Dog Language – Play Groups

I often take my puppy and my camera to a play group. I took this series of photos on a sunny afternoon not long ago. Let me introduce the cast of characters:

Olive, a Golden Retriever, is a puppy and submissive to everyone. She is timid but loves to play. Beta, a white Shepard is 6 or 7 years old and tends to be aloof. She will occasionally deign to play, but it takes her a while to warm up to other dogs. When she is nervous she acts fierce – she likes to raise her lips in a ferocious looking snarl.

Beatle (my dog) is the black Shepard. She’s almost 7 months old and has recently started acting like the teenager that she is. The final member of this group is Charlie a friendly, cannon ball of an English lab. He loves to play, loves people, loves bowling over dogs, loves life.


In the first photo, above, Olive and Beta are being introduced. Olive is terrified of Beta. How do I know she is terrified? Notice the stiffness in her front legs and the worried expression in her eyes. Also, the tongue lick is a sign of anxiety and she has lowered her ears in puppy appeasement language.

She is probably worried because Beta is also uncomfortable. Notice Beta’s ruff and the way she is leaning in for the sniff. She doesn’t want to get too close. She is evaluating the situation. Also note the loose leash on Beta. Her person is ready to intervene if necessary, but a tight leash increases the tension so it’s better to leave it loose. Olive is free, so if she needs to retreat she can.


Next Beatle noses her way in-between them. Beta’s ruff is still up and the puppy Olive still looks worried. She is looking away from both Beta and Beatle. Beatle is coming in low, another submissive gesture and her ears are down. She is look straight at Beta which can be aggressive and rude between dogs. Perhaps this is why she is coming in low. She and Beta are friends. Beatle ignores Beta’s raised rough and snarls. She will lick Beta’s lip even as Beta snarls or growls. I don’t know if Beatle wanted to break up the tension between Olive and Beta or if she just wanted Beta’s attention. Same thing I guess.

Charlie, the lab in back, is the group peacemaker. He is totally relaxed. Whenever there are squabbles he runs between whoever is making a ruckus. It’s pretty amazing to see. He will deliberately push his was in between the two dogs. The first couple times I saw it I thought it was a coincidence, but it has happened often enough I’m sure it is deliberate.


Now, Olive and Beta are making progress. Beta still looks unsure, but Olive is looking much more relaxed. She still has her ears down and her head is lower than Beta’s, but her mouth is relaxed and her tongue is out in a smile. Beta, on the other hand, is looking at Olive from the corner of her eye and her mouth is tense in a way Olive’s isn’t. Still, they are making progress.

More time passed. Now look at them.

In the this photo they both look relaxed and happy, tongues are out in happy grins. Olive is still looking submissive which is probably reassuring to Beta. Its clear from both their postures that they are now easy with each other.

You probably also noticed all the leashes dragging and all the people close by. This is a structured puppy play group. A couple of the dogs, ok, just mine, Beatle, gets overexcited sometimes and I have to step in and have her take a break. Sometimes its easier to catch whoever she is chasing instead of Beatle. So we leave leashes on. Most of them are slippery non-tangle leashes.

In the above photo it’s about time to intervene.When Beatle gets this intense she needs a time-out, although Olive doesn’t seem to care. Olive looks loose and relaxed and her tongue is out in a smile. (Compare this tongue with the one in the first photo.)

Notice how relaxed Olive is, then look at Beatle’s ears which are upright. In itself that’s not a big deal, but her head is low and her whole manner is focused intently on Olive. I wouldn’t worry, except I saw her once go into prey drive. She didn’t hurt the other dog, but her demeanor was scary-intense and the other dog was terrified. So, I keep a close eye on her. This is a new behavior for her. I’m hoping its a short stage.

This is how she usually is:


That’s the word in dog land.
Thanks for reading,

July 14, 2018

Check out Beatle as a pup (ignore the name changes. It took a while to settle on the spelling)

New Puppy!

Other dog posts:
Puppy Socialization

Crate Training your Dog
Three things you Must Have Before Getting a Puppy
Cat Show – wait – that’s not about dogs

neither are these:

Freezing Frogs: Survival of the Coldest
Beautiful Objects in the Sky
A Case for Curiosity


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