Mixed messages

Often when I am watching dogs interact I have seen them misinterpret a message. Whether it is at a park, a friends dogs or my own dogs it happens quite often. I love dog behavior so I watch it very closely when it is going on. And just like we humans who tend to jump to conclusions and assume which always leads to misunderstanding so to do our dogs. They are not perfect communicators although I'd have to say they get it right at a higher percent rate than we do.

I remember one time when I was doing a shoot at the dog park, I was there for a certain breed but I do have a very hardtime stopping my wandering eye. I noticed out of the corner of my eye that a pit bull just entered the park. This pit was giving off "I'm super friendly body language" to everyone. Then there was the self appointed boss of the park, an unaltered airedale. He approached the pit on his toes showing him what a tough guy he was and the pit didn't care at all. He actually ran right past and onto play with someone else.

Well, this would not satisfy the airedale and he approached the pit again. If I could have explained to the airedale that he was attempting to push the wrong dog, I would have. The airedale mounted the pit and it was funny because the pit did not submit but really didn't care about what was going on. He ran off again which seemed to infuriate the airedale. Again they were together and at this point I was trying to locate the owner of the airedale. The dogs were in a close group which is never good when there is conflict.

Unfortunately the owner of the pit picked up a ball right beside the airedale. The pit lunged forward and barked, he was excited to have the ball thrown but the airedale took it as a clear challenge directed his way and that was the last straw. He went after the pit and needless to say it was turned around pretty quickly. Because of the great nature of the pit and the very good guardian skills of the pits owner it was stopped very fast as well.

A miscommunication that has happened several times with my owns dogs is funny but something we have to keep our eye on. We sit outside alot with the dogs in the evening and one night Jessie was being harrassed by a fly, she started to snap and then it got worse so that she was snapping at the fly very loudly. Luke was beside her and flew out of the way with a huge growl. He thought she was going after him, he didn't see the fly she was after. This has actually happened several times and Luke gets very angry, he will not tolerate being disciplined for nothing.

Posture is another big mistake, many dogs take a frozen posture as a threat or angry message. Sometimes it is a dog just standing there but because they are not moving the other dog takes it as a frozen posture. This also happens at my house, mostly with Jessie and Tilley. They have a very sensitive relationship, each girl knows where they stand and things work that way but sometimes it can get tense.

Several times Tilley has simply been standing looking at something on the floor and Jessie for some reason has taken it as a threat. She reacts immediately turning her head and walking away very slowly. Of course Tilley just stays there chill'n like she was from the start. Or Jessie will be sitting near a bone, one that she just happened to be beside not that she has laid claim to it. Tilley will cautiously with head turned use her paw to get the bone away thinking that Jessie will go for her if she tries. She doesn't seem to see the relaxing "I don't care about the bone" communication.

Often I have seen dogs standing just relaxing and when a dog has approached they act like the dog has given them a freeze or stare. When in fact it was a clear misunderstanding. So although dogs communicate amazingly well, they get it wrong now and then. Many times it is a dog that is not a great communicator that can be the cause of a problem.


  1. So true what you're saying...too bad pet owners don't understand this as well.....Most people don't see the "dog world"..I love to watch the interactions of my dogs and others...I enjoyed this read!

  2. I usually raise poodles, but at one time we adopted a Viszula. She was clearly unsocialized and kept interpreting my poodle's invitation- to- play- bow as a threatening gesture. The Viszula just didn't know how to play. My maternal poodle was very patient and eventually taught her manners. The Viszula eventually became very dog friendly. But it is funny how even dogs may not speak the same language.


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