Whole Dog Journal's Blog March 29, 2016

Looking Forward to this Phase Passing

Posted at 10:14AM - Comments: (5)

If I had to name my puppy’s most annoying trait, I’d have to say it’s “fooling around” with my older dog, Otto.

What do I mean by this? A person who wasn’t familiar with dog behavior would be likely to say that Woody is pestering my older dog. He jumps up into Otto’s face, licking and flopping around, and generally acting like a fool. The more he does it, the more irritated Otto gets. Otto may start out with his tail wagging, standing in one place and turning his head away, trying to ignore the puppy’s foolishness. Within a few seconds, though, he will start baring his teeth and growling at the puppy in a fearsome manner, until they are either interrupted (by me), or by Otto abruptly deciding enough is enough and flattening the puppy with a roar and a lot of snapping teeth.

Otto growling at puppy

Otto clearly communicates "Stay away from me!" to a foster puppy, who reads him loud and clear with a raised paw of deference.

Truthfully, Otto doesn’t actually flatten Woody, although that’s how it looks. If you watch carefully (and I have been), Woody throws himself on the ground, in an act of active submission. When the moment plays itself out without interruption, Otto will stand over Woody’s wiggling, lip-licking form for a moment, as if to say, “Seriously! Stop it!”  

Does Woody have a death wish? Why would he do this several times a day?

“Fooling around” is the phrase behaviorists use to describe one of the dog’s most common indicators of stress; it’s right up there with fight and flight, in terms of “top five things that a dog might do when stressed.” Otto is clearly the leader of my little pack of dogs, and his mere presence nearby exerts a powerful influence on the most junior member of the family. Woody is both drawn to Otto and mildly afraid of him, and the combination seems to trigger moments of this over-the-top obsequiousness.

When we invite them to live with us, we ask dogs to mute – or at least, turn way down – much of their natural, normal way of relating to each other. Their noises, facial expressions, and behavior can appear to us humans as very dramatic – but the drama is meant to forestall actual violence. It wouldn’t make any sense for animals in a highly social group to genuinely hurt each other when they squabble on a day-to-day basis over resources like food, toys, the most comfortable spot in the room, or proximity to an owner. So, while I understand that Woody’s exuberant “sucking up” to Otto and Otto’s dramatic “Knock it off! Go find something else to do!” are natural and normal behaviors, things they have to do as they work out the intricacies of their canine relationship, I still find it annoying. It may be natural and normal for dogs, but it seems to be equally natural and normal for humans to be uncomfortable with sounds of growling, snarling, and roaring/snapping.

Woody is maturing day by day, and as he gains self-control and confidence, these little flurries of animated canine behavior are slowly giving way to more subtle interactions. Now, more often than not, Otto can walk into a room and Woody will acknowledge the senior dog with just a few flips of his tail and a lowered head, with low ears and a flicking tongue. I’m glad my bully breed puppy is showing appropriate deference to our pack leader, but I’ll also be happy when he’s completely confident in this role and the “fooling around” behavior stops.

Comments (3)

I have a 16 month old female GSD who still does essentially this but it has been incorporated into their play. My 10 year old male shepherd is a beta male, calm super easygoing personality and mostly tolerates her antics. I never associated her behavior with a stress indicator, though. I call her a bit of a bully and believe she is assuming the leader role because he never has been. Just to mention, both are imports from Germany from sinlge litter per year, club member breeders so come from stable parents- no crazy American back yard breeder stock. As such I am assuming I am the problem and need to change something.
She is on the edge of excitement almost all the time. She is exercised to the point of vibration panting with various ball fetching and lure chasing games 3-4 times or more a day so she is getting exercise but would just walking (correctly and not pulling me through the neighborhood ) be the solution or something else?

Posted by: Dsaun58043@cox.net | March 29, 2016 11:38 AM    Report this comment

Can someone tell me the breed of the larger dog, Otto, in the photo?

Posted by: Christian Mrosko | March 29, 2016 10:51 AM    Report this comment

This is the most confusing behavior for me. I now recognize it, but am finding it hard to get to the comfort level necessary
to eradicate it. It is still a thing my one year old does with both dogs and people. He loves people, but is also nervous so he has this out of control, whirling dervish behavior upon meet and greet. Even if they wait for him to greet. None when I just stand there talking to them. Then he lies quietly. I'm having trouble getting rid of it because I cannot let him greet that way, and he is already comfortable with everything else. Since he loves people so much, he will fling himself on the ground if I don't let him approach knowing that I will then let him closer to them, but it has been impossible to find strangers willing to go through all that to advance. We've done many classes, but they don't provide enough practice for this behavior to go. We start agility soon, and I'm hoping that will help with confidence in a way that spills over to this.

Posted by: Alice R. | March 29, 2016 10:43 AM    Report this comment

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