Communication Signals in Dogs (Part 2)

The summary and conclusion of my essay assignment for the ISCP Diploma in Canine Psychology:

The signals I observed from this incident were:
1) dog alerting owner – when the bigger Labrador did the German Pointer impression, to alert its owners that there was something unusual approaching. The posture, especially the “pointing” with the raised paw, is a signal that humans have trained Pointer dogs to do. Pointing is not a trait confined to just Pointer dogs. Many other breeds have the ability to do the same.

2) curving away upon approach – the Staffy did this when it realised there were 2 strange dogs near its ball. The Labradors did this too when they were approaching the Staffy. Approaching in a large curve and showing the sides of the body, instead of facing head on, is a calming signal used by dogs to indicate they mean no harm and have friendly intentions.

3) slowing down – the Staffy slowed almost to a stop once it realised there were 2 strange dogs ahead of it. If it had continued running towards its ball, the Labradors may have mistaken his body language for an aggressive one, of an attack. The Staffy also did not start running immediately after it had recovered its ball; instead, if started off by walking slowly, almost nonchalantly, towards its owner. It only started running again after a distance it considered to be safe.

4) looking from one place to another and back again – both Labradors exhibited this body language when their owners called to them. They looked from the owner back to their target, the Staffy, and to the owner again. It’s almost like how a human would look left, right, and left again before crossing a busy road. At this stage, both Labradors were still in their owner’s control, looking for the signal to “Go!”. (My Shelagh does this at our swimming pool, sometimes, when she’s about to jump in after her ball. It’s quite funny to watch).

5) shifting weight from foot to foot, whining – a sign of barely bridled excitement. The younger Labrador was ready to take off at a second’s notice, it was literally dancing with anticipation, just waiting for the word “Go!”.

6) lunging and pulling at the lead – the Staffy and the Shih-Tzu both did this when they got excited. The Staffy’s lead was by then so short it was almost off its front legs. The Shih-Tzu wanted to join in the play. Lunging and pulling is commonly accompanied by excited whining or even yelping. The more the dogs’ owners pulled or shortened the lead, the more frustrated the dogs became, and the more excited and vocal.

7) Sniff-n-Greet – a very important part of doggy introductions. Each dog takes its turn sniffing first the tail end of a strange dog, and then the front end. The tail end contains the anal glands, and traces of urine, which contains a lot of information about a dog, including its emotional state and whether it’s in heat. Sometimes dogs lick each other’s faces too, as calming signals. Puppies lick their mother’s faces to seek their attention and for food. Licking faces can be a form of appeasement.

8) play bow – when a dog is satisfied that it’s made friends with other dogs, it may invite them to play by performing a play bow. This is where the dog goes down on its front legs, with its bum in the air and tail wagging. A playful dog will reciprocate the signal, before play commences. Usually followed by crazy games of chase or zoomies.

9) playful submission – the big Labrador allowed the little Shih-Tzu to “win”, by playfully submitting to it, lying down and exposing its belly to the little dog. This is a calming signal used by dogs to show their good intentions.

10) calling the dog’s name, rattling the leads and chains – this is a human signal, meant to recall the dog to its owner, and to distract the dog’s attention away from something, and is not always effective with dogs. A dog can only take so much stimulus, and contain itself, before its basic animal instincts win. Dogs can pick up on tension in the voices of humans, and if a human is calling its name and sounding angry or upset, the dog feels no impulse to go towards that stimulus but rather away from it.


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