Observing three or more canine’s while at work and in my personal life
to observe reactions with my attention drawn to the many mechanisms of fear.
The closest and easiest canine to observe is my own pet, Nikki; she is a Chow/Lab mix. Nikki does not have any markings of
a Chow but does show behavioral traits that Chow’s do. When she is greeting a new person you can physically see
the conflict between the Chow and Lab breeds.
So as not to get too side tracked on different breed characteristics simply put Labrador Retrievers are friendlier than Chow
Chow’s typically. Watching Nikki greet a new person she displays all the mannerisms of being very friendly. She
will wag her tail, and typically most of her body, with her ears up. The typical person sees her as very friendly. The Chow
comes out when that person attempts to reach down and pet her. She will jump back from them and huff and possibly bark at
When looking closer at Nikki as she greets the new person you can see much more caution than an average person would recognize.
Nikki while she is wagging her tail her body is actually held back and she will stretch her neck out while sniffing the person.
While she does not growl or show her teeth she is being tentative with new people. When a person goes to pet her and she jumps
back you can also see her body lower to the ground for just a few moments. These show signs of fear when she is first meeting
I bought Nikki at a very young puppy. She excelled in her obedience class. She has always been an excellent pet. She has been
raised with children in the house and never displayed aggression toward them even in her and the children’s younger
years. For several years she was routinely taken to a local dog park for social interaction along with being exposed to several
local stores that allow dogs. Nikki will spend hours outside in the front yard with me without any problems. I have a large
in-law family that is also around her at various times. She is a very well exposed animal and these exposures have always
been positive for her. She displays much the same confidence in these areas that one would look for in a working dog.
While she has had a very positive upbringing and positive based training she had never changed her physical reaction when
first meeting people, even those that she knows but may not have seen for some time. As I have mentioned she will jump
back and huff at the person but you can also see her lower her head and her ears, although folded over at the top will retract.
Nikki and I did have one negative interaction several years ago before I was involved with canines other than her as a pet.
I had a person at the door that I had been waiting on. I wanted to put her out because this was a worker and I wanted to error
on the side of caution. I don’t believe exposing people to pets until you are sure they are comfortable with animals
is wise. Nikki had always followed commands to go out. This time she did not and with frustration I grabbed her collar and
began walking her toward the back door. Nikki laid down and rolled on her back. While this was probably a submission and if
I had let her go she would have gone outside and we both would have been able to move on. I however being naive kept a hold
of her and now placed her in a position where the fight or flight came in. Since I failed to recognize this and let go she
then reacted and bit my hand. The only positive that I now take away from the whole incident is that I did not react negatively
to the bite. I let her go and she went outside. I was able to look at the situation immediately and realize the position that
I had put her in. Looking back at the whole situation I could have done things very differently to avoid the situation.
In meeting new people and knowing what to look at you can see the signs of some fear in Nikki even though she has had all
positive interactions with people. In the negative example I used earlier I could see fearful reactions in her for some
time after that. It has taken years to rebuild that trust.
I work in and for a very rural county. Having interactions with dogs is extremely common since most rural families have one
or more dogs on their property. While responding to a call for service recently we approached the residence, which was fenced
with chain link, and saw a medium size mix bread dog. While he was barking loudly and at the fence one could also see several
signs that the animal was fearful. Once we got closer you could see the dog was actually holding his body very low to the
ground in a hunched over manner. His ears were low and retracted. He did not growl or show his teeth at any time. We walked
around toward the gate as he continued showing the same signs. When we got to the gate had he had confidence and wanted to
attack he could have. Instead he retreated back while still barking. He went to the far side of the yard and paced back and
forth but never approached us. He never stood up straight or held his head high. During our entire encounter with his owner
in the front yard he would bark but never approach us or his owner. When another deputy arrived the dog did the same exercise
of barking at the fence and following him around toward the gate but retreated as soon as the deputy was close to the gate
and the dog became close to where I was standing inside the fence. I did speak to the dog in a friendly tone in an attempt
to gage his reaction. He would only look at me and stop barking for a short moment then retreat back to the corner of the
yard. While it would have been interesting to find out some of the animals history and living conditions the intoxicated
owner was in no shape to discuss anything other than his own life’s problems.
While at work this week we responded to a fully engulfed barn fire. We woke the owners who came outside to watch the fire
and his business burn to the ground. They had a small tea cup type dog. I watched as the dog jumped up and barked continuously.
While it was hard to see its ears you see the animal was very stressed and showed signs of fear. The dog was staying behind
the owner while barking. If you would reach out for it the animal would retreat further behind the owner. When everyone would
step back from the owners the dog would run out toward the firefighters, the dog was on a retractable leach, and bark. If
you tried to pet the dog he would cower and try and get further away from me all the while barking in a very high pitch.
At one point the owners walked away from the fire and down the long drive. I saw the dog stop barking and come out away from
the owner. He would walk out in front of the owner and wander off and sniff the grass or trees. The dog was removed from all
the movement and flashing lights not to mention all the movement of the strangers. When this was done you could see the confidence
and comfort of the animal return. When the owners would start back down the drive toward the fire and all of the commotion
I could see the dogs anxiety and fear begin to return. He would start to get closer to his owners and not show any interest
in the vegetation around him. The closer they got he would start to bark again and run around behind the owners and in-between
their feet. His head would get lower and he would stretch out his neck. The more the owners attempted to comfort
the animal the worse he would bark and run behind them. He did appear to get some level of comfort back when the owner picked
him up and held him close but still remained near the fire and activity however if I approached the owner he would again become
very vocal and squirm in the owners arms.
This entire interaction was very educational without the owners knowing that I was watching them. By them simply walking away
the confidence of the dog returned and the comfort level of its surroundings was amazing to watch. The fact that I believe
the dog is very social if it had not been for the external stressor of the fire and firefighters being present.
Being exposed to so many dogs over the years working in a rural county I have seen several farm dogs that at face value would
appear confident. Several years ago I approached a house that was fenced. I could see the dog on the front porch and he saw
me. I approached the gate and jiggled the latch to make sure he saw me and that I was coming into his yard. He approached
me very quietly and only stretched his neck out to sniff me. I stopped and let him and then we walked together to the front
door. I did not pet him or reach out in any way toward him and he stayed several feet away from me as we walked.
I made contact with the home owner while the dog sat on the porch with me, watching. I concluded my business with the home
owner and began to walk away. When I was down the stairs I had stopped watching the dog assuming he was still on the porch
and no longer concerned with me. I was half way to the gate when he charged at me barking and showing his teeth. I hurriedly
took the last few steps to the gate and got it closed as he lunged at the fence. He stood on his hind legs barking, growling
and showing his teeth.
I looked back on this incident trying to decipher the dog’s actions. I now believe that both when I entered the
property and when I left the property the dog showed some fear by my presents. While I entered and took a direct approach
with him he did not challenge me. He stayed a safe distance from me and only watched me. His body was harder to read because
his movements could be read as friendly or at the minimum non- threatened. He did keep his head lowered and his tail
lowered but not tucked either. He clearly did not have the confidence in himself to challenge my presence while I was
looking at him. This clearly shows submission along with his slight body profile also displaying some fear. When I turned
my back on him I believe he still had fear but he showed some confidence by charging me while my back was turned. When I did
see him and looking back on the situation now when he did charge at me he showed his teeth but his ears were back and lowered.
I now believe that he looked at me as a threat that he could not challenge face to face so to speak. I think he waited for
an opportunity that he could defend himself and his territory without directly challenging me. These actions would still
be showing fear and submission.
I was asked to go and evaluate a potential new canine for our team several years ago. We arrived and the vendor took a good
looking Malinois. The dog seemed happy and comfortable being in the area. The vendor explained that the dog was tested and
would do well as a dual certified patrol dog. The agency trainer at the time first walked the dog around and it seemed a little
unsure of this new person holding the lead but did not cower or show other signs of fear.
We first did a simple track to see if the dog would track at all even not being trained. The vendor took the dog and he did
put his nose down and work. Feeling more confident we next did a simple article search for some keys that I had tossed into
a grass/weed area. Again the dog seemed to work and got to the keys with little help.
We then wanted to test the dog’s courage. We back tied him to a fence that was in the area. The dog was out toward
the end of the line but began to show some signs of fear and uncertainty. He lowered his head and his ears began to go back.
We presented the decoy with a sleeve on. The decoy did not do anything but walk toward the dog. When the decoy got closer
the dog began to back up away from him. The decoy engaged the dog with some yelling to get the dogs attention. The dog continued
to back up but also started barking. If the decoy backed up the dog would approach some but still not to the end of the line.
The decoy moved forward again and again the dog retreated. We ended with the decoy moving to let the dog have a bite,
which we had been assured the dog had seen a sleeve before and would bite. The dog would not bite at the sleeve or any other
area. We ended the evaluation so as not to distress the animal any further. The dog would not engage in any fashion and was
clearly not suited for law enforcement work.
Observing several dogs recently and over the years it can be very difficult to read the dog in real time. Some of the indications
of fear of other emotions can be very slight however if you take the time and se the environment properly you can often times
successfully read a dog.