Dog Facial Expressions: Can You See the Stress?

In February 2013, I revealed a set of pictures of previously feral Clara on the vet. Trainers worldwide have used these pictures, with my permission, as examples of utmost stress in a canine’s facial expressions.

Clara was terribly afraid. She panted, paced, and panicked. We had been engaged on desensitization and counterconditioning to folks slowly, in far more managed conditions. However each on occasion she needed to go to the vet, and we simply needed to get by it.

Her worry and panic had been apparent.

The pictures of 16-month-old Lewis on this submit had been additionally taken on the vet. Lewis is pleasant and enjoys assembly new folks, even on the clinic. However Lewis was pressured as effectively.

I gained’t go into arousal vs. misery vs. eustress right here, although the interaction of those is an interesting subject. That’s a submit for an additional day. Nor do I need to get into “how a lot stress is OK?” or associated philosophical and moral questions.

My focus here’s a easier one: pressured canines look and behave in many alternative methods, and a few of them will be more durable to identify than others.

We all the time want to have a look at the entire canine when studying physique language, not only a half. We’ll get there. However this can be a difficult case, in that we are inclined to affiliate the behaviors Lewis is exhibiting with happiness. I believe it’s informative to have a look at a small half—Lewis’ facial muscle tissue—earlier than going to the large image.

Images of Stress Face

Perhaps that is overkill (who, me, belabor a degree?) however each picture beneath exhibits bunched-up muscle tissue on Lewis’ proper cheek between his eye and his mouth. And the nook of his mouth itself (commissure) was tight. His pupils had been dilated. I took many stills from a one-minute video, they usually all confirmed the identical factor. You’ll want to zoom in on a minimum of one or two of them.

Video of Lewis within the Vet’s Examination Room

That is the video from which I grabbed the picture stills. As you’ll see, Lewis was bouncing up and down a little bit, getting on and off his mat. He was gobbling meals, and he was wagging his tail in a reasonably completely satisfied means. He oriented to me more often than not. He was not calm, however on the time, he didn’t appear upset. However now that I’ve studied the video and stills, his face exhibits the stress.

Observe: partway by the video, I began to toss treats slightly than inserting them on the mat. This was not a good suggestion, since tossing treats can add to pleasure, and Lewis was already ramped up. I did it just for that transient interval, and that was as a result of it was arduous to maintain him on the digital camera display screen and put treats on the mat on the identical time.

What Was Lewis Not Doing?

You’ve seen Lewis now, and may inform he was excited and tense. How does his habits examine to Clara’s, or that of one other terrified canine? Listed here are some issues he wasn’t doing.

• He wasn’t continuously panting.
• He wasn’t trembling.
• He wasn’t pacing; he simply bought up and down a couple of instances.
• He wasn’t frantically in search of a means out of the room.
• He wasn’t licking his lips continuously or having hassle swallowing.
• He wasn’t hypervigilant. He oriented to sounds, however didn’t startle.
• He wasn’t flushed or shedding.

In the event you’d prefer to see the comparability, this quick video contains footage of Clara’s February 2013 go to to the vet the place she was so frightened.

Greeting the Vets

Again to Lewis.

It’s all the time such a hassle when you must drop the digital camera to take part in actual life, isn’t it? When the vets got here in, I couldn’t movie Lewis’ over-the-top greeting. What you possibly can briefly see is that I grabbed his harness firmly, so he couldn’t cannonball into the vets. Once more, having a canine who likes folks is superior. However his greetings verge on frantic, and present he’s not totally comfy with the scenario.

Take a look at his ear motion earlier than and after the vets entered the room.

Within the picture on the left, a vet turned the deal with on the door and Lewis was watching and listening, along with his ears lifted ahead. Within the picture on the suitable, the door was open, and people had been seen. Lewis’ ears dropped, and you may catch briefly on the video that his tail was wagging wildly. As he greeted the vets (not proven), he exhibited puppy-like appeasement behaviors. He crouched low to the bottom and flattened his ears as he shot ahead. I might approximate what was happening with him as saying each, “Hello, I really like you!” and “Please don’t damage me!”

A Last Look: That “Open Mouth” Factor

This final comparability is enjoyable. Marge Rogers and I, in our guide about pet socialization, speak quite a bit about in search of an open mouth and relaxed jaw in pet physique language. An open mouth is among the best indicators a pup is relaxed and cozy in a scenario. However there’s all the time nuance.

Within the picture on the left, Lewis was sunning himself on the grass within the winter. The climate was cool, and his mouth was shut. However take a look at his mushy eyes and easy face. He was relaxed, solely maybe a little bit curious to see what I used to be as much as. Right here is the uncropped picture in case you need to see the remainder of his relaxed physique language.

Within the picture on the suitable from the vet clinic sequence, Lewis’ mouth is open. However is he relaxed and cozy? Hell no. There are these bunched muscle tissue and tight mouth. You’ll be able to even see the tightness in his decrease lip. That is the other of the relaxed jaw we search for when attempting to find out whether or not a canine is comfy and completely satisfied in a scenario.

It’s new for me to reside with a canine whose stress can seem like completely satisfied pleasure (or for whom the 2 generally mix). Now I do know one “inform” to search for. Keep tuned for additional adventures!