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  • Writer's pictureLynzey Ruscitti

Dog Body Language & Social Interaction Breakdown Series: Indy & Mylo

WARNING: Audio not necessary. It's not bad or anything, but I will not apologize for my cartoony commentary if you do not heed this warning.

For pre-context, my dog (Indy; black dog, F/4yrs) had been withholding the red Kong frisbee (which rightfully belonged to Mylo; chocolate lab, F/<1yr). Mylo at some point had taken back her frisbees, and started nose jabbing Indy with it. Nose punching can have many different meanings depending on the context; generally speaking, it has Attention Getting purposes.

Judging by Mylo’s “loosey-goosey” body language (curvature of the body, east to west, neutral leveled tail), the relative ‘softness’ of the jabs, her ears being held closer to her head and her respective head turns (where it looks like she’s getting distracted by something off frame), I interpret this behavior as Mylo trying to elicit play from Indy (albeit in an annoying way for Indy). I say that because (knowing my own spoiled, stinky dog), Indy just wants the frisbees and isn’t interested in playing.

To begin, when Mylo starts offering her nose jabs, Indy takes a passive approach and just moves away from her (head & body turns, where she veers away from Mylo). These head & body turns serve as calming/ negotiating signals. When Mylo persists, Indy drops into a sphinx pose- not really a relaxed, hip-out kind of Down, but a position that can (literally) lower the energy levels of the situation. She uses this down position in conjunction with head turns to maintain her boundary with Mylo while also maintaining mature patience.

This is also where Mylo gives her respective head turn mentioned above. I interpret this as an acknowledgement of Indy’s boundaries. This is partly due to Indy’s mirrored head turn, in which she briefly turns her head in the same direction as Mylo. This is Indy being quick to forgive, given her overall relaxed facial features (ears neutral, mouth/ tongue loosely held, soft eyes). However, the temptation proves to be too great and Mylo continues to nose jab Indy with the frisbee. Here is where Indy begins to reinforce her boundaries for space through more tension in her face (closed mouth), briefly exposed sclera ("whale eyes") and lip licking. These are all ritualized signals that can mean different things in different contexts, but here, Indy is saying “you’re making me a little uncomfortable.” It is only when Indy makes a very subtle grab at the frisbee does Mylo give her some physical space- and some friendly appeasement/ negotiation signals (curvature of body & east to west, neutral wagging tail). But the temptation to annoy Indy proves greater still, and she persists! At this point, Mylo is almost literally pushing Indy down onto her half side with her jabs. It’s important to note though that Indy is leaning away from Mylo in another attempt at calming/ negotiating energy levels. Indy attempts to make another grab for the frisbee and takes hold of the high value item, but this backfires for her. It’s at this moment Mylo tugs back on the frisbee in an almost exaggerated back and forth. Mylo could be thinking that her efforts are finally paying off and that play has been engaged. Unfortunately still, Indy does not want to tug, and just wants the frisbee for herself. She lets go of the frisbee while relaxing into a ‘proper’ down (hip-out) to interrupt Mylo’s attempts at play, and continues to lean away from Mylo’s (now even more) persistent nose jabs. As Indy falls to her side, she also gives Mylo a paw lift. Paw Lifts generally indicate appeasement, calming/ negotiating; “still too much, kiddo.” Mylo’s jabbing eventually relents and she instead decides to give Indy a friendly ear sniff (while Indy get’s vocal and gives some low growls here) before finally moving away. Indy, persistent in her own right, makes another attempt to take the frisbee from Mylo. Mylo (bless her heart) understands the firmness of Indy’s request, but doesn’t seem to understand that Indy wants just the frisbee and not to play with her (notice the curvature of the body, low wagging tail).

It is here where Indy gives a less subtle correction (bearing teeth, growl and a slight latch onto Mylo- not the frisbee this time), and Mylo finally seems to pick up what Indy is putting down (or rather, puts down what Indy wants to pick up, hehe). Mylo gives Indy a little ‘check in’ bum sniff (the polite thing to do), then moves up to Indy’s face for an ear sniff, and attempts some appeasement licking of Indy’s mouth. Indy displays her discomfort with this with her own head turn and lip licking. Mylo gives Indy space again, and decides to go back to her frisbee, but is quickly thwarted by Indy, who hovers over the high valued item and gets vocal with a low growl. Mylo immediately drops to the ground, displaying “how small and un-threatening” she is. Personally, I think her attempts to appease Indy here are hilariously hyperbolic as she rolls over Indy’s head and back end simultaneously. She also gives her own paw lift here, which I think is really endearing, but Indy does not (evident through her lip licking). Finally, Mylo drops all attempts to engage Indy, and decides that she wants pets from me instead. Overall, I’m extremely proud of both Indy and Mylo here. I’m proud of Indy because (she’s my dog, duh, and) she proved herself to be a great role model in communication to Mylo, extending her a lot of patience in the process. I’m proud of Mylo because, as a puppy client of mine, it is so rewarding to see her navigate the subtle complexities of dog communication successfully, and develop into a well rounded adolescent (and eventually adult).

Big shout out to: Alyson (Mylo’s person) for raising such a good girl and bringing her out for this interaction; and to my amazing, soon to be husband Nic for his undying support & unabashedly 'repping my brand!

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