Carolyn has advised me to start keeping a training log so I can monitor several things: Shelby’s stress levels and her progress with her people reactivity, Panzer’s excitement levels, and also Panzer’s health and progress/deterioration with his neurological issues. The training log has been an immense help and really forces me to not only keep up with the training of both dogs, but to really dig down and analyze their body language for signs of stress/discomfort, so I can learn when to ease up and when to push forward. I thought I’d share with you all and hear from you as well about some of the following pictures, which I’m calling “Stressed Dog and Happy Dog” photos.
Very stressed dog. This is Shelby around 1 year old. As you’ll note, her commissure is tight (see how that line of black from her mouth goes nearly to her ears?), the muscles in her face are taught, her brows are seriously furrowed with worry lines and her eyebrows are turned up. Her eyes also have that same reflection of wariness. Additionally, she is showing a little bit of whale eye in her left eye (on the viewer’s right). This is not a happy puppy. You can also see, though not well, that her weight is leaning forward. You can imagine the angle of her body is lower to the ground if you stretch the lines of her back out in your imagination.
Happy dog. Here is Shelby (with Panzer) at about a year and a half when she is very relaxed. She is turning her head to the side a bit, but that’s likely because of the flash of my camera. Her body is relaxed into that sloppy down, just chilling. Her commissure is loose, her mouth open. Her brows are not furrowed and her eyes are soft.
Stressed dog. It is definitely harder to read body language on a black dog. You don’t have the color contrast you do with Shelby and it’s harder to see if his brows are furrowed. This is Panzer shortly after we adopted him, back in his resource guarding days (note the resource in this scenario, his bone). His ears are pinned slightly and he is showing whale eye. He’s not letting go of his bone and his face is tight, you can see the muscles in his jaw if you look closely. His head is also averting away from me. This is a dog with a bone who doesn’t want to give it up.
Happy dog. This is Panzer at his obedience class. You’ll note here that his commissure is loose and his eyes are bright and focused on the instructor. His ears are forward and perky and his eyes are soft but focused. You can see some tightening in the jaw, but not too much.
Stressed dog. Shelby, five months. This isn’t even a great quality photo and you can tell she is stressed. Her ears are slightly pinned, her brow is furrowed, she is showing whale eye and her eyebrows are raised. Her commissure isn’t super far back, but what’s interesting is it has that kind of “wiggle” look to it, like a squiggly line, which in my dogs at least, is almost always indicative of stress.
Relaxed dog. Here is Shelby at the same age (5 months) lying on the bed not so worried. She’s actually about to fall asleep (note the soft, dopey looking eyes). Her ears are not pinned, she’s relaxed, her muscles are loose and there are no furrows to her brow, nor are her eyebrows raised. She’s not “happy smiling” here, but she is calm and relaxed.
Stressed dog. This is P, shortly after we adopted him, at the park. He jumped up on a tree (of his own choice) and didn’t like it very much. Note the tongue flick (big indicator of stress) and his body angle, especially the positioning of his front feet compared to his back which makes his body oddly angled (also due to him trying to balance his weight I’d imagine). His back leg muscles are also tight, which could in part be due to him trying to balance. His ears are not forward, but moving toward a pinned position, his eyebrows are up (you can see the glossy, darker shade of black are his eyebrows), his brow is slightly furrowed (hard to tell) and his eyes look very worried. He is not a happy camper about being on this tree.
Supremely happy dog. This is Panzer last weekend, while we were playing ball. His ears are forward, facing the same direction, his eyes are soft but focused. His commissure is loose but raised up in a doggy smile. His mouth is open and his tongue is hanging naturally. His weight is basically centered, he is poised to go get his ball and loving every moment of it!
I could do this all day, but I won’t! As you can see, our dogs, like us, are sometimes stressed and sometimes happy, and making their lives as happy (and stress free) as possible is my goal, but I also know that’s not ever going to be 100% possible. As a way to keep them as stress free as possible though, I am a vigilant observer of their body posture and facial expressions. Both of my dogs are very expressive, for which I’m grateful, but recognizing not just facial expressions but weight placement and muscle tenseness can not only alter the life of your dog, but keep everyone safe and content. Take some pictures and/or video of your own dogs, sit down and play – Stressed Dog or Happy Dog? Your dogs (and your sanity) will thank you for it!
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