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  • Writer's pictureLynzey Ruscitti

Dog Body Language & Social Interaction Breakdown Series: Indy & Tucker (& Touka...sort of)

[Trigger Warning: if you don't like barking dogs, maybe turn the volume down or off.]

At the start of the video, we have Tucker (M, Golden X) who is very interested in following Indy (F, Black Supermutt) for the purpose of getting her ball (Tucker is very ball driven). From a body language stance, his interest is categorized by the positioning of his ears (forward facing position) and the proximity to which he flanks Indy. Tucker’s tail is held loosely with a nice East to West sway as he walks.

Indy, although completely aware of her friend’s presence, has no interest in giving up her possession. She communicates this by laying down, and turning herself slightly away from Tucker. I’ve posted about head and body turns before; these subtle signals serve as polite “no, thank you”s in the dog world. I like to think of them as the opposite of a Hard Stare, or any other ‘direct’ signal that can add intensity into a social interaction.

Tucker responds to Indy’s “no thank you” body turn with some barking! This is usually where humans start to cringe (“how do I make it stop?!”), but barking happens for a number of reasons, and the meaning behind it is often context dependent. I would personally classify this type of barking as excitement barking! In her book Barking: The Sound of a Language, Turid Rugaas explains excitement barking as “the expression of emotions ranging from happiness to the excited expectation of something good about to happen”, often occurring as “more or less constant, or in a series of barks with small breaks in sequences” (18). This makes sense, as Tucker’s overall body posture is both alert and friendly in nature.

I laughed when I first saw this interaction, as Indy gives a very clear “nope by getting up from her position and walking away. Instead of correcting Tucker or getting defensive, she simply exits the situation, although it doesn’t seem to do the trick as Tucker is persistent!

This video is a little longer than my others, so instead of doing my usual “play by play”, I want to highlight a few of those body languages we see at play cyclically here:

From Indy we get a lot of Head & Body turns. Specifically, we get head turns when she is in place (in a down, or standing position), and body turns when she is in motion. Similarly, when things get a little too pushy (for her standards), Indy gets up and physically creates distance between herself and Tucker. She also gives a few visual Check-in’s to her dad (my partner, who instead of intervening on her behalf, continues to document the interaction for the very purpose of me doing a breakdown…sorry Indy!).

From Tucker we get a lot of that friendly solicitation! It might be hard to hear beyond the barking, but Tucker is actually being very polite outside of his persistence for the ball. I’ve already mentioned his tail, but it bears repeating as I cannot stress enough how not every wagging tail is the same. Tucker’s tail is loosely held at a neutral level (in line with the spine) with only the natural curvature tipping upward. Had his tail been held higher (above and/or hanging over the spine), we would be dealing with a dog who is more intense, alert and ready to step up to the plate. Although this isn’t always indicative of a negative interaction, being so intense would have been considered inappropriate for the context at hand (and there is no such thing as intense peace).

Tucker also keeps his body relatively parallel or at least non-direct to Indy whenever she is in place. Again, direct anything in the dog world adds intensity, which is never helpful when trying to negotiate peacefully. He even goes as far as to reciprocate Indy’s head turns, and gives beautiful soft eyes. Soft eyes are often used when we are in close proximity to others; direct eye contact might be unavoidable, therefore, softened features take the edge off.

By the end of the video, both dogs are distracted by something in the distance. Unfortunately, Tucker’s persistence didn’t pay off for him (this time), but he navigated this would-be-uncomfortable situation beautifully (as did Indy, of course)! Overall, this was a very cool interaction to break down, but I specifically left out a key player: Touka (F, Belgian Malinois) intermittently enters and exits this interaction throughout the video. Now that you’ve read a few of my posts, what do you think her Body Language is saying during all this? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

A special Thank You to Charlie (Tucker’s human) and John (Touka’s human) for allowing me to unpack these interactions! Another Thank You to my partner Nic for capturing this interaction on video for me (you’re the best!).


On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas

Barking: The Sound of a Language by Turid Rugaas

Canine Body Language: A Photographic Guide by Brenda Aloff

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