What Tale Does the Tail Tell You?

I received a video today on my “bravodoberman” facebook page. As I was watching it I laughed to myself when I noticed the brown Doberman near the end of the video. Notice this dog wagging his tail as he attacks the “bad guy”. Many people think a dog only wags his tail to show signs of friendliness. As you can see in this video this dog clearly “likes” this bad guy, in the same way I like a good cut of steak.

The tail of a dog can tell you many things about how a dog is feeling but it may not always be what you think. Learning what a tail is telling you can be a valuable tool when evaluating the intentions of a dog.

There are two key ways to read what a dog is feeling. These would be his ears and his tail. Each dog has their own unique way of expressing themselves but certain stances are the same in all dogs.

Aggression and wagging tails

A raised tail wagging slowly usually means this dog is aggressive and dominant. If that tail stops wagging and you see the head lower and the ears go flat, the next sound will be growling. At this point if something doesn’t happen to change this dog’s intention, this action would be followed by a strike. It is also possible for the dog to go straight to a strike especially when he is challenging another dog.

The Doberman in this video is an excellent example of a strong, dominant dog with clear intention. If he had more of a tail, you would see it standing tall. This dog’s tail is wagging furiously because the dog is very stimulated.

Bottom line; don’t trust the wagging tail of a dog that you are not familiar with. Be cautious and patient. Give the dog time to make a next move to show you what his intentions are. Could save you from a very bad situation.

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What Do Dogs See?

When I look at a dog I always look in to the eyes first. You can tell a lot about a dog through his eyes and expression. They say the eyes are the “window to the soul”. I have always wondered what a dog sees when they look back at me.

As a child, I was always told a dog sees in black and white. I never believed it. How could an animal with such acute hearing and other senses see only black and white? Well, they have come to realize this is not true.


Dogs can definitely see in color but where humans have “trichromatic vision”, dogs have “dichromatic vision”. This means we see the entire spectrum of the rainbow and a dog only sees yellows, blues and shades of gray. Yes it is a form of color blindness, so keep this in mind when you buy a red toy for your dog and wonder why he may run by the toy instead of seeing it right away.

However, these findings conflict with an earlier study performed by Rosengren (1969) in which dogs (three female Cocker Spaniels) were ostensibly trained to discriminate between red, blue, green and yellow hues. She also claims that these dogs could distinguish these various colors from gray samples of different values.


One big difference between dog and human vision is dogs lack a fovea. The fovea is made up of cones and cells and gives us the ability to see detail. Instead, many dogs have an area in the retina called a visual streak and central area which is thought to enhance binocular vision, acuity and horizontal scanning. However the visual streak is more pronounced in some dogs than others. So, the better visual streak in a dog the better hunters they are. This may be the difference between a dog that wants to be outside looking up trees for squirrels while other dogs are happy sitting in you lap staring at you.

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How to Pick Your New Best Friend (Part Two)

Adopting a Dog and Avoiding Disaster Part Two of Two

Temperament testing

Performing a temperament test is not difficult. I highly recommend you take the time for this.

In the last post we discussed some of the steps toward avoiding mistakes when picking a dog from a shelter. Here is the next step.

Once you have found a dog that you are interested in there are a series of tests you can preform that will let you know if this dog may truly be right for you.

Approach the kennel:

You are looking for a dog that greets you in a friendly, outgoing manner. Avoid any signs of aggression, shyness or a dog that ignores you.

Next ask the shelter staff for a quiet area to take the dog. If you have a choice of an indoor area this would be preferred.

Ignore the dog

Once there, ignore the dog for a minute or two and watch his behavior. What you are looking for is a dog that approaches you. Jumping can be corrected later. Dogs that ignore you are of concern. A dog that shows any signs of shyness may be a dog that you want to avoid. At this stage a dog that shows any sign of aggression would definitely be avoided considering you are doing nothing at this point to provoke or intimidate the dog.

Make eye contact

After a couple of minutes bend down slightly in front of the dog and make eye contact. What you are looking for is a dog that approaches you. What you are concerned with is a dog that moves away or shows any signs of aggression including barking at you.

Pet the dog

Approach the dog if he is not already near you and grasp his collar. Gently pet the dog several times on the back beginning at his neck all the way to his tail. Pause a few seconds in between. Does he enjoy this or does he become uncomfortable? This test will show you how much physical contact the dog has had and how much he will tolerate.

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How to Pick Your New Best Friend (Part One)

Adopting a Dog and Avoiding Disaster: Part One of Two

Making the decision to add a dog to your life is and should be a major decision. There are many things to consider.

Most people who make the decision to rescue a dog from a shelter are well-intentioned. However many people adopt the wrong dog for the wrong reason and find themselves in a situation they cannot handle. This is one of the leading causes of high return rates at shelters. Lets talk about some of the mistakes that are often made when choosing a dog.

Going in with a plan:

When you have made a decision to adopt a dog you should sit down a make a plan. Write down what your requirements are for your lifestyle.

*Are you looking for a puppy or an adult?

You may be interested in finding an older dog that will already be house trained or you may be interested in raising a dog from puppy-hood.

*Is the size of a dog an issue?

A small dog or a dog that doesn’t require a lot of exercise may do better if you live in an apartment or don’t have a large yard. You may be looking for a bigger dog for home protection or may prefer larger breeds.

*Have you considered the costs involved in a large dog vs. a small dog?

Smaller dogs are more economical. However this may not be an issue.

*Are you looking for a low energy dog or high energy dog?

You may be an active person that is looking for a dog that can keep up with your active lifestyle.

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A Lesson on Teaching a Dog to Come When Called

This is the one of the most important commands you will ever teach your dog.

It doesn’t matter what else your dog knows, if he doesn’t come when called he’s always at risk of being lost, injured or worse.

Unfortunately many dog owners systematically teach their dogs not to come.

An untrained dog allowed to run off the leash. When the dog doesn’t come on the first command the owner does one of two things. They either repeat the command several times teaching the dog that he doesn’t have to come, or when the dog does return, he is put back on the leash. This teaches the dog that when he comes play time is over. The only thing accomplished here is self-rewarding the dog for not coming,

The second scenario is the owner who will repeatedly call the dog and when he finally does come he is punished. This will cause the dog to come slower or not come at all anticipating punishment if they do return to the owner.

Another mistake owners often make is calling the dog for an unpleasant action. If the dog has soiled the floor and the owner calls the dog to receive punishment, they are not likely to come the next time.

When teaching a dog “recall”, you are creating a “space” of control between you and your dog. First the dog needs to be taught to come on a leash or in a confined area. Once this is accomplished you can go to a long line and begin teaching distance. After this you can begin off leash training. If you do not follow through or punish your dog for not coming, you will basically be back at square one.

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Dog Saves Man Paralyzed in Biking Accident

Austin, Texas


Posted on December 6, 2010 at 9:23 PM

Updated today at 10:21 AM

This story sounds like something out of a movie: A freak accident leaves a cyclist unable to move, so his dog takes over.

Five weeks ago, on Oct. 30, Paul Horton set out for his morning bike ride. As always, his dog Yogi, went along for the run. However, this ride would end like no other and offer proof why dog is “man’s best friend.”

Paul Horton, 57, wound up at St. David’s Rehabilitation Hospital after he failed to negotiate a seemingly little jump from trail to paved road near Lake Travis.

“I had probably done that 100 times, 200 times,” said Horton.

But on the morning of Oct. 30, he did not.

“I went over the handle bars and landed on my head on the concrete … and life changed,” said Horton.

Life changed because he was now paralyzed from the chest down. Horton lay motionless for 45 minutes. With no one in sight, he realized his four-year-old golden retriever, Yogi, who had been along for the run, was still by his side.

“I expected him to behave like Lassie and run down to the police station and tap out my location in Morse code or something,” said Horton.

Yogi did not do that, but did something just about as impressive. Horton’s neighbor, Bruce Tate, recalls walking down Mountain Trail with his wife when they were met by Yogi.

“Yogi is a quiet, happy dog, he’s never noisy at all, but he was barking furiously to get our attention,” said Tate.

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To Spay or Not to Spay

To Spay or not to Spay

This has been an ongoing debate for as long as I can remember. Everyone has an opinion. The major debate on whether to spay or neuter your dog and the health risks and benefits involved. Another major point that is not touched on as often is how spaying and neutering effects behavior.

If you talk to rescues or shelters the number one answer on spaying and neutering your pet is “yes”. This comes from the attempt to lower pet over-population. The majority of people who adopt dogs from shelters or rescues are looking for companion dogs. Some dogs that are adopted from these institutions will become working dogs but most dogs will end up pets.

Then we have breeders. Hopefully the goal of a good breeder is the better the standard of a breed. Breeding should not be a money-making venture and if you are a good breeder, you will soon find out that the time and trouble involved in producing high quality puppies is not for profit.

There are many health risks and advantages to spaying and neutering your dog. Instead of focusing on these points, consider the other advantages. It’s not always just to keep your dog from producing.

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Forgotten Dogs

There is at least one in every community. A dog left chained to a doghouse, tree or tethered to the ground. The dog may have water and food but sometimes the water is just out of reach. You can see the worn impression in the dirt around the dog where it’s packed the ground down from constant pacing and attempting to get exercise. Its ears may be raw or partially chewed off from flies, its body covered in fleas and often skinny.

How do these dogs end up in this situation? Many times a family acquires a new puppy however they are not prepared for the actions of the puppy. The puppy starts jumping on the children, biting and exhibiting destructive behavior. Instead of seeking help from a qualified trainer, it’s easier to deposit the puppy outside. Once in the backyard out of sheer boredom the puppy continues its destructive behavior chewing hoses, tearing up plants and digging. The best solution is of course to tie the dog up. In the best circumstances a caring family will ensure the dog has shelter of some sort. However because the puppy is now isolated, the behavior becomes worse. Soon compulsive barking starts. Every time they attempt to feed the puppy he jumps more, bites more, and barks more. When they do let him off the chain he runs hysterically around the yard from lack of exercise and they see this as uncontrollable behavior. Eventually any attention stops and the puppy becomes abandoned. As the saying goes, “Out of sight out of mind”. This is only one scenario. There are many more.

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Nothing Worse Than a Whiner

Unwanted Whining

It is not unusual for people to have problems, particularly with puppies whining all day long. Most puppies will outgrow this behavior.

They generally whine for two reasons. For attention and when they are anxious.

As dogs get older, they are conditioned to whine when feeling discomfort or distress. For example, if a puppy feels it is being left behind its pack, the puppy whines. The whine, like a howl, is a call of distress for the rest of the pack to rejoin or rescue it. This is another form of separation anxiety.

This is no different when a dog leaves its old pack and joins your family. Your new dog will try to communicate with you in the same way. How you and your family react to your dogs whining is the key. You choose to either reinforce or discourage this behavior.

If they want attention, they will continue to whine if that attention attracts a reward. Often the best solution is to ignore the dog completely until the whining stops no matter how long it might take. When the dog realizes that it is not getting the reward it expects from whining it will tend to stop.

However don’t neglect your dog. Make sure to pay attention to your dog when it is behaving. This reinforces good behavior and let’s your dog know there’s no reason for this behavior.

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Bad Dogs vs. Bad Owners

Breeds and biting

Over the years I have witnessed the great debate over “breed vs. deed” when it comes to labeling dogs. Working in the animal control field for many years I have come to call this situation “breed profiling”. This is to ask the question about labeling a breed of dog as “bad dogs’ or dogs to be feared.

I first began my animal service career back in the early 80’s so I have seen my share of attacks from dogs on humans and other animals. I still cannot say one breed is worse or better than another. I will say that any dog can be ruined by the person that owns the dog and yes some dogs require more socialization than other breeds and if not properly socialized, will have a higher tenancy for aggressive behavior.

Each generation picks a dog to be feared, some lasting longer than others. Pit Bull terriers and similar breeds are always on top of the list because of the popularity as fighting dogs. However there are many other breeds that have also been labeled over the years including the Chow Chow, Doberman, Rottweiler, Dalmatian and Malamute just to name a few.

Small dogs bite just as many people a year as large breeds, probably more. However, many of these bites are not reported. Small dog equal small teeth. Many times the damage inflicted when a small dog bites is not as severe. Plus a man would look silly if he reported being attacked by a Chihuahua now, wouldn’t he?

Now we have a new group to be feared including Presa Canario, Boerboel, Cane Corso and Caucasian Shepherd (Russian Kavkaskaya Ovcharka). Not all these breeds have become popular but if they do, they will be the new feared dogs of the future. Unfortunately Pit Bulls will still be high on the list as well.

Caucasian Shepherd dog

Provoked or not provoked

In animal services when writing a report one of the most important things to factor in is whether the incident was “provoked” or “not provoked”. Most dog attacks are avoidable. If you know anything about dogs, it is rare for a dog to attack without reason. It may not be a reason we as humans always understand, but dogs do not think the same way as humans. Most if not all dog bites are found to be unprovoked if you look through the eyes of a dog.

To say most dog bites are not provoked is to say we as trainers, behaviorists and people that understand the nature of a dog understands the reasons a dog will bite. Unfortunately some people do not.

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