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.
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.
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.