Canine Facial Expressions: Can You See the Stress?

A white dog with brown ears lies on a purple mat in a vet clinic. The muscles in the dog's face are very tight and bunched up.

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

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

Her concern and panic have been apparent.

The pictures of 16-month-old Lewis on this put up have 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 received’t go into arousal vs. misery vs. eustress right here, although the interaction of those is a captivating matter. That’s a put up for one more 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 canine look and behave in many various methods, and a few of them will be tougher to identify than others.

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

Pictures of Stress Face

Perhaps that is overkill (who, me, belabor a degree?) however each picture beneath exhibits bunched-up muscle groups on Lewis’ proper cheek between his eye and his mouth. And the nook of his mouth itself (commissure) was tight. His pupils have been dilated. I took many stills from a one-minute video, and so they all confirmed the identical factor. Make sure to zoom in on no less than one or two of them.

I’m exhibiting the pictures earlier than the video on goal as a result of it could be difficult to see the stress within the video earlier than the place to look.

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 just a little, getting on and off his mat. He was gobbling meals, and he was wagging his tail in a reasonably pleased method. 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.

Notice: partway by the video, I began to toss treats somewhat 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 temporary interval, and that was as a result of it was laborious to maintain him on the digicam display and put treats on the mat on the similar time.

What Was Lewis Not Doing?

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

• He wasn’t continuously panting.
• He wasn’t trembling.
• He wasn’t pacing; he simply acquired up and down just a few instances.
• He wasn’t frantically searching for a method 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.

Should you’d wish to see the comparability, this brief video consists of 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 at all times such a trouble when you must drop the digicam 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 completely 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, together with his ears lifted ahead. Within the picture on the correct, the door was open, and people have 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’d approximate what was occurring with him as saying each, “Hello, I like you!” and “Please don’t damage me!”

A Closing Look: That “Open Mouth” Factor

This final comparability is enjoyable. Marge Rogers and I, in our e-book about pet socialization, discuss lots about searching for an open mouth and relaxed jaw in pet physique language. An open mouth is without doubt one of the best indicators a pup is relaxed and cozy in a scenario. However there may be at all times 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 clean face. He was relaxed, solely maybe just a little 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 correct from the vet clinic sequence, Lewis’ mouth is open. However is he relaxed and cozy? Hell no. There are these bunched muscle groups 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 making an attempt to find out whether or not a canine is comfy and pleased in a scenario.

This is a comparison collage of two pictures. Both show the same white dog with brown ears and ticking. In the photo on the left, the dog's facial muscles are relaxed. In the photo on the right, the dog's mouth is open but his facial muscles are very tense and bunched up.

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

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