Dogs talk to each other all the time. They tell each other, “I have had enough,” or “Go ahead and throttle me, I like it.” We humans don’t always know how to translate dog talk. Most often we have no idea what is going on. We think dogs are just being dogs and doing dog stuff. I have seen plenty of videos on social media of a pup doing something inappropriate and the reaction is “So cute!” or “How adorable!” Humans don’t always know what behaviors or signals are good or not so good. As I daily sit in dayCARE I am amazed at all the conversations going on at once.
I learned to interpret dog language over the course of having so many foster dogs. Each one is quite different. I would read about dog body language and it made sense, but it wasn’t until I watched my foster dogs and combined what I read with what I saw, did I really begin to understand the conversations. Move over Rosetta Stone! You’ve got nothing on foster dogs when it comes to dog language. If you want to learn more, I highly suggest becoming a foster.
Fast forward many years and now I look at my dayCARE dogs and enjoy all that they have to say to one another. I take for granted what I know about dog language. I will show a parent a video and narrate what is going on and I am surprised when the pup parent responds, “I would never have known all that had you not told me. It looks like just a cute video of my dog.” Oh, quite the opposite! It is cute, for sure, but so much more is happening. One video can be rich with information and a whole conversation!
Recently, I took in a board and train puppy named Maggie Mae. She is a delightful mix of Great Pyrenees, Golden Retriever, Pitbull, Australian Cattle Dog, and St. Bernard. Oh yes, she is a mutt, mutt, delightful mutt.
Maggie is about 12 weeks old and at this age, it is critically important she socialize with other dogs. I tell humans this all the time, but it often seems to fall on deaf ears. Veterinarians also tell owners to keep their puppies indoors and isolated from other dogs until fully vaccinated. I could not disagree more. Of course, it is important to keep your puppy safe, but you can do that with a very low risk of your puppy getting the feared Parvo.
Socializing your puppy and how to do it appropriately could be a whole blog post on its own. So let me get on with this blog post by saying, Maggie Mae will be socialized while staying with me. She will be around healthy dogs, both physically and socially. She will be included in my dayCARE.
On one particular day, Maggie Mae met a friend, Frances.
Frances enjoys a good romp and adjusts her play style depending on who she is playing with. Frances knows she is playing with a puppy and I trust her completely. Frances has also taken on the role model position, as well as, babysitter. She has a lot to teach Maggie as Frances is a cattle dog too. In the video I have included you will see one behavior that is very specific to any cattle dog-- crouching or stalking.
A stalking stance can mean lots of different things. Bird dogs crouch to flush out birds, dogs with ill intent will crouch so they go unnoticed by prey. Stalking or crouching in play is a fun behavior and has no ill intent. Dogs who are not “stalkers,” those who do not engage in this stance, may not recognize this as a play behavior unless it is taught. This is something I, as a human, can NOT teach a dog. This has to be taught from one dog to another.
Adult dogs can be great teachers to puppies. They can teach the puppy lots of things about dog behavior that I can not. All I can do is set up a safe environment and step away to let the teaching happen. This is exactly what I did for Frances and Maggie. I was just so happy I got it on video! You can actually see teaching as it happens!
Before you watch it, let me tell you what is happening.
Frances and Maggie had been having a wrestle session for about a half hour. They started running and split up but turned and faced one another. Frances took this as an opportunity to stalk Maggie. Notice, Frances gets down in the crouched position. Then notice Maggie, who is standing there with her tail down, posture slumped, and ears down, not knowing what is about to happen. Maggie does not know if Frances is still playing or if she is in trouble. Maggie stays still, not knowing what to do. She has not seen another dog assume this position. Keep in mind, I know Frances is just being silly, which is why I am simply videotaping and not stepping in to referee.
Notice neither Frances nor Maggie move. Frances is waiting for Maggie to break and run towards her so they can wrestle and chase again. Maggie is wondering if they are still on good terms. She is seeing Frances’ crouch as a confrontational behavior. Maggie is trying to let Frances know she means no disrespect and diverts her eyesight to the left and then to the right. Really pay attention to the video and you will see Maggie look left and right. Breaking eye contact is a way to let the other dog know you mean no harm. Dogs who stare at one another will usually bark, lunge and/or growl seconds after and do not usually have play in mind. Maggie is doing her best and using what she knows thus far to defuse the situation.
Frances quickly realizes, Maggie is confused and doesn’t know she is joking around. Frances comes towards Maggie, tail wagging, on her tiptoes, and lowers her head. These are all friendly signals. She is trying to restore Maggie’s trust. She then nudges Maggie playfully and turns her back towards Maggie to run off. These are also two great signals that everything is fine and we are just having fun. Maggie then realizes everything is ok and runs after Francis. They get back to wrestling, but then the situation repeats itself. Only THIS time, Maggie knows if Frances lowers her body, it’s all in good fun.
Maggie learned SO MUCH in this play session. She learned things I could have never, ever taught her. I needed Frances’ help. Maggie learned that if a dog does this stalking behavior, it’s all in good fun! Of course, Maggie will know it’s not if the other dog is giving signals, but in an environment such as this, Maggie knows there is nothing to be afraid of. It’s just one dog’s playstyle. Learning about different playstyles will help Maggie be well-adjusted and well-rounded. She is learning how lots of dogs play.
I can teach a dog many things, but I can not teach a dog to……dog. Thank you Frances for your help in making Maggie the bestest dog for her papa!
Watch the video in real time and see if you can spot all the goodness and learning that happens in Frances’ and Maggie’s interactions.