Thursday, February 5, 2015

Stress Signals and Photography

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Have you ever posted what you thought was a cute picture on a facebook group (or any sort of internet forum) and then had it torn to pieces by people or taken wildly out of context?



A few months ago one of my closest friends posted a picture of her border collie on a very well known PR facebook page. He was staring intently at her and a treat had been placed on his leg. He was being told to wait. That's a pretty common training thing for impulse control work and if you have a border collie or know border collies they are known for being intense about everything they do and they are known for staring (crazy eyes) at things. The people on the group ripped her to shreds and claimed she was being abusive and her dog was obviously stressed out. (Now there is a difference between good stress and bad stress and it looks exactly the same but that's a post for another time.) People were freaking out about a picture that was taken in a few seconds, probably less than that and he got his treat for being a good boy. He's not abused and his owner is one of the biggest advocates for positive reinforcement training that I know.

It seems like everyone has something to say about pictures of dogs these days. Especially since people started learning about calming (aka stress) signals. They get on the internet and become keyboard warriors without knowing the person or the dog. They just start assuming things and it gets out of control. Reading dog body language is important and I wish everyone who owned a dog would take the time to learn it but when it's not your dog and you don't really know them you can't judge what is happening in 1/200th of a second. That's how fast my photo was taken above. 1/200th of a second. Phoenix is licking her nose.

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Now you could say, oh that dog is obviously stressed! Look at that scrunched forehead and she's licking her nose. That dog is so conflicted!! STRESS SIGNAL!! ALERT! ALERT!! That other dog is probably making her uncomfortable. What a mean owner to make those dogs sit next to each other.

Or maybe that dog who's licking her nose really REALLY wants the treat that I'm holding in my hand and her mouth is watering and she knows it's going to be delicious. Look at the little twinkle in her eye and that mischievous look on the other dog's face. They are waiting for treats.

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I have gotten criticism for training Zoe to "kiss" Phoenix. You may have seen yesterday's post. That is a cued and taught behavior but a lot of the time they do it naturally and Phoenix will often bop Zoe back or she will be the first one to bop Zoe with her nose. Phoenix has been taught to be still when Zoe bops her. So you are seeing "stillness" not stress. I've been told that I'm mean for allowing Zoe to do that to Phoenix and that she's obviously uncomfortable with it from the photos I've taken. All I have to say to that is both dogs are heavily rewarded for this behavior and you should see some of the shenanigans that Zoe has to put up with from Phoenix. Having them sit next to each other and poke each other with their noses is not a big deal. It's a game and both of them always win.


Here's a picture where they are actually displaying real stress signals. Zoe is very noise sensitive and my husband accidentally made a noise that bothered her. Because Zoe was upset, Phoenix was also a little worried. The thing is we can't wrap our dogs in bubbles and keep them 100% stress free. I really wish we could be we can't. Stress is going to happen and I love that they display these signals so we can know what bothers them. I know that I need to work more on her noise phobia so she's not so upset by things and if you know me you know that I am a proactive dog owner. I do try to work with them on their fears.

You can kind of see the difference in the pictures but if you don't know the dogs very well it's very hard to tell what is really going on and if they are actually stressed or not.

So I guess what I'm saying is that I don't think we should judge someone based on a photo that was taken in a couple of seconds. (Unless they are obviously putting their dog or a child in danger and even then there's a way to go about talking to them that isn't hurtful, mean or rude.) You just can't get an accurate idea of what is really going on in under a second when the shutter goes off and I would ask that before becoming a keyboard warrior and attacking the person, take some time to get to know that person and their dogs. It might not be what you think. Sometimes a yawn is just a yawn and a lick is just a lick. Just because a dog makes a funny face in a couple of photos doesn't mean their owner is being abusive or mean.

Be kind, always.

If you want to learn more about dog behavior one of my trainer friends Kris Willson made a really great video about it: Understanding Dog Body Language (Zoe & Phoenix make a cameo at the end!) There are several infographics on my Training Page as well.




26 comments:

  1. It's great you posted this! I get so tired of seeing people constantly nitpick photos, I have friends who are afraid to post pictures of their dogs on FB because they have a few friends who read into every little thing.

    Also having seen this series of photos posted on FB, Phoenix looks entirely comfortable with it - unlike the very first video you posted a while back. There is a huge difference and it really shows. She seemed really concerned when you were first teaching this, but doesn't look like she cares at all now.

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  2. Same here! I don't even post some of my more funny pictures because of people being so nitpicky.

    Yep, Phoenix was worried about it at first but I think she's gotten more confident overall in every way over the past year-ish, too. She's so cocky with Zoe all the time and she doesn't put up with any rude crap from other dogs, either. It's interesting to see how she's gone from shy and skittish to more confident.

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  3. Crikey ..... Mum just takes photos and couldn't care less what other people think. If they like 'em fine .... if they don't ..... that's their problem as far as she is concerned. Mind you ...... she's no photographer. she just points the camera and whatever happens, happens!! Peeps are too complicated sometimes!!

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  4. Don't you just want to say "Take a chill pill!"? Jedi's not fond of picture (or hats) but he tolerates them anyway. I'm sure my happy body language and the pocket full of treats help assuage his discomfort.

    BTW, I also do things he REALLY hates -- like brush his teeth and clean his ears. I know he hates it, and I do it anyway. (I try to make it as quick and stress free as possible, but I still do them.) Are people going to start fussing about that too?

    I think your pictures are cute. I know you care for your dogs and have never thought you were a horrible person. Ignore the critics. Or as the ever classy Rocky use to say "F*** 'em if they can't take a joke."

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    1. Absolutely!

      We do the same thing with the girls with the stuff the hate, too! People can and do fuss at me about that as well but mostly I just try to ignore it.

      Thanks so much!

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  5. I think what you are describing may be a phenomena of certain types of trainers who subscribe to certain training philosophies. The way we train, we don't worry about whether the dog is stressed. From time to time they will be stressed, but we train through it and they learn to deal with it appropriately. For example, a dog may not want to pass through a ditch full of water for a retrieve, but a working retriever must learn to do it. (In my training pictures you may spot stress in pictures where they are being handled.) A working retriever must learn to make all kinds of retrieves that are not "fun". They also get retrieves that are fun so I guess that is the pay-off!

    I agree that you can't put dogs in a bubble. I think there are far too many people who think you should and I think in many cases it leads to ill behaved dogs, dogs that are not well adjusted, dogs who run their lives, or dogs in shelters.

    As for photos. My dogs hate posing with their ribbons. I imagine they find it tedious compared to the fun they had earning them at tests. Those are some of my worst pictures. I don't care. I post them anyway...lol. We laugh about them.

    I loved your pic yesterday and thought of it as a cute picture. :) I would love to see the funny pictures. You should do a post. I have often done "outtakes" posts and most bloggers are very supportive and we laugh over them. I don't think I have ever had anyone nit-pic a picture on my blog. Maybe it is because for posed shoots, we have all had the same problems trying to gets pics. OMG I could do a post or three about that Sojos shoot...lol.

    Thanks so much for joining the hop! I enjoyed this post.

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  6. The internet is a scary place. Looking backward, it always has been. Zoe and Phe are adorable. You're a great dog mama.

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  7. Excellent post!! Luckily we haven't had this happen to us.

    Your Pals,

    Murphy & Stanley

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  8. Good post. I know exactly what you're saying. People often forget their manners when they are behind a keyboard. Then again, manners seem to be sorely lacking these days period. Keep on keeping on! We love your photos!

    Oh and btw, we have an award for you! Stop by and pick it up when you can. :-) http://wp.me/p4uoXw-s7

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    1. Awe thank you! I will have to do that!

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  9. There was a photo on Monday of Bill Belicheck kissing his daughter. The way the camera captured it was totally disgusting, but it was just the way the camera captured it.

    In some instances the photo definitely shows stress, but photos can be deceiving. Thanks for adding this to the blog hop.

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  10. Really great post - thank you!

    Monty and Harlow

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  11. Good point. You can see the obvious difference in your last photo - even on dogs I don't know.

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  12. Great post. People just love to be judge-y. Especially when they have that "safety glass" of the internet in front of them and it's not face to face interaction. I once saw someone online having a rant about all the people she saw out running with their dogs and carrying water bottles for themselves but not the dogs. How did she know the bottles weren't for the dogs?? (I carry a water bottle while we walk - and it's Rita's, not mine. She's trained to drink from it.) If only folks would stop for a sec and think "hmm, am I really seeing what I think I see, or is there MAYBE another explanation" then folks would probably be a lot less jerk-y on the 'net.

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    1. I think I saw that rant, too!! It's frustrating to me how crazy people get over dumb little things.

      My dogs drink out of a water bottle, too! :D

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  13. I really hate facebook...thank goodness this hasn't happened to us personally but i've seen many arguments and *sigh must confess I had to speak out a couple times to the PURE stupidity that some people spout online.
    Nonsense and no facts, they don't read a post, or they fail to research something and post a downright lie, ugh!
    I keep thinking of just deleting my account and avoiding all the drama.
    Great job with your photography! And loves this post! I wish people would take time to ask questions instead of jumping to conclusions all the time.

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  14. You make a lot of good points here. Sometimes a little knowledge really is a dangerous thing, when people use it to make assumptions that are hurtful and probably wrong. The one we hate is the people who assume we've abused our dog because he shies away when they reach for his head. Nothing could be further from the truth - in fact he shies away because so many people grabbed for his head when he was a therapy dog that he became aversive to it. Goodness I don't know how people can make judgements like that from a picture of a dog with his tongue out.

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  15. This is such a great post. Context is really important with everything, including pictures. Thanks for highlighting this important fact.

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  16. So true! This is part of the reason I left DF and lots of dog groups on FB. I can't stand the people who see one photo and are like "OMG THAT DOG IS ABUSED!!!!!!". Also, what may be a stress signal to one dog isn't one to another. Pike licks his nose every time he's given a treat or his frisbee comes out. He's not stressed, he's excited. Nola licking her nose is a stress signal. People suck!

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  17. Great post!

    Whether people are misinterpreting what is going on, or they are simply being rude just to be rude, some people on the internet can be quick to make judgement.



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  18. I can't believe people would be ugly like that. Humans...

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  19. Wow, this was a fabulous post! loving your rant for sure!
    I agree, there are FARRRRR too many judgmental people in the world, and most of them are keyboard warriors. I am an admin for a Siberian Husky Group on FB. The group has over 5000 people in it, all husky owners. UGH! I tell you, some of things and arguments that break out are simply unbelievable!
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!

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  20. It really is amazing how quickly people jump into a negative/attacking mode on the internet. Your friend's photo is one example. And I really like how you've analyzed your photos - showing that knowing the *context* of the behavior is key.

    I've noticed that, at the start of a recall, all of my dogs give a little tongue flick as they start to accelerate toward me (it is only visible with a shutter time of about 1/1000th of a second). I'm not certain why. I do know that they get treat jackpots upon getting to me, and I also know that they get very very excited about practicing recalls. So, it could be "good stress" (anticipation of fun) that leads to that tongue flick. The other possibility is that running straight at anyone makes them a teensy bit nervous because, among dogs, that's bad form. Non-aggressive dogs don't run straight at each other but use curves and head turns to make themselves seem non-threatening. I tend not to believe that second explanation (that running straight to me makes them nervous) because my dogs have literally done thousands of recalls to me, and it's never been anything but tons of fun...

    Anyway, based on reading your blog and seeing your videos of your dog training, I wouldn't question your judgement about your dogs' states of mind for an instant!

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  21. This is an excellent post. EXCELLENT. There are so many keyboard warriors out there, who do nothing more than criticize others without fair reason. I always preach, know thy dog, in all regards. I am sorry that complete strangers have felt the need to rip apart a single photograph, pretending to be experts on your dogs.

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