Two months ago, Donna met Snow the Japanese spitz at the dog run again. Donna had actually met Snow when she was a small puppy about a year ago, but I’m not sure if they remembered each other.
Snow the Japanese Spitz – Popping on the back a submissive or calming signal?
They seemed to get along, but in a strange way. Every time Donna approached Snow, Snow would flop on her back like this.
I read that dogs lie down as a calming signal or as an appeasement gesture to more assertive dogs. I’m not sure if this meant the dog is generally under stress, but Snow didn’t seem unhappy judging from her loose mouth and overall relaxed demeanor. So I left them to it.
Except that after a while, I got bored and tired of looking at Snow popping on her back every single time (haha!) so I called Donna away to a different spot in the dog run so she could think about playing with some other dogs instead.
We almost never meet a submissive dog like Snow so I didn’t think much about it until over the weekend when we attended a doggie birthday party. Meet Sam Forest Loo Lim, probably the most submissive dog at the party…
Sam the JRT – Lying on the side a submissive or an appeasement signal?
Compared to Snow, I thought sweet little Sammy looked perhaps slightly more tensed because his ears were somewhat pinned back and his tail a little bit tucked inwards.
He stayed frozen in that pose the whole time Kanon the Japanese Spitz examined him until Kanon moved off.
And then Donna came in with her usual “Play with me” demand…
… and little Sammy flopped back down again.
Donna’s playbow was not heeded.
…dogs clearly demarcate play by employing signals, such as play bows (i.e., putting the front half of the body on the ground while keeping the rear half up in the air) and exaggerated, bouncy movements. Anthropologist Gregory Bateson called play signals meta-communication, meaning communication about communication. Humans employ meta-communication a lot. For example, when teasing a friend, we may smile or use a certain tone of voice to indicate that we’re just kidding. Similarly, dogs play bow to invite play and to convey playful intentions during play. Marc Bekoff, while at the University of Colorado, did a study1 showing that dogs are most likely to play bow just before or immediately after performing an especially assertive behavior, such as a bite accompanied by a head shake. This pattern suggests that playing dogs recognize moments when their behavior can be misinterpreted as serious aggression and compensate by reminding their partner, “I’m still playing.” – Is your dog’s rough play appropriate, TheBark.com via Hawk Brown Dog
No I don’t wanna play with you… I just want to lie here and freeze until you go away, crazy Donna.
Or at least, that was what I thought Sam was saying.
But Sammy’s human shared with me that he wanted to play, but perhaps was just unsure because he was meeting Donna for the first time. That made sense too, if he were really fearful, perhaps Sammy would have scooted back to his human in a hurry.
But he remained… and Donna was still play-bowing him – – (Donna is probably in danger of becoming a bully i.e. a dog that keeps bugging another dog to play even if the other dog is showing resistance.)
And then this happened again…
Passive submission usually involves a dramatic reduction in activity with a goal of diverting attention, and is most often seen in a lower-ranking dog when threats are directed toward him by a higher-ranking member of the social group (dog or human). The dog’s ears may be pressed flat against the head, with his tail tucked between legs. The subordinate dog often freezes, averting eye contact, lowering his head and body, sometimes to the point of going “belly-up” on the ground. Passive submission may also be accompanied by submissive urination. – Understanding how dogs communicate with each other, whole-dog-journal.com
Sammy is a cheerleader?
They separated for the cake cutting and group photo taking. Afterwards, Donna and Kanon started to play. Now sometimes Kanon likes to mount other dogs, but Donna usually just spins around to shake him off.
This time, Donna was finding it a little difficult to spin him off because Sammy decided that he wanted to play too.
Does Sam want to play with Donna now or is this a Two vs One situation?? Kanon mounting Donna from behing and Sam jumping on Donna in front.
I was quite surprised that Sammy had no issues putting his paws on Donna because of his submissive gestures earlier. So I wonder if his actions belong to the active submission category…
Active submission may also be identified as attention-seeking behavior: nuzzling, licking (including licking ears and lips), jumping up, paw lifts and pawing motions, “smiling,” teeth clacking, crouching, pretzeling, and play-bows. The dog’s ears may be pulled back, and his tail may be wagging expressively, with wide, sweeping movements or circles. These behaviors can often be seen during greetings between dog and owner, or between friendly, compatible dogs. – whole-dog-journal.com
Sam’s human gave me more insight when she explained that Sam is the type of dog who likes to feel involved when other dogs are playing. Cheerleader style??
Cheerleaders. Cheerleaders play on the outside of a group who is more physically involved. They run around the outskirts of the group and bark, sometimes almost constantly. Often times cheerleaders turn into the dreaded “fun police.” These dogs can be great on one hand (they may break up play that is getting too rough by dispersing the playmates and allowing them to calm down) or problematic (they can cause fights because some dogs do not appreciate having their fun broken up). – Canine play styles -why they are important, teamunruly.com
In any case, they still appeared to be having fun so we continued to observe.
They broke up on their own.
And then resumed the two-versus-one game again.
And then they had another break on their own.
Some time later, they started playing again in the same way. By then, I had stopped taking photographs since they seem to be doing the same thing all over again.
But after a while, you could sort of feel they were a lot more excited this time than the previous bouts. There was play growling from Sammy, and I wasn’t sure if Donna was play growling as well. But as I watched I could see that the hair on her back was standing and her mouth was really tense and at times she mouthed him.
Now Sam is a small dog so by then I thought it was better to call Donna away, give them a timeout and stop the play on a high note rather than risk letting them carry on. I just wasn’t sure if it was wise for them to continue when Donna was so aroused since it’s the first time Donna was caught in a situation where she is closed in between two dogs. And also, I didn’t want Donna to accidentally hurt Sammy since he is so much smaller and lighter than her.
And since it’s the first time they met each other, I just rather be safe than sorry. If they ever meet again, I’ll be interested in seeing how they continue to interact.
Perhaps I can be considered as highly interventionist?? Hawk the Brown Dog shared with me an article that has an interesting take on dog interaction:
Sometimes it is obvious at the beginning of a bout that two dogs are playing, but once the dogs start growling or their arousal intensifies, observers may no longer be sure that the dogs are still playing.
After all, humans instinctively avoid a dog who is snarling or baring his teeth, and it is natural to think that our dogs should do the same. When people interrupt really rowdy play, they assume that they are “playing it safe,” that is, doing no harm.
But what if this assumption is mistaken? Our research shows that for many dogs, play fighting is the primary method used to negotiate new relationships and develop lasting friendships.
Although play is fun, it also offers serious opportunities to communicate with another dog. In this sense, play is a kind of language. Thus, when we regularly break up what we consider “inappropriate” play, are we doing our dogs a service, or confusing them by constantly butting into their private conversations? Most importantly, how can we tell the difference?
So while I’ll still continue to pull Donna aside for time outs with new dogs she is meeting when they get rowdy, I will probably let her handle these interactions on her own with dogs that we have met more consistently and are more familiar with across time.
Donna the Mongrel – Lying on her back an invitation to play?
Ending this post with a video of Donna on her back for a different reason. The daycare told me she was showing more of a “look at me” posture, inviting the other dogs to play with her.
She looked so relaxed wriggling around there but it’s funny how she was trying so hard but the Border Collie walked by twice and ignored her both times. It looked like nobody responded to poor Donna but the daycare assured me that the last dog at the end of the video responded to her invite. :P
So good. ;)