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A Guide to Dog Body Behavior - Part 2

This fascinating guide, which we post in two parts, can help us better understand how dogs can communicate with us and with each other. It is written by Will Hank  and Medically reviewed by Dr. Erica Irish

Dogs sometimes bark, growl, or whine to send messages, but nonverbal communication is more common in canines . Since dogs depend so much on their pet parents, it’s essential for owners to understand their methods of communication. Even common dog body language, like a wagging tail, can mean different things in different circumstances. Pet parents can keep their pups calm, safe, and happy by learning how to read and decipher a dog’s body language.

PART 2

Common canine communication signals

Dog body language can sometimes be difficult to decipher. Below, we address nine common states of canine behavior and the body language often seen in each. Learning to recognize these signs can help keep you, your dog, and others around you safe.

covered in this guide

Aggression

Aggression is common in all types of animals, and dogs are no exception. Dogs may display aggression for a wide variety of reasons. These include social, territorial, protective,  possessive, or predatory aggression, among other factors. Recognizing aggression in dogs is essential to prevent dog fights or bites. Common signs of aggressive body language in dogs include:

  • Stiff posture with weight shifted forward
  • Raised hackles
  • Tail raised and stiff
  • Whale eyes
  • Ears pinned back
  • Snarling with lips curled back and teeth showing
  • Growling, barking, and/or snapping, and in extreme cases, lunging or biting

Alertness

Alert dog

Dogs are naturally curious creatures, and they’re often on high alert for new sights, sounds, and smells. Dogs may appear alert or aroused when experiencing new things or when they’re uncertain how to react to a stimulus. Arousal signals can often also accompany those of aggression or anxiety, so it’s important to note the dog’s entire body language in any given situation. Some common signs of alertness in dogs include:

  • Weight shifted forward
  • Tail raised and stiffly wagging
  • Eyes wide and hard-staring
  • Ears erect and facing forward
  • Muzzle tensed

Anxiousness

Anxious dog

Anxiety can be tricky to pinpoint, as signs can mirror those of other emotions, like excitement or fear. Anxiousness in dogs is often situational and may vary in the presence of certain other people, dogs, or new environments. Some common canine body language that suggests an anxious dog includes:

  • Pacing or walking back and forth or in circles
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Excessive panting
  • Yawning
  • Licking lips
  • Avoiding direct eye contact

Frustration

Frustrated dog

Like humans, dogs experience frustration in the face of unwanted outcomes. In pups, frustration often occurs either from being denied something they want or being unable to escape an uncomfortable situation. Signs to look for that suggest frustration include:

  • Tense posture (E.g., pulling or straining at a leash)
  • Stiff legs and weight shifted forward
  • Tail raised
  • Eyes wide
  • Ears pinned back

Fear

Fearful dog

Confidence is a great thing, but most dogs aren’t confident in every situation. Dogs experience fear for a wide variety of reasons and seeing a scared dog can be heartbreaking. Naturally, pet parents should try to keep their dogs away from fearful situations, though this isn’t always possible. Fear can also be a precursor to aggression if the dog senses an immediate threat. While there are some telltale signs of a fearful dog, some other behaviors can be trickier to recognize. Common fear-based body language in dogs includes:

  • Cowered/crouched posture with weight shifted back
  • Tucked tail between rear legs
  • Ears pinned back
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Lip-licking
  • Exposing their belly (as a sign of submission)

Happiness

Happy submissive dog

A happy or excited dog is a beautiful sight. Dogs display happiness for all sorts of reasons, and they often have a hard time containing it. While a wagging tail is a classic sign of a happy dog, it doesn’t always mean that. There’s also plenty of non-tail-based body language that suggests happiness in dogs. These include:

  • Loose and wiggly body posture
  • Tail wagging softly
  • Relaxed expression with mouth slightly open
  • Eyes softened or squinty
  • Ears slightly back
  • Leaning towards or on you
  • Rolling over for belly rubs

Playfulness

Playful dog

Recognizing playfulness in your pet is important, especially if you’re socializing them with other dogs. Playtime between seemingly friendly dogs can turn aggressive in an instant, so it’s important to keep an eye on body language and signs. Some common behaviors of playfulness in dogs include:

  • “Play bow” with front legs lowered ready to leap and rump/tail raised.
  • Tail wagging softly
  • Mouth open with tongue out
  • Eyes soft and relaxed
  • Ears up

Relaxation

Most pet parents love relaxing next to their calm pup. Dogs often relax when they’re in the comfort of their own homes, or accompanied by their favorite friends (and owners). If a dog feels comfortable enough to display these behaviors around you, they’re likely showing you how relaxed they are:

  • Laying down (sometimes in “frog-leg” position with the rear splayed out)
  • Loose, wriggly body
  • Tail wagging softly
  • Head and ears in a neutral position
  • Soft eyes
  • Open mouth with “smiling” expression

Stress

Stressed dog

Dogs respond to stress in many different ways. Commonly, they’ll exhibit “displacement behaviors,” or body language that seems out of context, and can provide hints at stress. Look for signs across the body of the whole dog to help differentiate stressful behaviors from those suggesting things like excitement or arousal. Some common signals of stress in dogs include:

  • Stiff body
  • Tail tucked
  • Excessive scratching
  • “Shaking off”
  • Hair raised
  • Lip-licking
  • Yawning
  • Whale eye
  • Avoiding eye contact

When to seek professional help for your dog’s behavior

There’s a lot that goes into responsible dog ownership, and deciphering your dog’s body language plays a big part. Understanding what your dog is trying to tell you can go a long way toward building your bond together. It’s up to us as pet parents to give our dogs the best lives we can, and communication is a key part of that dog-to-parent relationship.

If you notice changes in your dog’s behavior that suggest fear, anxiety, or aggression, it’s important to understand what’s causing it. In these cases, consider seeking help from a professional dog trainer or dog behaviorist . There’s certainly no shame in admitting you need help deciphering what your dog is trying to tell you. In the long run, there’s so much to gain and little to lose from deepening your understanding of the ways in which your dog communicates with you.


A Guide to Dog Body Language - Part 1

This fascinating guide, which we post in two parts, can help us better understand how dogs can communicate with us and with each other. It is written by Will Hank  and Medically reviewed by Dr. Erica Irish

Dogs sometimes bark, growl, or whine to send messages, but nonverbal communication is more common in canines . Since dogs depend so much on their pet parents, it’s essential for owners to understand their methods of communication. Even common dog body language, like a wagging tail, can mean different things in different circumstances. Pet parents can keep their pups calm, safe, and happy by learning how to read and decipher a dog’s body language.

PART 1

How dogs use body language to communicate

Dogs use a variety of movements with different parts of their bodies and faces to convey messages. Even a dog’s body position itself helps to display a certain attitude or emotional state. Keep an eye out for these common communication methods when trying to understand your dog:

Body position and posture. Dogs stand differently when relaxed versus excited, aroused, or scared. Even weight distribution on all four paws often indicates a relaxed or happy dog. Stiff front legs with the weight shifted forward and hackles raise, hair standing up on your dog’s neck, can show arousal or excitement. Conversely, dogs cowering or hunched over are often displaying signs of fear and/or submission.

Body movement. Like body posture, dog body movements can communicate a lot. Pacing can often signal a stressed or nervous dog. On the other hand, a jumping or bouncy dog is usually happy and excited. One common example of dogs greeting each other is the “play bow,” with the front legs down and their butt in the air. As the name implies, this signal is used between dogs as an invitation to play.

Tail. There’s one common misconception about a dog’s tail: the idea that a wagging tail automatically equals a happy dog. Yes, dogs often wag their tails loosely when relaxed or happy. But, a raised or stiffly wagging tail may suggest arousal, excitement, confidence, or even aggression. On the flip side, a lowered tail, especially one tucked between the legs, is often a sign of fear, stress, or submission.

Ears. Dogs communicate with their ears in a variety of ways. Upright, forward-facing ears “at attention” often show interest or arousal, while pinned back ears may mean a dog is afraid. As with other body language, ear movements can have conflicting meanings. So, it’s important to consider the situation and the dog’s other movements when deciphering ear position. In general, dogs with erect ears, like German shepherds, display a wider variety of ear movements than a floppy-eared breed, like Labrador retrievers.

Eyes. Eye contact is an important sign for dogs and the intensity of a dog’s eyes matters. A soft or squinty stare often suggests happiness or relaxation. A hard, direct stare, can often mean an aggressive dog. A dog averting their eyes or looking away can be a common sign of stress or fear. They’ll often display the whites of their eyes, a gesture known as “whale eye”, in response to stress or anxiety.

Mouth. Dogs display facial expressions and mouth movements to communicate in several ways. Many of us recognize relaxed dogs by their slightly open mouths and panting tongues. But, several mouth movements can often suggest signs of stress or even nausea. Yawning and/or licking the lips are often displacement behaviors. This means the dog is anxious and suppressing the urge to do something else, such as bark or bite. A more concerning sign is when dogs display their teeth in a snarl or “smile.” While it may look funny to us, this often signifies aggressive behavior.


The World's Oldest Living Land Animal Is ....

The world’s oldest living land animal? At age 190, it’s Jonathan the tortoise.

This great article from the Washington Post highlights Jonathan and his longevity.

Jonathan the tortoise has lived on one of the most remote islands in the world for 140 years. He has become somewhat of a media star recently, as he just got a lofty distinction: the oldest living land animal in the world. Jonathan is turning 190 this year. Well, that’s the best guess about the age of the 440-pound chelonian. “To be honest, I suspect he’s older, but we can never know,” said Joe Hollins, the veterinarian who cares for Jonathan on St. Helena island, a tiny volcanic British territory more than a thousand miles off the coast of Africa.

Jonathan has spent most of his life wandering (albeit slowly) with three other land tortoises around the grounds of the St. Helena governor’s residence, Plantation House. Jonathan is estimated to have hatched in 1832, according to a letter that mentions he arrived “fully grown” on St. Helena in 1882 from the Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean, he said. “Fully grown” in turtle context meant at least 50 years, Hollins said.

A photo taken between 1882 and 1886 shows Jonathan grazing at Plantation House, where he’d been presented to the governor of St. Helena as a gift, according to Hollins.

This historical photo taken in the late 1800s shows Jonathan, left, with another tortoise, now deceased. (Courtesy of Joe Hollins)

“It was quite traditional for [tortoises] to be used as diplomatic gifts around the world, if they weren’t eaten first,” he said, noting that they were harvested by ship crews because they were stackable and didn’t need food or water for days.

The tortoise has seen 31 St. Helena governors come and go and was likely alive for President Andrew Jackson’s second inauguration in 1833, as well as the inaugurations of the next 39 U.S. presidents.

 

It isn’t unusual for giant land tortoises to live up to 150 years, said Hollins, but Jonathan has endured longer than most people expected.The previous known longevity record was held by a radiated tortoise named Tu’i Malila, reportedly given to Tonga’s royal family in 1777. When Tu’i Malila died in 1965, she was about 188 years old, according to Guinness World Records.

Read the full article here.

 

 


Climate Change is Transforming the Bodies of Amazon Birds

Alex Fox of Smithsonian writes about the evolution of Amazon birds in response to climate change:

Bird golden crownA 40-year study found 77 species of rainforest birds weigh less on average, and many have longer wings, than they used to. Here is a short excerpt:

When the first ever World Climate Conference concluded in February 1979, the scientists in attendance issued a statement calling on world leaders "to foresee and prevent potential man-made changes in climate that might be adverse to the well-being of humanity." On October 17 of that same year, scientists deep in the Brazilian Amazon unfurled a set of 16 mist nets at 6 a.m. to begin a study of the birds living in the understory beneath the rainforest’s green roof.

In the 40 years that followed, climate change went from a far-off-seeming idea to a grave reality that grips every square inch of the planet, and hundreds of dedicated researchers kept opening the mist nets at dawn to capture and study the feathered inhabitants of an intact patch of Brazilian rainforest about 40 miles north of Manaus.

Now, a new paper leveraging this long-running study, originally aimed at testing the impacts of forest fragmentation, shows that as human activities have altered Earth’s climate, the bodies of birds living in the understory of this remote, undamaged patch of rainforest have been changing in response. The authors of the paper report today in the journal Science Advances that all 77 species of birds surveyed by the study weigh less on average than they did 40 years ago and nearly 80 percent of those species also have developed greater average wing-lengths.

Researchers aren’t yet sure what the consequences of these physiological changes might be or the precise mechanisms that gave rise to them, but the team’s analyses suggest the rising temperatures and changes in rainfall seen at the study site offer the most powerful statistical explanation for the birds’ transformation.

“This is the middle of the Amazon rainforest, far away from deforestation,” says Vitek Jirinec, an ecologist at Louisiana State University and the paper’s lead author. “But even here, in this place that is teeming with life and looks totally undamaged, you can’t escape the consequences of climate change.”

Jirinec and his co-authors embarked on this study in earnest in 2020 after finding that 21 species of birds at this site north of Manaus, known to researchers as the Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments Project (BDFFP), were in decline. Even within this protected area, buffered from logging and pollution, some species had declined by as much as 40 percent, especially insect-eaters. Those results, published in 2020, led Jirinec and his colleagues to try to tease out what might be going on, and, in particular, to probe the role of climate change.

To do that, the researchers compiled the weights of 14,842 individual birds and the wing lengths of 11,582 birds recorded by BDFFP scientists between 1979 and 2019 and paired those data with the last 50 years of changes in temperature and precipitation in the region. 

In terms of climate change, the team found that compared to 1966 this region’s wet seasons have become 13 percent wetter and its dry seasons are now 15 percent drier. The average temperature for both seasons has also increased over that time span, with temperatures rising by 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit in the wet season and 2.97 degrees in the dry season.

Among the birds, all 77 species in the study showed average decreases in body weight over the last four decades, with some species losing nearly 2 percent of their mass every decade, and 61 species showed increases in average wing-length. Statistical analysis linked those changes to climatic shifts.

The results fall short of demonstrating cause and effect, but show a strong association. “The relationship between body size and climate change is correlational, naturally,” writes Mario Cohn-Haft, an ornithologist with Brazil’s National Institute of Amazonian Research who wasn’t involved in the paper, in an email. “But both several-decade long trends and year to year trends are demonstrated here with a monstrous amount of data to support them.”

The study found that birds tended to be lighter following hotter and drier conditions than usual, especially if those conditions fell during the dry season, which is the most stressful time of year for birds because food is harder to find.

 


In Support of Pigeons

Pigeon

 

 

 

 

 

Atlas Obscura writes a compelling article on pigeon watching and the history of that bird. Here is a short excerpt from an interview with bird-watching mom, Rosemary Mosco :

What’s so awesome about pigeons?

What makes our city pigeons really cool is that they are feral domesticated animals. They’re basically like a stray cat or like a feral dog: mutts mixed from a whole bunch of different, really amazing breeds. To understand where they came from, you have to understand purebred pigeons.

Pigeons were domesticated over 5,000 years ago. We have some rough information, but it’s really hard to untangle that early stuff because we’re bumping up against the dawn of recorded writing. We know it happened in the Fertile Crescent, and that it coincided with people farming grain—because if there’s one thing that pigeons adore, it’s grain.

Domestication is a complicated process. It probably didn’t happen in one place or at one time—it probably happened a few different times. People started farming, the pigeons started to hang around the people, and people realized these pigeons could be useful. They built structures that encouraged the pigeons to nest, threw down some grain, and then it slowly took off from there.

Where’s the best place to camp out and see pigeons?

They just love anywhere urban. Anywhere there are people in large numbers and the food that people consume, they will be there. They’ll also be in agricultural areas or little towns, but you’ll definitely see most of them in the city, because you’ll see the most people and the most people dropping food. They’re really just all over the place, and they’re there all year round, so you don’t have to travel to go see them.

The only place that is really not great for pigeon-watching is anywhere that’s really, really wooded. They really don’t do well when they’re far away from people now because we’ve molded them for so many years. This is what they’re suited for. You won’t see them in a redwood tree.

Pigeons often forage near trash cans. What are they looking for?

They’re not super discerning, but they have their preferences; they won’t just eat whatever is in the trash. They really prefer legumes—lentils, peas, that kind of stuff. A lot of the food that people trash is bits of bread or crackers. That’s what they like. The other day I walked past a flock of pigeons and someone had dropped a bunch of lentils. And I was like, “Wow, someone really knows their pigeon ecology.”

How has pigeon-watching affected the way you experience the rest of the world, whether natural landscapes or the built environment?

Because pigeons are so prominent in the city, if you watch them, you will tap into so much more that’s happening in the urban bird world. In my area, they’re the main prey of birds like the peregrine falcon, and red-tailed hawks and Cooper’s hawks also eat them. Noticing them helps you tap into the whole world of urban bird-watching.

Also, it is really interesting to look at the city and realize how similar it is to a stony cliff–like environment. People often ask, “Where are the baby pigeons? How come you never see baby pigeons?” It’s true you rarely see baby pigeons, or by the time you do, they’re grown-up enough that they look pretty similar to adults. One of the reasons is that pigeons don’t build nests in trees; they nest in crevices and cliffs. In the city, they nest in little, hidden pockets. There was a deli that I used to stop by on the way home, and sometimes I would hear the baby pigeons calling from behind the sign because there was a flat, warm area back there. It’s neat to realize that there are all these hidden pockets in our architecture that are acting as these nests. Without the ability to listen for the baby pigeons, you might not realize how many little cracks there are in all of our little facades.

Pigeons are often called “rats with wings” by people who presumably aren’t big fans of either rats or pigeons. What do you think it would take for them to get a PR makeover?

There’s some encouraging news, which is that it didn’t take that long for pigeons to fall from grace in our eyes—only a few decades, maybe. Reversing it is totally possible. This hatred is not a deep-set, long-held belief. I think that a lot of it has to do with us understanding landscapes not as permanent, but as things that have changed over time. Once we realize where pigeons fit into that, we are a little more flexible. Their capacity for carrying disease, while not zero, is also way less than we think. I grew up with people saying, “Don’t go up to those pigeons, they’re going to make you sick.”

What I would say for pigeon PR is, look at their long, long, long relationship with us, look at all of the famous people who kept pigeons or loved pigeons or had pigeons influence their work. Look at the war hero pigeons of World War I and World War II. There’s such deep history there. Another thing that always helps is telling people that pigeons are huge romantics and they generally mate for life. That blows people’s minds, because we love romantic stories.


2021 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards

Lion laughingThe Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards have been unearthing hilarious and heartwarming photos of creatures basically being their best selves since 2015.

And this year is no exception. The recently announced winners and finalists of the 2021 competition include a visibly uncomfortable monkey, a trio of gossipy raccoons, a joyful bird reunion, gravity-defying fish and an all-powerful prairie dog.

A panel of judges sorts through thousands of submissions from expert and novice photographers alike, and determines one winner for each of the several categories — except for the peoples' choice award, which is left up to members of the public. The overall winner gets a handmade trophy from a workshop in Tanzania and a weeklong Kenyan safari.

Read the full article on NPR 


Why Do Dogs Tilt Their Heads? New Study Offers Clues

The adorable behavior may be a sign of concentration and memory recall