Friday, November 1, 2013

Three Faces of Ranger

I have three photos of Ranger with different expressions on his face.

The kids in class didn't have any trouble identifying the expression on Ranger's face in the third photo. He is clearly angry and threatening. Ranger will tolerate the furminator for just so long before he's done. It probably wasn't the kindest course of action to push him to the point of snarling but I really wanted an angry photo. 

The second photo was also pretty easy for the kids in class to identify. Ranger is smiling. It was much easier to get a picture of him smiling than of him snarling. 

The first photo was much much harder for them to figure out. Before you read further go back and look at it again. What do you think his expression is saying?

Had another look? Good. The kids in the class were about equally divided between thinking it was a happy smile and thinking it was a peeved look. It's a perfect example of why so many people get themselves in trouble with dogs. Some dogs are especially subtle in their expressions. I'm lucky because as a rule Ranger is not very subtle when he's communicating with people. He seems to understand that he needs to be very clear or the humans won't understand. 

In that first photo I had been petting Ranger and discovered that he'd romped through a burr patch. I was working out burrs and he was just starting to be annoyed. When I look at the picture I see that his eyes are getting hard, his muzzle is starting to wrinkle and his lip is just beginning to curl. I need to stop what I'm doing or I need to provide some pleasant distraction like a treat. If I just keep working out burrs the next thing I'll see will look like the third photo a full on snarl and if I ignore that my hand is going to wind up in Ranger's teeth. 

The difficulty people have in decoding dog expressions is what gets them into trouble and what leads to a bite. It's why I try so hard to educate kids and adults too so that they can read a dog's communications and keep both species safer. 

I'll end with a more typical photo of Ranger. 


  1. Love the pictures, especially the bottom one. I agree sometimes it is difficult to read dogs as they can be subtle.

  2. Thank you for the explanations; I had first thought the first one was a happy face, but after your description I could see the "warning signs."

    1. I think sometimes as humans we see what we expect to see rather than what's really there. Knowing Ranger is a friendly, happy dog makes it easy to see that first picture as a happy face. I was talking to someone recently who had been bitten by their loving, cooperative dog; the same dog that he'd been taking thing from for five years with no problem. Visitors had given the dog a rawhide chew, something the dog had never had before, and the person was going to take it away so the dog could have dinner. Based on his successful interactions with the dog over a long period the man forgot to actually listen to the dog when the dog said, "this is a very valuable resource and I don't want to give it up." He tried to take the chew and the dog defended his valuable resource with his teeth. That's part of what I'm trying to teach the kids in my class; they always need to listen to the dog and not just assume based on their knowledge of the dog. Doing that keep both species out of trouble.