More Canine Social Behavior

     Last updated June 2016

     I wanted to continue with the pictures and comments as I've had a lot of positive feed back on the subject.   Like on the previous page, the dogs are ones I know (either belonging to me or regular visitors) so I know their age, status and personalities. It gives more insight into the interactions and the contexts in which they occurred. 




  This is a fun one.   It is a behavior I see often in a pack of dogs who are familiar with each other. One will start to do something, such as chew, and the others join in. I think it's a bonding thing, something they do as a pack.  I've also seen my own dogs begin to do something I am doing.  An example would be if I am pruning bushes, they will come along and start chewing on branches too.  I've observed that numerous times over the years, with various dogs.  I think it is because their leader, me, is doing something and they join in as part of the pack.  In this picture, an adult male and female puppy are both chewing on sticks.



     Another fun one, showing three adult dogs sharing a stick. This is also a common pack behavior, sharing a stick or toy.  I think this type of behavior strengthens the bond between pack members. Along the same lines, us humans playing with our dogs does too, so make sure to have fun playing with your dog!



     This is a picture of two dogs greeting. It's very common for dogs to sniff each others' faces and backsides, to gather information about each other.  It is usually a peaceful behavior.  Once the dogs are satisfied, they may begin to play or they may separate and do their own thing.




    In this picture the male on the left is inviting the female on the right to play.  He's doing an exaggerated play bow where he throws his feet out to the sides, in the air, and races off in hopes she will chase him.  His face is showing playful intentions rather than a tense or dominant expression.  It's hard to see the female's face but from what you can see, she looks happy and ready to join in. Her mouth is open and the corners are relaxed.  She does have her paw raised, which could indicate some hesitance, but with the rest of her body language and her face, you can tell she's not too worried.  Right after the picture was taken she did join the male in a game of chase.



  Here is a picture of a female mounting a male.  While many people think this behavior just has to do with breeding, that is not true. It is more often seen in dominance interactions, even in "play".  I have seen females mount females, males mount males and females mount males. Whether or not a dog is spayed or neutered doesn't seem to matter as much as their rank in their pack or group of familiar dogs. The only time hormones come in to play is when dogs actually are preparing to breed.  In many cases when mounting occurs, nothing serious happens (such as a fight.)  While some people are upset or embarrassed by the behavior, I don't tend to worry about it when I see it in dogs that I know will get along.



    This is a classing "muzzle bite."  In this case it's inhibited, meaning the dog doing it isn't using any force. In fact, I saw the interaction leading up to it, and the dog on the right was actually almost shoving his muzzle into the other dog's mouth.  They are both males and are known to each other, with the one on the left being older and dominant over the one on the right.  Again, this isn't an example of dogs "being mean" but just asserting their positions.  And I often see young ones almost pestering older, dominant dogs who then dominate them. I think it reassures the younger dogs of their place in the pack. It's the opposite of the "alpha human" mentality who thinks that the alpha always runs around and beats up the pack mates, but more often the lower ranking members offer submission.  It keeps the pack cohesive and seems to build security in the lower ranking dogs.



    Here are two females engaging in classic dominance behavior.  The one on top is older and dominant, and is "standing over" and "staring" at the female below.  The female below is offering a submissive expression and is pulling a paw in, which is an appeasement gesture.  These two girls get along pretty well as they have an established hierarchy.  Two things to note here is the significant look the one on top is giving, and the softer look of the one on the bottom. The one on top has her tail straight up. If she was of a full tailed breed it would be easier to see but it still is not hard to notice if you look for it.  This is a case where if you know the dogs won't fight, it's best to let them work things out.  These two don't fight and have worked out their position pretty well.



  Here is an adult female "standing tall."  She is dominant over the one on the right.  Notice the one on the right sitting and almost trying to be "small".  This is one of the many ways dogs can communicate their status within a pack without fighting or even vocalizing.  Even new dogs that have recently met may display such behaviors.  Even though our dogs live with us as pets, they still have many expressions, postures and vocalizations to communicate and to prevent real fights and the damage that can occur. It's a well developed survival trait.  They will also use such behaviors with people, often hoping to appease what they perceive as an angry, dominant human.  If you see your dog doing this you may need to calm down and change your approach.



   This picture shows two dogs facing off. This is behavior often seen when new dogs meet, especially dogs of the same sex. They may walk slowly and stiffly around each other, locking eyes and maybe even growling.  This is behavior that may lead to a fight and should be taken more seriously. 

  In this case, the dogs were of opposite sexes, a male on the left and female on the right, and they were in the middle of a rowdy game.  They are friends and get along well, but the pose was a great example of the "stiff legged walk" and dominance display so I used the picture anyway.  If this scene had played out at a dog park between strange dogs, I would have definitely intervened.




   Here is a dog rolling on the ground, also known as "scent rolling."  Dogs will do this as a way to communicate with each other.  They may find an interesting smell and want to bring it back to their pack mates, including their owner.  Wolves do the same thing.  I am sure many owners have seen their dog roll in something stinky, and that is why. They just want to share that odor with you, and usually they don't find the smell unappealing at all!  I think that is also why freshly bathed dogs frantically roll. They smell the shampoo, or worse yet cologne applied by a groomer or owner, and their instinct is to roll.  I guess it doesn't matter they are already covered in the smell.  I am sure the strong colognes some people apply must seem overwhelming to a dog's more sensitive nose.

     I have also seen wolves and coyotes roll on a scent on the ground that was applied by a human (perfume, for example.)  I've also seen them try to roll on a person wearing strong smells, either shampoo, cologne, perfume or other smell. 


Image #11

 The dog on the right is using a calming signal know as a "head turn" in response to the stare of the dog on the far left. They are negotiating possession of the red ball. The older dog on the right had it but the younger one on the left wants to take over.  The younger dog on the left is also positioning her body over the ball to possess it.

     The one in the middle is somewhat neutral in this interaction. Her gaze is soft and unfocused, as if she's staring off in the distance.  Even that is noteworthy as it is a behavior a person being threatened by a dog can use. Looking off into the distance instead of staring at the dog can help diffuse aggression. Staring back at the dog will often escalate it.


Image #12

While it's not specifically mentioned in the writings of Turid Rugaas, I believe dogs will also "shake off" as a calming signal, or a sort of "time out."  In this picture the dogs has been chasing and wrestling in the snow, and the one on the right stopped to shake off.  It caused the one on the left to pause. I have also seen dogs do it at the end of an interaction, either as a signal the interaction is over, or maybe to calm themselves.



Image #13

   In this picture, the dog on the left had the rope toy and was enjoying it.  The dog on the right came over, laid down and decided she wanted the toy.   She made eye contact with the other dog, and put her paw on the toy.  This is one way dogs will "claim" something.  She also made the very quietest growl.  This went on for maybe a minute.  I was curious to see if she would be successful at claiming the toy or if the other, older dog would keep it.  In the end, a third dog walked over, picked up the toy and walked away with it, with no fuss at all.  I had to laugh, as all the young dog's work was for naught. 



Image #14

   In this picture the dog on the right is staring and approaching assertively, to claim the ball toy the dog on the left has.   There is no actual fighting, just body language used in this interaction. The dog on the left backed down and gave up the toy.  These dogs are friends but they still do have a hierarchy and respect for that.




Image #15

   Here two females get reacquainted. They have known each other since puppyhood and have visited often.  The one on the left is dominant over the one on the right, and with just a look was reasserting her position.  It is not hard to see the difference in their body language, going from standing tall and giving a stare, to crouching lower, putting ears back and averting gaze.




      Something else that I consider VERY important in raising balanced dogs is that puppies get plenty of time with adults that have stable temperaments.  At my house, my adult dogs are very appropriate with puppies and my puppies get many hours a day with them every day.  I am careful at first when puppies are young, that they don't get trampled when the big dogs play hard, but after that they are together almost all waking hours.  As you can see in the pictures below, the puppies instinctively submit to the adults and since my dogs have stable temperaments, they put up with the obnoxious puppies quite well.  The adult tri female is showing her teeth in a warning, but that is all the further she takes it. If they persist she may get up and move, but doesn't use a lot of force even with slightly older pups such as these.  The puppies get to practice submission and if they push TOO hard, the adult may give a quick correction. In the last of the three photos, one puppy is putting his muzzle in the mouth of his father.  That is a mix of submission and food begging behavior.  Going back to wolves, puppies lick and nibble the corners of the mouths of adults, to stimulate them to regurgitate food.  My Aussies seldom do this but I have had some of the northern breed dogs I have feed puppies this way, and have seen it happen countless times with wolves.   It's all normal and common canine behavior and it is instinctive in puppies.  

     I have occasionally gotten a puppy that didn't get enough or any time with other adult dogs and the difference in their social skills is quite easy to see.  Puppies raised with other dogs learn so much, but of course these must be dogs with the appropriate social skills themselves, or they may hurt the puppies. I also feel that by only breeding dogs who CAN be good with puppies, we increase the chance of producing puppies who can inherit the ability to develop good social skills.  It takes both to raise stable dogs, good genes and proper upbringing.



      In these photos above, you see normal and natural interactions between stable adult dogs and puppies that are around 3 months in age.  The adults are intact dogs, the black tri is the alpha female of the dog family, and the male is second ranking and sire to a couple of the pups.  I would never breed dogs who are not good with puppies as all parts of temperament are a mix of inherited and learned, and if their genetic temperament is not stable, they are not likely to produce puppies who can have stable temperaments. 

    In the top two photos, puppies submit to the adult female, and in the third photo down one is submitting and food begging from the male, and in the last photo the female shows what almost appears to be an expression of "the things I have to put up with!"  She doesn't harm or over correct the eager puppies, but gets up and moves away if they pester too much at this age. Later, a stable adult may start to correct older pushy puppies.  That doesn't mean causing harm, but mildly correcting and teaching the puppies some boundaries.



"How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!"

Psalm 133:1