Admit it – it’s fun watching our dogs because so often they are joyful. There is a big difference between watching our dogs and observing them. Let’s look at what it means to observe a dog.
Often when we look at dogs we see their love, joy and devotion. However, when we observe dogs we need to be to objective and consistent in what we see. If we are do this task well it can help us understand what our dog experiences as she faces each day.
Do you see what I see? It is easy to say that the dogs in this photo are happy and focused on the handler. But what does that tell us about each dog? It is more informative when we slow things down and take photos one frame at a time. You may find it helpful to know the dogs in the photos:
- Jade (black and white Portuguese Water Dog)
- Ryder (black Portuguese Water Dog)
- Galley (black Portuguese Water Dog – white socks on front paws )
- Rixa (gray Portuguese Water Dog) and
- Charlie (beagle – blind, no eyes) appears in later photos
Background: We were playing retrieving games in the yard. The dogs would return to Louise and she would toss the dummy for them. They would all come, sit, and look at Louise. Once they were focused on her she would throw the dummy and the dogs had to wait until they were released from the “wait” to get the dummy after it was thrown. Galley and Jade took off to play right after the photo above was taken which isn’t surprising since they are the youngest dogs in the group. Rixa and Ryder are waiting for Louise to give them their next cue. Meanwhile Charlie is exploring the yard. Rixa and Ryder were focused on Louise when “out of the blue” Rixa lost her focus. The photos make it clear why this happened. When Rixa lost her focus it happened very quickly and it didn’t seem like a big deal. Looking at the photos it is obvious that there was a reason for Rixa to be distracted.
It is helpful to know:
- Ryder is very stoic and when given a cue he does it and doesn’t usually move from that position
- Rixa is older and deaf.
- Jade: head up, ears alert, eyes round and focused on Louise (handler), mouth open panting, tongue straight out, sitting straight, tail not visible in photo
- Ryder: head up, ears alert, eyes round and focused on Louise (handler), mouth closed, tongue inside, sitting straight,tail straight behind;
- Galley: head up, ears alert, eyes round and focused on Louise (handler), mouth open panting, tongue out to her left, sitting straight, tail straight behind;
- Rixa: head up, ears alert, eyes round and focused on Louise (handler), mouth closed, tongue inside,sitting straight, tail not visible in photo
Galley and Jade have run off to play. Charlie is wandering around and is coming toward Ryder and Rixa. At this point both Rixa and Ryder are still focused on Louise, but notice that Charlie is aware of the two dogs and his body language indicates he is concerned.
- Rixa and Ryder are focused on Louise
- Charlie is about 6 feet away
- Charlie furrowed brow, ears are soft/floppy, mouth is panting – open with tongue out; body position is a cower (neck and back are level); tail down but not tucked.
As Charlie approaches Rixa moves her head away from Louise and toward Charlie. Ryder has not moved.
- Charlie is about 4 feet away
- Rixa moves her head to her left – the direction Charlie is approaching
- Ryder does not move
- Charlie, he is panting and has a furrowed brow. His cower deepens – his head and neck are lower than his back (previous picture they were level with his back), his tail appears to be tucked.
- Charlie is almost behind Ryder.
- Ryder moves his head to his left (the direction that Charlie approached)
- Rixa moves her head to her left and down (toward Charlie) while extending her neck toward Charlie.
- Charlie is panting, has a furrowed brow, is quite close to Ryder, and is in a a cower (not as deep as the previous photo), his tail appears to be tucked (from the position of his rump and prior photos).
- Charlie is behind Ryder and is moving away – he is increasing the distance between himself and Ryder
- Ryder moves his head to his right and slightly down (following Charlie) while doing a tongue flick (his tongue goes in and out very quickly – a self-soothing behavior)
- Rixa moves her head to the left and up (toward Charlie) and extends her neck toward Charlie.
- Charlie has a furrowed brow, is quite close to Ryder and continues to cower. His tail appears to be tucked.
- Charlie is almost behind Ryder.
- Ryder moves his head to the left (following Charlie)
- Rixa moves her head to the left and down (toward Charlie) and extends her neck toward Charlie.
- Charlie is panting, has a furrowed brow, is quite close to Ry.der and is in a bit of a cower. Cowering: Charlie’s neck and back are level. his tail is tucked
- Charlie has passed Ryder.
- Ryder moves his head to the right slightly (following Charlie)
- Rixa moves her head to the right (toward Charlie) and tilts her head toward Charlie.
- Charlie is panting, has a furrowed brow, is quite close to Rixa. Charlie is not cowering at this point. His tail is low medium – at a 45 degree angle. This information indicates that while he is in the caution zone he is transitioning away from caution toward the green zone- Life’s Good (a happy place). My next post will be about the zones – first you need to understand how to read the body language before you can place the animal in a zone.
- Charlie is almost past Rixa.
- Ryder moves his head to the right (following Charlie)
- Rixa moves her head to the right and down (following Charlie).Did you notice that Charlie is panting, has a furrowed brow, is quite close to Rixa and is not cowering. Compare this photo of Charlie’s head, neck, back and rear to the others and you will see the difference in his body language. You may wonder why is there a difference. Often it is due to more distance between dogs.
- Charlie has walked out of the photo and away from Rixa and Ryder
- Rixa’s focus is back on Louise
- Ryder’s focus is back on Louise
Cower: Head and Neck are level with the back
Tongue Flick: tongue goes in and out very quickly
dog bite prevention
We may not always realize why our dog is distracted and is unable to paying attention to us. We may think that our dog should be giving us his or her undivided attention. When our dog is distracted there is often a logical explanation. Our job is to find the reason and help our dog do the job we want him to do. Oh – don’t forget to have fun in the process!
How do we keep track of all of this? It looks so easy when someone else does it so here are a couple of forms to help you get started. If you want to ask questions along the way feel free to post here or on my Facebook page.
A completed form for you to use as a guide when you fill observe your animals
A chart that explains the questions you need to consider when observing animals. You may not have the answers to each question, but you want to consider each question when you observe your animal.
A practice quide – there aren’t any “right” or “wrong” answers here… just take a few minutes and think about what you observe in the illustrations and which zone your might place the animal in for the scenario you created. You can create multiple scenarios – how does that effect the zone placement? It is fun to see how each scenario influences the zone.
A blank form for you to use with your own dogs or clients
Once you become proficient at observing animals you won’t need the reminders of Head, Body, Rear, etc.
hugs and woofs