Now What is He Telling Us?

Monday’s question (6/3/19), about what we can tell about a dog from a photo, had a fantastic response from you. So grateful! (Also true on Facebook, (199 comments at the moment!)

Most people thought that the dog looked somewhat anxious, worried or unsure, but the comments varied tremendously from relaxed, about to bolt, or worried about an owner who might be having a heart attack. (That might sound silly out of context, but their point was that the dog was worried about something, perhaps related to the owners, given how sensitive GSDs are to their owners.)

Here’s today’s question: What about this dog? Same dog of course, and same photo, I just “deleted” his eyebrows.

Compare that to the original photo:

Does the “eyebrow” deletion change one’s interpretation of this dog’s internal state? My point here is that some signals are reliable indicators of a dog’s next behavior and/or internal state, but some aren’t. I’ll talk a lot on Vashon Island about “salient” versus “non-salient” signals. The coloring around a dog’s eye is one of them–it’s so easy to misinterpret their coloring as the equivalent of human facial expressions that are based on movements of our eyebrows.

I think the dog looks more concerned or “sadder” to some without the eyebrow color deleted. Those of you who have been reading my blog for awhile might remember the same issue for my Tootsie, except this time people tend to think she is “angry” based on her coloring:

But an alert reader photo shopped out her eyebrows, and look at her face now!

So… What do I think one can surmise from the original photograph of the GSD? First, I concur with many readers who begged for context and a full body photo! It’s hard to tell much from a still photograph. However, the signals that I would argue ARE salient are first, the dog’s mouth is closed, which usually is seen in a dog who is either highly focused (just heard a sound) or one who is unsure/concerned, etc. “Mouth open” versus “mouth closed” is one of the first things I look at when assessing a dog. Mouth open almost always suggests a relaxed dog, mouth closed could be many things.

Second, look at those ears! (Many of you mentioned them, yay!) Neither flattened in fear or appeasement, but not forward either. Could be many reasons for that. A sound behind the dog? An indication of caution or concern? Both?

Third, eye contact, and round eyes. The dog is looking directly at the camera lens.  The big, round, black eye of the lens is often enough by itself to make a dog uncomfortable. However, he could have been looking away or avoiding eye contact altogether, or showing a “whale eye” so his concern does not seem to be extreme. Certainly, his eyes are not in that squinty shape that we see in dogs who are happy to welcome you home; they are round and indicate a certain amount of arousal.

My definitive answer? I wouldn’t begin to pretend I know exactly what’s going on with this dog, BUT I’d bet some money that the dog is uncomfortable, not relaxed and is paying a lot of attention to what is going to happen next. Most important practical issue is that this is not a dog I would swoop in and try to pet until I saw a change in expression. You?

MEANWHILE, back on the farm: What am I thinking doing this while trying to get ready to leave for Vashon Island? Argh… I’m in that place where every time you check something off the To Do list you add two more. As a result, I don’t know when I’ll be able to answer comments, but I’ll read and post them with great interest. Such fun, yes?

And, oh yeah, any typos are the responsibility of the Goddess of Trip Preparation Mania. Talk to her about it if you find one.