Raising Canine

Dog Training Course: First Meeting Body Language


This is a video I have from when I boarded dogs in my home. I specialized in reactive dogs, so had lots of good opportunities to observe interesting body language. Although this dog training course isn’t about dog training for aggressive dogs, it is some great body language between two reactive dogs meeting for the first time, and what to look for. And, it illustrates the importance of early dog socialization.


In this dog training course video a new dog, Zoe (brindle), is being introduced to my dog, Jimmy Joe (English Springer Spaniel) and a regular boarder, Pete (solid black). These are two separate dog training course videos and the dogs are introduced separately. What’s interesting to watch is the difference in the behavior of Jimmy Joe and Pete. Just a little background on the two dogs.


Jimmy Joe went with me to run the Animal Haven sanctuary in upstate New York when he was 7 months old. This was a sanctuary for dogs that were un-adoptable (i.e., aggressive). So, at a young age, he learned some very good dog skills and maintained those skills throughout his life (Jimmy Joe passed about two years ago at age 16). Jimmy Joe was my adult in puppy class and my test dog in reactive dog classes until I decided to retire him – and I never could find a dog with his skills to replace him.


Pete, on the other hand, was a mess! Although he was an interesting mess. He was extremely reactive except with people he knew well, such as his owner and myself. When first introducing him to dogs, I had to really be on top of him as the slightest misstep on the new dog’s part could turn into a fight. In the video, you’ll hear me asking him to back off periodically, just to diffuse the situation. However, once he got to know the dog, he was great. Pete was one of those dogs that could get the most aloof dog to play – and I’ve seen him in action. However, those first meetings were always an exercise in staying on top of things, for me.


SPOILER ALERT: I’m going to describe what’s happening in these dog training videos – not necessarily every single thing, but a lot. If you’d like to watch the video first, and see what you notice, do that before reading the paragraph before the video, as that’s the paragraph describing the behaviors.


So, in this first video, you’ll see a baseline for Zoe. She’s exploring the yard and there are no other dogs out. She’s cautious – her tail is down, but not tucked, she walks pretty gingerly, but it won’t be long before she feels comfortable in this space on her own.



In the second video, I introduce her to Jimmy Joe. Watch how he handles her. Initially, he approaches appropriately (i.e., not head on), is a little pushy, but moves up to her head and then backs off quickly, allowing Zoe some space. Notice that Zoe freezes while Jimmy Joe investigates, also has some piloerection and does a lot of displacement behaviors (sniffing, etc.). Then, she moves into the middle of the yard at a good pace, tail high, etc., and investigates. Jimmy Joe does another quick butt sniff, but moves off quickly, and as soon as he does, Zoe’s tail relaxes. Then Jimmy Joe does a quick pass by – this is not by accident; he’s inviting Zoe to interact with him, but is not being pushy. Notice that Zoe is not bothered by this pass by, and actually walks over to the part of the yard Jimmy Joe is in (this is a big yard, and she has lots of options). Jimmy Joe continues to give Zoe opportunity without being pushy. Notice when she goes over to the fence, Jimmy Joe takes the opportunity to sniff and, it’s hard to tell, but it doesn’t look like Zoe lowers her tail (or at least not much).



And then comes Pete! What a different story this is. Throughout this video, keep an eye out for Pete’s piloerection –you can see it better at some angles than others, but it’s always there unless he shakes off – throughout the video, Pete cuts Zoe off and invades her space.. Also, Zoe has some piloerection, so watch for that. So Pete comes out of the house and goes directly, head on, into Zoe’s space. He’s standing tall and stiff with a high, stiff tail wag, walks very slowly and gingerly, and you can see some piloerection close to his tail. Zoe stands very still (as she did initially with Jimmy Joe) and gets a few sniffs of her own in. Pete is very persistent and pushy, so I call him off to give the situation a little breather. Notice that when Pete gives Zoe some space, she does not follow him as she did with Jimmy Joe. Pete takes a little break but is back very quickly with his nose in Zoe’s butt, then walking stiff-legged around her head, with Zoe turning away from him. And, more of the same. Toward the end of the video, Zoe heads toward the fence, but Pete’s right on her, not giving her any breathing room, at all. After I stopped videoing, this continued for a bit, but eventually Pete was satisfied and everything went back to normal.



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