Blog the Change for Denver….

Today is Blog the Change for Animals day–this is a virtual event where bloggers from around the blogosphere come together in support of animals.  Sharing inspiring stories, sharing information about rescues, and spreading information about a variety of causes.  Blog the Change happens four times a year on 1/15, 4/15, 7/5, and 10/15.  This is such an amazing event–in January I spent an entire week making my way through nearly all of the blogs that were a part of the blog hop.  Unfortunately I can’t post the hop on wordpress, but you can find it by clicking the badge or the link up above.  Please take a moment and visit a few of the blogs and see what’s going on!

I had intended on showcasing another rescue I’m fond of but I felt compelled to blog the change for Denver the “Guilty Dog.”  Denver’s video went viral on youtube a few weeks ago and while Denver is ridiculously adorable, it absolutely hurt my heart.  I couldn’t believe all the dog owners who passed this along and laughed–they were totally unaware of what Denver was actually trying to communicate with her body language.  So, I was inspired to blog the change for all dogs who people call guilty because of their body language and who are subsequently punished–I want to educate dog owners about canine body language and hopefully dogs will not be punished just because they “look guilty”.  For those of you who haven’t seen the video here it is….

Denver, and other “guilty” dogs are not showing their guilt.  They read our body language, notice our breathing, smell our body chemicals, and hear our tone of voice–if any of those things are off, alarming, or concerning, the dog is going to respond by showing appeasement gestures (aka submissive gestures or stress signals).  In the video Denver shows many of these, she looks away, lowers her head, yawns, licks her lips, shows a “whale eye” (sliver of white around the eyes), closes her eyes softly, wags a low and quick tail, and shows what’s called a submissive smile (or submissive grimace).  Denver is not saying “I’m guilty, it was me and I’m sorry”… Denver is saying “I’m no threat to you, you are making me uncomfortable, please don’t hurt me.  Calm down dad, it’s okay.  Just relax a minute, please”  Isn’t that sad?  Denver is punished and has no idea why… all she was trying to communicate was that her owner was making her feel uncomfortable and scared.

Check out this video.. another “guilty” dog…

When a dog is giving those signals, he/she is incredibly uncomfortable and concerned.  If you own a dog (or regularly around dogs), you should check out some body language books/photos and discover what your dog is trying to communicate to you.  Poor Denver is desperately trying to communicate to her owner to calm down, but her owner is seemingly oblivious to the stress he is causing his dog.  I wish people would just rethink what is actually happening in this video and not pass it along with such levity because it’s actually quite sad when you think of it from the point of view of reading Denver’s body language.

What type of calming signals do your dogs give when it’s bath time, or when you raise your voice, or when you clip nails, or when you etc… just take a minute and actually watch your dog… see how he/she is trying to communicate with you in the only way he/she knows how.

Here are some more photos with descriptions of appeasement gestures.

This dog is smiling, with ears low and back, soft almond eyes (half closed), and looking away

This dog has a pronounced whale eye (whites of eye showing), with a low hung head and "slinking" posture

This dog is displaying his stress through a lip-lick

Okay so Rio isnt stressed here but YAWNING is a very common appeasement gesture. Often a dog will yawn, turn away, and blink simultaneously and throw in a lip lick to be clear

For more information on canine body language check out Canine Body Language–A Photographic Guide by Brenda Aloff or On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas.

Happy Blog Hopping!!

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About Success Just Clicks

I'm a dog trainer and enthusiast who moonlights as a blogger and custom tug-toy maker.
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22 Responses to Blog the Change for Denver….

  1. Oh my goodness, I also wrote about Denver a few weeks ago! And I completely agree with you. Denver is exhibiting all the calming signals of a dog who is trying to appease the guardian. I think Denver is reacting to the tone of the man’s voice (in the present moment)…not a forbidden snack eaten (in the past). Here is my post on Denver, the so-called “guilty” dog: http://www.yourholisticdog.com/2011/04/01/do-dogs-feel-guilt/

  2. thatjenk says:

    Awesome article! Can you imagine how much bite statistics would decrease if more people were generally aware of dog body language?!

  3. Kristine says:

    What a fantastic topic to cover! Dog body language is so important and can be so difficult to read unless you know what you are doing. I think most humans tend to think dogs communicate in much the same way we do, which is obviously just not true. It’s vital for every dog owner to at least understand the basics of dog communication to be able to tell when their dog is over-stressed or potentially ill.

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  5. Kim Thomas says:

    Extremely important information about dogs and body language – thanks for sharing! Definitely is something more people need to be aware of!

    Thank you for blogging the change!

    Kim Thomas from
    BtC4Animals.com
    CindyLusMuse.blogspot.com
    BarkOutLoudWeekly.com

  6. Such a great, informative post. Thank you so much for this, especially for including so many helpful photos to go along with the videos.

  7. Vicky says:

    Canine Body language is one of my favorite books. Excellent for showing people the difference between what people think a dog is thinking and what a dog is actually communicating. Great topic. I felt the same way when I first saw the video you referenced.

  8. Great post – I had to link it in mine!

  9. caitlin Brohm says:

    I said the same thing when someone I know posted this video.. I said it was heartbreaking how hard she was trying to appease her owner!

    A simple DVD called “The Language of Dogs” could really educate some people!

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  11. Pup Fan says:

    Fantastic post. It’s really important to educate people about trying to understand what their dogs are trying to communitcate to them.

  12. Julie says:

    Hi! Thank you for mentioning the video I posted, “Is Denver really guilty?” that shows Alexandra Horowitz’s research into the “guilty look”. I study animal behavior and focus on sharing research studies with the public. Cheers!

  13. Amen! I went on a total rant about this a few weeks ago too. That video made me so sad and frustrated … especially after they went on Good Morning America.

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  17. McKenzie Smith says:

    So if Denver wasn’t guilty why is the other dog on the vid all relaxed, hmm?? Were his body chemicals not reaching the other dog??

    • Well McKenzie, I don’t think the other dog was completely relaxed either. He/she was giving off some stress signals as well. Plus dogs respond differently to stress and it takes different levels of stress to elicit different calming signals. If i approached my dogs like he did Denver, one of my dogs would react like Denver (whether or not he did anything) and the other one would just look at me and MAYBE lick her lips and look away. One of my dogs isn’t nearly as sensitive as the other, which is why one dog may be reacting much more overtly than the other. I’m not sure what you mean by his body chemicals reaching the other dog.

      • McKenzie Smith says:

        Uhm, in your opening post you talk about people’s body chemicals affecting dogs behaviour. So I would have thought you’d know what I meant if I used the same phrase. But to clarify: one dog is clearly not fussed while the other is clearly guilty. You are saying that it’s our own body language and chemicals that cause certain reactions in dogs. He speaks to the first dog in the same tone of voice as he does Denver; ergo by your rationing both dogs should display the same appeasement gestures. Also, I noticed that you are all about “dogs don’t communicate in the same way we do” however you have captioned one of the images with “this dog is smiling with eyes closed…etc”. If you truly believed that dogs don’t communicate like we do ie show guilt then you should also stand by the fact that dogs don’t actually smile. I just found it a bit hypocritical. I love dogs btw I just can’t stand people saying “I know dog behaviour” when clearly they don’t :/

        • I’m not aware of any peer-reviewed research that discusses canine body chemistry effecting other canines–I wouldn’t be shocked either way. Sorry, if you know of some please let me know.

          There has been some research in the body chemistry of people (namely cancer, epilepsy, and diabetes) that has shown that some dogs (though not all) are capable of reacting to the slightest change in body chemistry that indicates an impending seizure, low/high blood sugar, and skin/lung cancer. From those studies, experts have hypothesized that there is a really good chance that they can react to other changes in body chemistry, especially if those changes in body chemistry predict meaningful events. It may also be a factor to why dogs seem to gravitate toward dog-people and can react negatively toward people who are fearful of dogs.

          Just because one dog reacts to a stimulus in one way does not mean another dog will respond the same way. Like I mentioned in my comment, dogs can react differently to the exact same stimulus because they are individuals with different experiences around various stimuli and have individual personalities. One of my dogs is very sensitive while the other dog is not so sensitive so one is much quicker to offer very visual and very overt appeasement gestures (breed can have something to do with this as well).

          Just so you know, the other dog DOES show a variety of appeasement gestures. In just the first few seconds he’s in the video, he does slow blinks, squinty eyes, two look aways, and a lip lick. Later on in the video he has an increased rate of blinking as soon as the cameraman speaks to the pup, a slow blink, is avoiding eye contact, and it looks like he has a bit of a whale-eye.

          As to my use of “smile,” it’s very common term used to describe a “submissive grin”–it’s not anthropomorphizing, just using a less technical term that is still understood within the community.

  18. Jess (Trigger's ma) says:

    “He speaks to the first dog in the same tone of voice as he does Denver; ergo by your rationing both dogs should display the same appeasement gestures.”

    Wow did you miss the mark here…

    To correct – He speaks to the first dog in the same tone of voice as he does Denver, ergo, by her rationing, both dogs have the potential to display any number of appeasement gestures, if any at all.

    I hope you don’t believe dogs are all robots and will react in cookie cutter fashion…to ANYthing in life. Just because one is throwing obvious appeasement gestures doesn’t mean all will. Some will be far more subtle with sharing how they feel, while others won’t reveal how they feel at all. What’s being discussed here is Denver’s reaction. To dismiss her obvious appeasement gestures simply because the other dog isn’t exhibiting exactly the same is extremely short-sighted. Even dogs from the exact same litter, raised identically, will cope with life differently. I thought everyone knew that….

    All that aside, fabulous and very relevant topic and concern, I’m forwarding it on!!!

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