Dog Body Language & Social Interaction Breakdown Series: Indy, Touka & Mocha.
Updated: Jul 22, 2022
If you watch this video without reading the rest of this post, you’re going to think this is awfully boring. That’s why I specifically chose to unpack this social interaction; believe it or not, there is actually a lot happening! Let’s get started:
This video starts off with Touka (~ 5 year old Belgian Malinois) lying down to the left with her water bowl, and Indy (4 year old Black Supermutt) standing in front of Touka to the right. In this situation, Indy is likely requesting access to Touka’s water bowl (it was a pretty hot day out), but Touka isn’t ready to give her blessing. You can tell both of these girls are experiencing a little social tension, but are in the midst of negotiating some personal space. Both Touka’s and Indy’s ears are held back and there is some physical tension in both of their faces (take a look at those furrowed brows and “smile lines”; it is likely that the temperature played a part here as well, but hey, that’s still stress). Touka also leans slightly away from Indy, who has made sure her forward- facing position is perpendicular with a neutrally held tail to Touka. Neither dog is giving direct eye contact.
This is no accident! Direct anything- body positioning and/or eye contact- in the Dog Language world can be seen as undesirable, and likely not meant to keep the peace (which is always a well socialized Dogs #1 priority, as conflict is energetically expensive). A Look Away and body turn from both these kiddos (where the eyes, nose and eventually body, are oriented away from other parties) serves as a spatial negotiation signal. It’s hard to tell because of the lighting, but both dogs are giving Slow Blinks in conjunction with their head/body turns. Blinking is a friendly sign, and indicates non-threatening intentions.
Touka and Indy’s bargaining is interrupted by the arrival of Mocha (~1 year or less, brown Poodle mix), who enters the scene with a loose, sweeping/ rolling tail, giving Indy some brief Puppy Licks. Puppy Licks (either to adult dogs, or even humans) are a submissive gesture, also indicating non-threatening intentions. Indy doesn’t seem to care much for them, as she turns her head and then her body away from Mocha. Mocha does the polite thing and mirrors Indy’s body turn, walking parallel with her before Indy starts to redirect with some Sniffing. Sniffing, especially in a social situation like this, can be used as a displacement behavior, calming and negotiating signal to other dogs. “Don’t mind me! I’m just minding my own business down here!” Mocha does another polite thing and mirrors this behavior briefly before getting a sample of the wind, and continuing past Touka (who is very much aware that Mocha is also within her personal bubble- given away by the tension in her face and ears, still).
It’s normal for dogs to mirror- or display similar behaviors- each other, and is a great way to let each other know that everyone is on the same page; it’s socially perceptive. Of course, sometimes mirroring can be disadvantageous, especially if one of the dogs is not well socialized or is in a state of FAS (Fear, Anxiety or Stress). Thankfully, that’s not the case here.
Mocha continues her polite sniffing right up to Indy, who has decided to mark, or as I like to call it- leave a Pee-Mail. Marking can happen for a variety of reasons; firstly, it is a completely normal and appropriate behavior for dogs. There is a lot of information that can be left in urine (age, health status, reproductive status, emotional state). It can also be seen as a Distance Increase (Go away!) signal in certain contexts, especially if it is on objects, humans or other dogs. In this situation, it could very well have been that Indy just needed to pee (believe it or not, she did have her own water bottle during this outing- she just drank her water already); it could also be a distance increase signal towards Mocha- I really can’t say for sure.
While Mocha stays to read the Pee-Mail, Indy tries her hand at Touka’s water bowl again. She approaches Touka confidently from behind, but accompanies her approach with some more Sniffing. I say Confidently because of the way her tail is held- held high but loose. Indy doesn’t feel the need to be submissive towards Touka, but isn’t trying to start anything, either. Touka acknowledges Indy with brief eye contact, but then both girls look away from each other.
By the end of this video, all three girls are looking away from each other, and are all relatively relaxed. This is actually a really remarkable thing to see- The Group Look Away. Friendly dogs who are comfortable with one another will seldom give each other direct eye contact; they’ll all look in different directions! I’d call this a very successful social interaction and negotiation of space!
A special Thank you to John, and *Mocha’s Person* (I’m great at remembering dog names, but unfortunately not so great at remembering their People’s names– oops! Sorry!)
On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas
Canine Body Language: A Photographic Guide by Brenda Aloff