Body language in free-roaming dogs, or: meet the dog in front of you!

This is the full version of the description that goes with today’s Youtube video on the Free Ranging Dogs channel. If you’ve read the first part of the description already, pick back up under the heading “Dog #4”! If you haven’t – here’s the video description from the beginning:

Game is happy to be allowed to run off leash again (nothing to worry about – the surgery I mention in the video was minor and all is well, but she’s only been out on leash for the last 2 weeks).

This video shows how, in just 3 minutes, Game meets 5 different owned free-roamers. Just like pet dogs differ, so do the personalities, looks and behaviors of these dogs.

All 5 free-roamers in this video are owned dogs. That is to say, they live in the respective yards they come out of. Their gates are always open. This street is part of Game’s home range and part of the other dogs’ core area. Only dog #4, the Doberman/Lab (this is not a Doberman; I’m just picking look-alike breeds for you to distinguish them) is not inside their own yard – the person working on the car is probably their human, and the dog is out here with them.

Dog #1: the Husky

Game sees the Husky before I do. At 00:29, she greets them with a friendly wag and moves on. What you see at 00:29 is a behavior that lets me know there is a dog to her right.

00:36 The Husky comes out – hackles up at first, but Game has already moved on, so the Husky doesn’t care. Instead, they show curiosity/interest in me, and their hackles come down all the way.

Dog #2: the big black-and-white pup

00:54 This one looks pretty young to me – but I can’t say for sure; he may just look that way because of a recent hair cut. He, too, comes out of his territory. Unlike the Husky, the pup is interested in Game: friendly, waggy and playful.

01:02 Game responds to the friendly interest the pup is showing. She may be in the mood to run together. That’s because she’s been deprived of exercise for the last 2 weeks, and I’ve also mostly kept her away from from other dogs. When that happens, she tends to act more playfully until she’s back to baseline in terms of exercise and intraspecific social interaction. It usually takes her a few days to get back to baseline.

01:16 Game would have pooped here, but because the pup is still there and being playful/friendly, she forgets about pooping and reciprocates the playfulness.

01:19 Btw, the ear position you see here in Game – ears up and turned back – is what she’ll usually show when we’re out and about. This is not a sign of insecurity, submission or fear. (Game can do a whole bunch of things with her ears; this is just one of her many expressions.) She’ll usually have her ears up and back like this when she’s ahead of me. She watches what’s up ahead, and keeps an ear on me at the same time.

Here, she’s running towards me, and her ears are up and back to keep an ear on the pup who she’s allowing to chase her. Ears up and back are a sign of split attention in Game: eyes in one direction, ears in the other one.

01:24 … and running back the other way, in exactly the kind of speed that is right for the pup (who seems to have a hurt paw/leg and is not super fast). Game enjoys both being the chaser and being the chasee.

01:25 And yes, I say in this video that she’s been on limited activity for a long time. For me (and for Game, but really, mostly for me), 2 weeks are a fucking long time! Walking is my thing. And without a dog, it isn’t fun.

Dog #3: the Chihuahua

01:42 The Chihuahua has just come out of their yard, and wants to see what’s going on out here! Since the 5 dogs (the free-roamers) are all neighbors, the Chihuahua isn’t interested in the pup, but in Game.

01:45-01:48 The Chihuahua displays their interest by sniffing. They are confident and curious, and the fact that Game ignores them (“Too small; whatever; also I’m done playing”) likely raises the Chihuahua’s confidence to the bouncy, chasey level you see here.

The Chihuahua and Game aren’t playing – the Chihuahua is sniffing while chasing Game, who ignores them because she’s already on her way.

Game is aware of size differences and is much more likely to ignore a small dog than a large dog. The Chihuahua isn’t unfriendly, but not exactly friendly either.

01:49 Game may just have left the little one’s core area, making her less interesting and me (I am still in the core area) more interesting. The Chihuahua folds the ears back and wags at me in a friendly-submissive greeting gesture.

Dog #4: the Doberman/Lab

01:52 To your right, where the cars are parked, you’re about to see the Doberman/Lab. This dog is insecure and barky. They are in their core area (this is one of the neighborhood dogs here), but not in their own yard. They are likely out here with their human.

You’ll see the insecurity in the retreat and the continued barking:

02:01 Retreat.

02:04 Now that Game has passed, the dog is coming forward again: when one dog turns their back on another one, the other one will feel safer. Game just passed and ignored the Doberman/Lab.

02:06 … which is why the Doberman/Lab can now come forwards again and bark – this time at me.

02:12 The response to me is barky, but not fearful. There was only a fear response when Game was walking towards and past the parking lot – so this dog’s insecurity is dog-specific.

02:14 It’s hard to say whether the Doberman/Lab is in their territory or in their core area. In any case, the person at the car is probably their person.

It is entirely possible that the dog’s response to Game and I would be different if there was no other human present. Being with their human generally gives dogs greater confidence/perceived strength.

Dog #5: the second fluffy big one

02:19 This dog was probably alerted to Game’s presence by the barking of the Doberman/Lab. Like the Chihuahua, he wants to see what’s going on! He is not interested in me and runs out of his territory (yard) and right past me to check out Game. The barking you keep hearing in the background is still the Doberman/Lab, not dog #5.

02:28 Game is done socializing for this outing, which is why she isn’t giving dog #5 any attention. Dog #5 is just curious about her – no strong feelings in any direction. Having caught up with her, he sniffs where she sniffed, and later, he’ll pee on the corner of the wall.

This dog is confident, has no ill intentions, and is an adult. Among confident adults with good social skills, if dog A ignores dog B, dog B will also politely leave dog A alone. (There are exceptions. Sometimes two adult dogs – just like humans – dislike each other at first sight. But that would be an exception for socially confident good communicaters. Politeness is the rule: live and let live.)

02:39 You can see dog #5 pee and look around (for example at me) with loose body language. He has gotten a good look at Game, had the chance to sniff where she sniffed and where she stood to collect information – that’s all he needs.

02:46 Dog #5 is done; ready to head back home. He has learned all he needed/wanted to learn about Game.

02:56 Even when Game is back outside the forest, dog #5 is still good: he has satisfied his curiosity and is ready to return to whatever he was doing. (Probably snoozing outside his house.)