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  1. #1

    Tails of Marin: Some dog breeds can be harder to read

    We all enjoy watching dogs play with each other, and most people instinctively know when dogs are being nice or when things are getting out of hand. But sometimes it's hard to tell, particularly with some breeds.

    When a Rottweiler is angry he may not show it, whereas a German shepherd is likely to announce all his intentions to the world.

    Some of the most interesting things about our canine companions are their differences — in temperament, breed and behavior. Of course, they are all individuals first, but they are also members of a breed or breed mix, and a species.

    When you're reading dogs, you try to take everything into consideration — body type, ears, mouth, eyes and tail. Because dogs are social animals, they need to communicate to their family and others — people and dogs.

    Consider the Labrador retriever. This breed was bred to cooperate with people to bring game to hunters. When hunting was necessary, this was a very valuable behavior, saving the hunters time as well as a great deal of discomfort. Because of this, labs have a tendency to be very connected to their owners "... and extremely communicative. Labs telegraph their feeling — you know when a lab is happy. Labs also have to have boundless, enthusiastic energy, which they needed in order to work all day, often in very cold water.

    Border collies are also very communicative, but they can be more difficult to read, at least until you now them. Their piercing stare is aimed at controlling their "flock," whether it's sheep, geese or people. Because of that — the instinct to lock on other organisms — a border collie can seem very threatening when he isn't at all.

    Another thing that gets in the way of dog communication is the appearance of different breeds. A chow chow might think it is conveying information, but its mane is likely to interfere with its intentions and it may well be misunderstood.

    Dogs that are all one color — particularly black — have more difficulty signaling their intentions. Wolves naturally have a "mask." Their eyes are distinct from other parts of their muzzles. In fact, their muzzles are often a different shade than other facial features.

    Then there's hair. We have many breeds that have developed hair that flops over their eyes. While hair can be a barrier to protect eyes from sun and brambles, too much can make it very difficult for us or other dogs to figure out what's going on inside.

    Next time you visit a dog park, pay attention to the way dogs look and the way they communicate with one another.

    Trish King is the instructor for the Canine Behavior Academy at the Marin Humane Society and teaches courses in canine behavior.

    Actually, watching a dog like a bouvier makes one understand just how much information we get from a dog's eyes. Bouviers are all one color — often grey or black — and their hair covers their eyes completely.

    When we dock dogs' tails or crop their ears, we obstruct their communicative skills — it's much more difficult to see a wagging stump of a tail than a long one (By the way, a wagging tail does not necessarily mean that a dog is friendly — a very angry dog also may wag its tail).

    Next time you visit a dog park, pay attention to the way dogs look and the way they communicate with one another. It's fascinating to see how quickly some dogs seem to figure out the others' language "... and how some can't quite figure out what another dog is talking about.
    Last edited by Philip; 09-30-2012 at 06:54 AM. Reason: No generic links allowed

 

 

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