw the squeaky toy for him to fetch. He flew down the run after it, shook it in his mouth like a rat, brought it back to me and dropped it at my feet. Then he looked at me with anticipation, eyes bright and tongue lolling. I’d found his weakness.

I tried the tug toy as well, but Memphis clearly was a squeaky toy fiend. He could play fetch for hours if I had the time. His main objective, in all our sessions, was to “kill” the squeak out of the squeaky toy. His record was 30 seconds. I found myself digging through the donated toys buckets at the Refuge, trying to find a squeaky toy that would last more than one session with Memphis. Sadly, many perished along the way, until I discovered a Kong squeaky ball, where the squeak mechanism was buried in a less accessible place than the other cheaper toys. This red see-through ball lasted for many sessions, before it finally got “killed” by Memphis. He was such a fiend with the squeaks that sometimes he went through 2 or even 3 toys in a session. He seemed not to care that his enclosure run was relatively short, and he often had me cracking up with laughter when he ran into the end of his run, couldn’t stop in time, and ended up with his face squashed against the fence.

I tested Memphis out on squeaky plush toys too, to see if it was a combination of squeak and fetch that motivated him. Or whether it was just the squeak that stimulated him so much. One such toy, a large plush bunny with a squeak in its tummy and head, met its untimely demise within 1 minute of meeting Memphis. He disemboweled the poor thing and dug out its squeaks, scattering polyester filling all over his run. Once he’d bitten through the squeak mechanisms and silenced them forever, he declared himself sated, and came over for a cuddle and a scratch.


Dog Observations: Memphis (Part 1)

(The following is a 3-parter, about my observations of a Refuge dog. This is part of my current coursework for the ISCP Diploma in Canine Psychology. I have taken out any information of a sensitive nature, for confidential reasons).

For this assignment, I’m using the example of Memphis, a dog from the Refuge where I volunteer. Memphis was adopted in November 2015, so this account is retrospective. At the Refuge, I’m a Dog Walker as well as a Canine Carer, however, at the time I got to know and work with Memphis, I had not been inducted as a Dog Walker yet, so my experience with him is based solely on what I observed as a Canine Carer.

I’ve taken and modified the ISCP’s Case History template, to better answer this question:

Date of sessions : September – November 2015

Number of sessions in total : 10

Name of the dog : Memphis

Breed : Rhodesian Ridgeback Cross

Age : 2

Gender : Male
Is the dog neutered/spayed? : Desexed

Length of time owned, or in rescue kennels : 3 months at the Refuge

Who is the main carer for the dog? : Kennel hands are the main carers. Volunteer Canine Carers are allowed to enter the kennel and and interact with the dog.

Are there any other animals living in the environment, or visiting regularly? If so, how does the dog respond/react to them? : Memphis’ kennel run is part of a larger building, consisting of 20 runs, 10 on each side connected by an inside corridor. Access by Staff and Volunteers is via the inside corridor. Visitors are able to view the dogs from the outside of the runs, on both sides of the building. At the time of these sessions with Memphis, the only dog in close proximity to him was Otto, a young mixed breed dog. Memphis and Otto could see and touch each other’s noses, if they stood on their hind legs and reached through the chain-link wire fence between their runs. In all my sessions with both Memphis and Otto, neither ever showed any aggression towards the other. Although, I did observe that when I was with Memphis, Otto would often jump up and down clamouring for my attention, sometimes vocalising; and when I was with Otto, Memphis would do likewise.

Amount of daily exercise, and where this occurs : All dogs at the Refuge get taken out for a walk and/or yard time every day. Depending on the number of volunteer Dog Walkers, sometimes the dogs could go out up to 3 times a day. Each walking session or yard time is between 30-45 minutes duration. If the weather is too warm, and temperatures reach 35 degrees or more, dogs are not to be walked, but can have extra time playing in the yard. The Refuge has a dozen yards, of varying sizes – some are modified for fence jumpers, some are smaller for small dogs, there’s also one large yard with agility obstacles such as ramps, weaving poles and hurdles.


My Lenormand Dogs

Last year, I created 17 decks of Lenormand divination cards, using only my trusty old workhorse, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, and photo editing Apps. I had great fun creating these decks, which are available for sale through my eBay and Etsy stores. Just search for my username “AlyZen Moonshadow” and you’ll find me.

These decks are still selling quite well, not enough to sustain me or pay the bills, but enough so that I get pin money to buy things like books. Anyway, I never got into this Art thing to make money, but rather to challenge myself.

For those of you wondering what “Lenormand” divination cards are, (and yes, I’m VERY eclectic in my interests 😄), here are some links:

And some good books on the subject, if this has piqued your interest:

Today I thought, seeing as I love dogs so much, I would share with you some of my Lenormand dogs.(I’ve put down the names of the deck the card belongs to, below each image, in the event you may wish to purchase a Lenormand deck for yourself).

(The Moonshadow Lenormand by AlyZen Moonshadow. The model is my own dog, Shelagh)

(The Modern Lenormand by AlyZen Moonshadow)

(AlyZen’s Lenormand by AlyZen Moonshadow)

(Diana+ Lenormand by AlyZen Moonshadow)

(Geometrical Lenormand by AlyZen Moonshadow)

(Olde Worlde Lenormand by AlyZen Moonshadow)

(The Eclectic Lenormand by AlyZen Moonshadow)

(The Mongrel Lenormand by AlyZen Moonshadow. Shelagh, my own dog features again)

(The Pictorial Lenormand by AlyZen Moonshadow. This deck simply has images, not the numbers or words associated with the cards)

(Lenormand Plain And Simple by AlyZen Moonshadow)

The Primary Emotional Needs of Dogs (ISCP Diploma in Canine Psychology)

Describe the dog’s primary emotional needs.

Why do dogs need mental stimulation?

(These were two separate questions in the same Unit. I have combined my answers, because I believe they are linked and relevant to each other – A.L)

Dogs have relatively simple emotional needs. If his physical needs are met – food, shelter, exercise/play and human/animal company – he’s happy. If he’s made to feel wanted, loved, included in his human family’s daily life, a useful member of his family – he’s happy. If someone praises him, talks to him affectionately, gives him pats and cuddles and treats – he’s happy. If he has a place to call his own, be it a blanket in a corner, a crate, a dog bed, a cardboard box, as long as he feels safe and secure and not threatened – he’s happy. Take a dog out for a walk in the park, take him to the beach, let him play off the lead with other dogs at a dog beach, take him to the yard and throw a few balls for him to fetch, give him the opportunity to sniff and sample the heady scents of a hedgerow or shrub, tree or lamp-post – he’s beyond happy. Dogs thrive on routine, encouragement and reward. Teach him a trick and when he’s learnt it, reward him with a treat – he’s happy.

Some dog breeds such as working dog breeds, need mental stimulation to avoid negative behaviours born of boredom. Breeds such as border collies, Australian shepherds and kelpies need to be given a task or mission, to keep them occupied. This is why they don’t do as well living in a city apartment, as when they have a 100 acre farmstead to run around in, and sheep or cows to herd. Dogs faced with hours of loneliness and boredom can express their discomfort by excessive vocalization, howling, chewing the furniture, digging holes, or the opposite extreme by becoming depressed and uninterested in anything.

Mental stimulation toys, or enrichment toys, for dogs abound in this day and age. The ubiquitous Kong, with its robust rubber chewiness, is a great favourite. Many Kong models can be stuffed with all sorts of treats, even frozen to provide respite from hot days. More and more companies are coming out with better and better enrichment toys, such as puzzles that make the dog use their brains to figure out how to get to the treat within. There are even dog mazes and slow feeders where the dog has to move the object with his tongue or nose, to release it so he can then eat it. There’s even a toy shaped like a flying saucer, that works using centrifugal force – the dog has to spin or shake the toy to make the treats inside fly out the sides.

I read of a Kickstarter project called the Foobler that claims to work on a timer that releases food periodically, up to 9 hours, or the average time a working person is away from home. And here too: While this looks like a great idea – a self-feeder that also acts as an enrichment toy, that keeps a dog occupied for hours – I can’t help but think that it’s more of a lazy dog owner’s substitute childminder, an excuse for the owner to justify leaving their dog alone at home for longer and longer hours. There simply is no substitute for human companionship and contact, in a dog’s mind.

All these toys are well and good for dogs whose owners are out at work for much of the day, but nothing compares to the joy a dog feels when his owner returns home and spends time playing, training, walking and rewarding him.


What is the “Left Gaze Bias”?

The following is part of my coursework assessment from my ongoing ISCP Diploma in Canine Psychology.

Canine Psychology is very intriguing and I would encourage anyone who loves dogs to perhaps consider learning more about it. You’ll begin to understand and appreciate your own dogs better, and they’ll love you all the more for it. The field is very dynamic and fluid, with scientific developments being discovered all the time…okay, it may not be cutting-edge surgical medicine, but it’s still cutting-edge science.

I highly recommend the ISCP’s Diploma Course, which qualifies graduates to call themselves Canine Behaviourists. The ISCP advocates only positive reinforcement techniques. If you can’t commit to the Diploma Course, the ISCP offers stepped courses leading up to it, so you could start with the basics and work your way up to the Diploma. Lisa Tenzin-Dolma, the multi-talented and inspirational founder and Director of the ISCP, is just lovely and very supportive. ❤

Here’s the assessment question, followed by my answer:
What is the left gaze bias, and why do dogs use this?

In human beings, the expression of emotions, coming from the left side of the brain, is displayed first on the right side of our faces. We tend to look towards the right side of someone’s face first, to gauge their mood or emotions. We detect clues subconsciously from someone’s right side of the face, to tell whether they’re happy, sad, angry, etc. This is called the “Left gaze bias”, because, from our viewpoint, we are looking towards the left. The left gaze bias only applies when we are looking at another human being’s face, it does not apply when looking at inanimate objects or animals.

Dogs have somehow learnt to gauge a human being’s emotions by utilising the very same technique of left gaze bias. They only do it to humans, and not to other dogs. When a person goes up to a dog, the dog will first scan the right side of that person’s face, to see if the person is friendly, happy or means to do them harm. Dogs are one up on human beings in that, unlike humans, they do not lose the left gaze bias when shown an upside down face, or photos where the left and right sides of the face have been flipped over.

Dogs are the only animals other than human beings, that practice left gaze bias. This ability has not only made dogs one step ahead of humans in gauging body language and intention simply by looking at the person’s face, it has allowed them to adjust their own behaviour and actions in a split second, to either support a person who’s feeling sad (by placing their paw on the person’s hand or licking their face), or react to a person who intends to harm them (by either fleeing, or becoming defensive aggressive). That’s why when you come home to find your sofa torn to shreds by your dog, the dog can tell just by looking at your face whether you’re going to be upset and yell at him, in which case he’ll try to slink away unnoticed, or if you’re going see the funny side of it, in which case he’ll come bounding to you for pats and cuddles just like he normally does.



The image illustration above was taken from this site below, which also has an interesting video link testing out whether you’re right brained or left-brained:

Incidentally, I’m equally right AND left brained. 😄

The Love Hormone

What is the bonding hormone? Why is it important? (The following is from my coursework for the ISCP Diploma in Canine Psychology course I’m currently doing):

(Image source: Google Images search under keyword Oxytocin)

The bonding hormone is called OXYTOXIN. It is also called the “Cuddle Hormone” or the “Love Hormone”. (This is the same hormone that is released from eating chocolate, which is why some say “Chocolate is better than sex”!)

Perhaps the reason why dogs became and remain to this day humankind’s best friend is because they have inadvertently tapped into the secret of releasing Oxytoxin in both their humans and themselves. Research has proven that when dogs and their owners stare into each other’s eyes, just like when two lovers gaze at each other, the hormone is released in both human and dog. This hormone acts to strengthen the bond between human and dog. Stroking the dog increases the levels of oxytocin in both human and dog. Oxytocin also lowers the heart rate and blood pressure, calms both humans and dogs, and reduces stress levels. It makes both humans and dogs feel good. The therapeutic effect dogs and other animals have on humans has been proven, that is why many hospitals and hospices engage the services of therapy dogs (and other animals such as cats, rabbits and even chickens) to make their patients feel better and perhaps even recuperate or recover faster from their ailments or surgery.

The stronger the bond, the more likely the human is to protect the animal from harm, because the human now has a vested interest in the animal. Put simply, Oxytocin is what causes humans to love their dogs, and dogs to love their owners. The ability of humans and dogs to bond works in favour of both species – humans get the companionship, protection and assistance of their four-legged friends, while the continued existence and survival of dogs is almost guaranteed by staying close to humans.

Oxytocin is what makes us treat our dogs like family members rather than just household pets. The bond can be so strong that when a dog dies, it’s almost as if your daughter or son has died.

Dogs and Emotions (ISCP Diploma in Canine Psychology Coursework)

What emotions have you noticed in dogs you have known? How did the dogs express those emotions?


When I open the door to the living room in the morning (the dogs sleep there), Shelagh my pit bull greets me with an enthusiastic full-body wag. She approaches me sideways in a simpering manner, head curving down to one side, eyes looking at me coyly, body swaying in time with her tail. When she gets to my feet she throws herself down and exposes her belly, eager for a tummy rub. Her mouth is open, tongue lolling, the area around her eyes are crinkled. I would say Shelagh is HAPPY to see me, and maybe she’s even laughing with JOY.

Scruffy, my little lotsabitsa, shows his HAPPINESS at seeing me in the morning in his own way. He’s half the size of Shelagh, so he decides the best way to get my attention is to jump up and down on his hind legs, staying out of Shelagh’s way, while smiling with his gently open and relaxed face, tongue hanging out. Later, out in the garden, after he’s done his business, Scruffy expresses his HAPPINESS by doing crazy zoomies, darting past me here and there, feigning to the left, then to the right. At breakfast time, he does a HAPPY dance by prancing around in circles.

When Shelagh is feeling UNCERTAIN, I notice she has a way of rolling her eyes in my direction, showing some white, and the underside of her eyes crinkle up. Sometimes her brow furrows at the same time, as if she’s trying to ask me a question, or is seeking reassurance. If she’s AFRAID, her tail drops right down and curves underneath her body. When she slowly regains her confidence, her tail comes back up again. When Shelagh was a puppy, she used to be quite FEARFUL whenever she’d piddled on the floor instead of on the newspapers I put down, and sometimes she’d even pee herself if I so much as raised my voice at her.

When Scruffy is UNCERTAIN or AFRAID, he tends to run away with his tail between his legs, and hide under the car. His ears will be flattened back against his head, and if I try to coax him out from under the car, he may thump his tail on the floor and “smile” at me almost apologetically, but he will refuse to come out and may even crawl deeper underneath the car away from me.

When Scruffy is AFRAID, he skulks close to the ground, tail under him. If he thinks I’m about to punish him when I bring my hand close to his face, he sometimes bares his teeth at me, but only for a second, before turning his face away and “apologising” by swishing his tail on the floor and rolling over onto his side submissively.

When both dogs are RELAXED, Shelagh’s ears are laid back. Scruffy is more highly strung, and has a more nervous nature, but when he’s RELAXED he tends to roll over and sleep with his legs in the air. Shelagh loves her afternoon naps in my bed with me, and shows her CONTENTMENT by curling round and plonking her head against my side, and sometimes rolling over to expose her tummy, begging for a rub. If I make a fuss of her by stroking her face, ears and tummy, and then stop, she asks for more by bumping my side with her head and turning her head round to lick my hand.

When Shelagh senses it’s time for her walk, she starts whining EXCITEDLY. She has a funny kind of whining routine, it sounds more like a yelp-whine, with whole volleys of very verbal and loud “Wowowowow”s interspersed with whines. In the car, on the way to the beach, perhaps, Shelagh will keep up this continuous yelp-whine. On the way home, now that her need has been SATISFIED, she’s surprisingly quiet. I first observed Shelagh’s strange yelp-whine routine when we were in our backyard swimming pool, and she would often do this when she’s decided not to jump in to fetch her ball, and it’s sunk to the bottom of the pool (it’s more like a leather sack with several large holes in it, than a proper ball now). Perhaps whining is for EXCITEMENT, and yelp-whining is for EXCITED FRUSTRATION?

For many months I have been observing Otto, one of my favourite dogs at the Refuge where I volunteer. Otto has a thing for certain men, he’s quite happy to play nice with some when they stand outside his enclosure, but with others he launches himself into a FURY of non-stop barking, until they go away. The sight of Otto leaping high into the air, literally bouncing off the walls and ceiling of his enclosure, barking his head off at a person, is one to behold. At some stage in his social development Otto may have been abused, FRIGHTENED or THREATENED by a man, so much so that whenever he sees a male visitor outside his enclosure, he decides in a split second whether to completely ignore the person, be his usual happy self, or go all out kamikaze batshit crazy.

And yet, even after such an outburst, I’ve always found it possible to distract Otto and calm him down by simply tempting him away from the source of his DISCONTENTMENT by using treats. On several occasions, I believe I was able to get Otto to feel COMFORTABLE and RELAXED, by soothing him with TTouch strokes, to the extent that even when visitors appeared outside his enclosure, Otto was HAPPY enough to let them pass by without batting an eyelid, literally.

Otto always welcomes me into his enclosure right at the door, by standing on his hind legs and nuzzling my hand with his head. He expresses his HAPPINESS by running to get his favourite toy while I open the door and let myself in. Sometimes Otto gets EXCITED when we’re playing and I’ve hidden his toy behind me, and he will bark at me. Not aggressively, but rather in a PLAYFUL “Hand it over already, woman!” way. He will do the same if I’ve gotten him to sit but am withholding his treat.

Django, another of my favourite dogs at the Refuge, also welcomes me at his door by nuzzling my hand with his head, or offering his head up for a scratch. When I’ve entered the enclosure, Django expresses his AFFECTION and LOVE for me by rubbing his entire body sideways against my legs, rather like a sinuous feline. He also loves to curl up by my side as I sit on his trampoline bed, and he’ll place his head in my lap, rather like my own dog Shelagh at home. I’ve tried TTouch strokes on Django and even managed to make him fall asleep for 10 minutes, he got that COMFORTABLE.

When I approach Django from outside his enclosure, through the fence, he often displays an APOLOGETIC manner, ducking his head down and coming towards me sideways, presenting his body for patting. He looks almost SORRY for himself. Again, I’m reminded of my own Shelagh when she thinks I’m about to scold her. Some kind words, strokes and treats soon puts him right again.

Justin is one of the Refuge’s dogs currently recuperating from a cruciate ligament operation. As a volunteer Canine Carer there, I sit with him to keep him company, and to make sure he doesn’t go off his head with BOREDOM. Justin is a Kelpie, an Australian working/herding breed known for their intelligence and active lifestyle, rather like Border Collies. Poor Justin was so bored cooped up in his cage by himself that one day, when I put the lead on him and took him out to the Puppy Yard next door so he could stretch his legs, relieve himself and have a little play, he thought I was taking him for a long walk. When he realised he was just going to the Puppy Yard, he took his FRUSTRATION out on my lead, by pulling it between his teeth and tugging on it and shaking it repeatedly. I settled him with some treats and an enrichment toy, and he was GRATEFUL enough for the distraction to bump and nuzzle me, at one point he even crawled onto my lap for a cuddle. When he sensed that it was time to go back into his cage, Justin expressed his FRUSTRATION again, this time by mouthing my elbow with his teeth.

From what I’ve experienced, dogs always smile with a panting face. Sometimes they just pant from exertion or the heat, but whenever a panting face is accompanied by wagging tails, prancing around and generally exuberant body language, I know they are smiling.

Taco, a boarder at the Refuge, is a tiny little chihuahua with a big attitude. I went to walk him one day, and he was FEARFUL of my approach, as I was a stranger to him. He barked himself into a corner, then flashed his teeth at me. As I went closer to slip the lead over his head, he flinched and moved away, growling at me. I crouched down to get closer to him without intimidating him, but Taco danced nimbly away from me. Once again, he was defensive aggressive towards me, flashing his teeth and trying to nip my fingers. I finally managed to corner him. As I dangled the lead over him and he cowered in the corner, he suddenly decided not to flee or fight, instead he froze. Taco lay on his side completely still, trembling with his head facing me, and I was able to slip the lead over his head. Once he was on the lead, Taco’s character changed just as suddenly as he’d frozen. He jumped up, tail wagging upright, and almost pulled me out of the kennel in his EXCITEMENT to go for his walk. Once in the exercise yard, I was able to slip off his lead easily, and off he went exploring. However, when the time came to put the lead back on and bring Taco back to his kennel, it was a repeat performance of what we’d gone through previously.