Trainers sometimes bring in one of their own dogs to puppy classes to help shy puppies feel comfortable around other dogs. It takes a special type of dog to do this properly. Very few dogs can handle this social situation without causing more harm than good. The dogs who succeed are emotionally stable themselves, capable of remaining calm no matter what the puppies do and socially savvy enough to adjust their own behavior based on what the puppies seem to require. The right dog can help the puppies learn to greet other dogs properly and to feel more comfortable in social situations with other dogs.
This six-months-old boxer in this video is just the sort of dog that I would LOVE to have around shy or timid puppies and dogs, though the video shows a greeting with cows rather than with puppies.
Notice how even in the first moments of the video, the dog moves slowly and calmly. She is not leaping, jumping or showing any other signs of arousal. She approaches the cows calmly, and when, about 7 seconds in, the black cow on the right seems unsure and backs away, the dog reacts by immediately stopping her forward motion and making herself less imposing. Specifically, the dog lies down and stays calm, even ceasing her tail movement and lowering her head, all of which seems to give the cows confidence to approach her.
For the next three-quarters of a minute, the dog remains still except for movements of her head as she sniffs the cows who come close to her. Though she is not moving, her body is relaxed (rather than being still in a rigid way), which likely helps the cows to feel relaxed, too.
She starts to wag her tail again at around 55 seconds (I’m guessing the time based on slight movement of the body since the tail is out of view until 57 seconds when you can see it wagging) and this is right about the time that the cows become more confident. In fact, they come so close to her that just about any dog would have backed up from the pressure. This boxer, however, simply retracts her neck as much as possible and continues to let the cows investigate her.
I’m impressed by what I see in this video—a stable dog who is confident and composed. She’s a dog who stays relaxed, which indicates tremendous emotional control, particularly in a young dog. She’s also quite social with a clear interest in greeting this other species, and willing to proceed in this greeting at the speed at which the cows are comfortable. I even like the way she periodically checks in with the person holding onto the leash by looking that way. It’s hard to know, but it seems as though she would have been responsive to a cue from that person at any time if one had been given.
It’s just a short video—barely over a minute long—but it’s enough to show some really interesting body language and to reveal a dog who’s really something special.
Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer whose clinical work over the last 17 years has focused on the evaluation and treatment of serious behavioral problems in dogs, especially aggression. Karen has been writing the behavior column for The Bark since 2012 and wrote The Bark’s training column and various other articles for eight years before that. She is an adjunct professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University, and teaches a tropical field biology course in Costa Rica. Karen writes an animal column, The London Zoo, which appear in The Arizona Daily Sun and is the author of five books on canine training and behavior. She is working on her next book, which she expects to be published in 2017.