Thursday, June 2, 2011

Sarah Kalnajs Seminar: Distance-Increasing Signals

As the category name implies, these are things a dog does to say that he wants the other dog (or person) to back off and increase the amount of distance between them. A dog might also do these to request that the other individual move away from his “stuff” (such as his toys, food, people, or place). These signals can (and do) occur at the same time as other stress signals.

Sarah said that the specific signals used often indicates aspects of the dog's personality. For example, a more confident dog would use a bigger or more “invasive” signal, while a less confident dog would use a smaller, more passive behavior. Regardless of how the dog asks for increased space, Sarah said that there is always some hostility present when a dog uses one of these signals. If there wasn't, the dog would use an appeasement gesture instead.

As always, if you have photos or videos that fit one of these categories, and you're willing to let me post them in this entry, please send them on over. My email address is under the contact tab above.

Marking Territory
If a dog marks territory during a social encounter, it's probably because he wants some distance.

Maisy has only recently started to do this, and it's quite interesting. While on walks, if another dog begins barking at her, she will very deliberately pee on the closest thing to that dog (typically the fence that dog is behind). However, she sometimes does the foot scraping style of marking- or at least, I assume that's what's going on in this video:

Ears and Body Weight Forward
When the dog is leaning forward, Sarah said, he is directly communicating an implied threat. “I want more distance, and I'll get it even if I have to get in your face.”

Tense Body or Face
As implied, this is what happens when a dog's body or face appears tense or tight.

This isn't the best picture, but you can see that Maisy's body is tense, and that she's clearly uncomfortable with how close the other dog is. (Photo by Robin Sallie.)

Lowered Head or Neck
This signal is often indicative of resource guarding- even if you can't see what the resource might be. Further, Sarah estimated that 80% of all dogs will show some type of resource guarding. This is a staggeringly huge number, but I don't find it terribly surprisng- a wild dog would never survive if he didn't guard his precious items. Maisy herself is a resource guarder, but I've never seen her guard anything against a human. The cats are targetted frequently, and sometimes other dogs who get too close to me when I've got treats. In the picture below, Maisy has some raw chicken, and she'd really prefer not to share it.

A High, Fast, Flagged Tail
When a dog's tail is “flagged,” it means that it is raised up and over the dog's back with the tip pointing towards his head. This is a very distinctive signal in dogs that usually have a lower tail set, and it's difficult to see in a dog like Maisy, whose tail is typical curled up and over her body. What I typically see with Maisy is a tighter, tenser, taller tail, but the casual observer probably wouldn't pick up on it.

The dog may wag his tail, which further lends itself to the impression of a flag waving in the wind. Unfortunately, most people are taught that it's safe to approach a dog who is wagging his tail. This is generally true if the tailset is lower, but in the case of the high tail, it's absolutely not the case (although it's even worse if the dog goes still). If you look at the marking video above, Maisy's tailset may appear normal, but it's a bit higher than usual between approximately 9 and 14 seconds, and more telling, the wag is very tight.

Layla, the black dog, has a high, stiff tail, and it's curling over into a flag.
Her tail also has some piloerection, and though it's hard to see, there's a tooth display going on.
Photo courtesy of Sara Reusche.

Heightened Posture and Height Seeking
Height seeking is about taking and control a vertical space. A height seeking dog might jump on people, or jump up on a high surface like a table or some furniture. However, not all dogs who are jumping up are engaging in height seeking behavior.

The difference is in the intent. If the dog is jumping up because he wants to be touched or engage with people, it's not height seeking, simply bad manners or an untrained dog. (Or, in the case of my own dog, a behavior which has been encouraged- she's short, you know!) True height seeking has no affiliative nature to it. It's not about getting attention, but rather about “status” and controlling resources- in this case, access to space. One way to tell the difference is to teach an alternate behavior, like sit. If you can do this, it wasn't really height seeking. On the other hand, Sarah said that if you work very hard to teach an alternate behavior and it doesn't work, you have a serious problem on your hands.

Further, height seeking is always a symptom of a behavior problem. If a dog is height seeking, you know there is an underlying problem already present or developing. Resource guarding is very commonly seen with height seeking.

The intense muscle ridges on this dogs face suggest 
he's on that chair because he's height seeking, not just playing. 
Photo courtesy of Sara Reusche.

Muzzle Punching
Muzzle punching is when a dog uses a closed mouth to quickly strike someone else. With people, it's often combined with height seeking, and is a quick movement typically directed at the face (although muzzle punching can be directed towards other body parts, too). With other dogs, it might be a simple punch, or it might result in rolling the other dog. Either way, it's a very clear signal that the dog wants someone out of his space. I like to think of it as an inhibited bite.

Distance-Increasing Bark
I think most dog people know that barks have meanings. It's very hard to describe the distance-increasing bark in text, and in this case, you really need to get Sarah's DVD. All I'll say here is that this particular bark tends to be repetitive.

Caught in the act of barking, we can tell this dog wants some distance 
based on his dilated pupils and pulled-back ears.
Photo courtesy of Sara Reusche.

Hard Eyes
This is another one of those signals that is difficult to describe. It's like a human glare, and as such, it's one of those “you'll know it when you see it” things. Sarah said that hard eyes are often recognizable because the line between the iris and the pupil will become less “fuzzy” and more distinct.

This dog has hard eyes, but he's also lowered his head and neck, and is quite stiff. 
This indicates that he's probably resource guarding that toy.
Photos courtesy of Sara Reusche.

This is a very brief micromoment of stillness. It will last no more than one to two seconds, and if you see it, you need to back off, and you need to do it five minutes ago because a freeze almost always happens immediately prior to an act of aggression.

This video is of Maisy resource guarding. You can see the classic lowered head and neck body position, but there is also a great demonstration of a freeze. The amazing thing is that while it's only two seconds long, it feels like forever to me. If the cat had not moved away, it is highly likely Maisy would have rushed and snapped at him.

Whale Eyes
Whale eyes are also called crescent moons, and are recognizable because the whites of the eyes show. Unlike people, the whites of a dog's eyes rarely show unless he wants some distance. The whale eye sometimes happens when a dog is turning his head away from you, but is too worried or concerned to take his eyes off you, thus exposing the whites. Sarah said that dogs almost always show whale eyes prior to biting (although just because you see whale eyes doesn't mean the dog is going to bite). For example, I think these pictures look more “worried,” but of course, worried dogs will bite if cornered.

If you look carefully, you'll see that Maisy is wearing a puppy graduation hat.

Photo courtesy of Sara Reusche.

Tooth Displays
There are many, many ways that a dog can show his teeth, and often the commisures (the dog's lips) tell you how serious he is. If a dog shows his front teeth only, it's probably an anticipatory behavior. If a dog pulls his lips all the way back so that the mouth forms a sideways V, it's not as serious. Dogs that show a C-shaped pucker typically do more damage if they bite. Dogs that display an incisor only are typically making an “agonistic” (combative, fighting) display.

The black dog's mouth is showing a C-shaped pucker. 
Puckers typically have teeth showing and the tongue firmly in the mouth.
Photo courtesy of Sara Reusche.

Tap Outs
This is when a dog rolls over on his back and exposes his genitals to you. Many people think that the dog is asking for a belly rub, but what he's really doing is saying, “Please, go away.” Sarah said this is what the less confident dog will use to ask for distance. Look at the context: what is causing the dog to roll over? How does he react once there? This will help clear up what your dog is asking for.

Maisy often does tap outs during veterinary procedures, including chiropractic adjustments and massages. This confused me for a long time since it does look like a belly rub solicitation, but Maisy isn't a belly rub kind of girl. Hearing Sarah talk about tap outs really clarified what's going on with Maisy.

The dog on the ground has listened to Layla's signals: 
Layla is staring directly at the other dog, and has a high, flagged tail.
Photo courtesy of Sara Reusche.


Kristen said...

I'd love to hear more about the height seeking...

Kristen said...

And as always, thanks for sharing!!

Crystal Thompson said...

Kristen, I have to admit, the height seeking is still a bit confusing for me, so I'm not sure what else to add. What are you wondering about? I bet we could get the answers (Sarah Kalnajs has been wonderfully responsive to emails).

Ninso said...

I wish I was the picture-taking type. I would have SO many pictures for you! Elo height-seeks regularly when resource guarding. He usually takes his chewies onto the couch or bed when feeling threatened and is more likely to snap in defense of his possessions when he is up high. Elo also "taps out" when I call him to come with ANY kind of pressure (even pressure I can't perceive). He will cower on the ground and expose his belly if I increase pressure by walking towards him. Sometimes I can get him to come by sitting or lying down on the ground. Sometimes I just have to go pick him up and put him back on his feet, at which point he snaps out of it

Ninso said...

Jun is expert at hard eyes, freezes, and muzzle punches. In my experience with Jun and a fear-aggressive foster, if the dog freezes and is very near you, it is too late to leave. Any move you make will be dangerous. I'm not sure what is the best way to get out of this situation. Once or twice I have been able to grab Jun from behind and pull her quickly away, resulting in a snap that got nothing but air. This seems like a dangerous way to handle this though, with a high risk of redirected aggression, especially with an unfamiliar dog. Luckily, so far Jun only muzzle punches hands, but my foster would bite.

As for tooth shows, I don't usually see them from Jun when she is afraid. The funniest time I see it is when Elo lays down next to her, seemingly trying to be buddies. Sometimes he will even put a paw on hers. She shows just her front teeth, clearly annoyed, but totally faking. She kows how to tell him off if she really wanted to.

2dogcrazy said...

Is the High, Fast, Flagged Tail always indicative of a dog that wants space? This is confusing to me because when Kane greets another dog, his tail is always high, flagged and stiff ... and yet he is always the one to approach the other dog and will almost always give the other dog a play bow afterwards.

Could it be that he's just a rude greeter?

Melissa said...

I'd never heard of muzzle punching before, I'm not sure that I've ever seen it so I'd love to see a video of what it looks like.

Toby does something that sounds like this, but I'm not sure if that's what it is.

He's very affectionate and loves to cuddle and be cuddled. But if you're not careful he'll throw his head back and hit you in the face with his muzzle and he has a tendency to stick his nose in your eye or ear. I tend to think he's just a bit clumsy since he's in a very happy state of mind when he does this, but you never know...

Ci Da said...

I'm going to be combining two dogs in one house, and neither are particularly easy to get along with. I'm going to be watching for these behaviours in particular between the two of them. I think the freezing, hard eyes and the height seeking are things that, while I'm aware of, I think I need to be more proactive dealing with them. I'll be musing about this a lot in my blog.

How might you want to address the situation if you see these signals? For instance, I don't want any snapping, and don't want to encourage the behaviour in the future. Should I redirect? Time out? Interrupt?

Thanks for the insightful post!

Crystal Thompson said...

NINSO- You really SHOULD be taking more pictures. I love body language photos. :)

2DOGCRAZY- The flagged tail is always a sign of hyper-arousal, and generally indicates the dog wants more space for most dogs. Now, you may have a dog that just hasn't read the books, OR it's a momentary/brief request for more space. If you look at the pictures of the black dog above, you'll see that she has a high/flagging tail during play. I don't think she wants the interaction to stop entirely, but wants things to calm down for just a couple seconds.

MELISSA- I should have some muzzle punching video by the end of the weekend. Otherwise, I'd recommend getting Sarah's DVD. It's worth the price. :)

CI DA- I think how you deal with such signals depends on the situation, the dogs involved, and your own personality. Most dogs can see the request and back off appropriately, in which case, I don't feel a need to intervene. I don't even mind a bit of snapping if the other dog is being rude and ignoring initial requests to back off. I feel that's appropriate. If the other dog ignores Maisy's signals, I'll remove her from the situation and enforce the request. Does that make sense?

Tegan said...

Thank-you for your detailed notes, once more.

I found your comments regarding urination quite interesting. I have a dog aggressive dog that will alway pee after an encounter he perceived as tense, but I always thought that it was a stress release for him rather than a means of communication.

And I got to utilise your Twitter button again. Thanks!

Donna Hill said...

I am looking for your post on appeasement behaviors. The link was broken on the blog about the Sarah Kalnajs workshop. Can you please direct me?