Archive | August, 2011

Creature Feature: All eyes on the ears

31 Aug

Dog owners can often be heard saying they wish their pets could talk. They don’t talk like we do, but dogs do communicate with us through their body language.

Last week’s Creature Feature looked at the “tail language” of dogs. Today, let’s see what dogs say with their ears and eyes.

What's Ashley saying here?

Stanley Coren, a psychologist and animal behavior expert, explains the language of ears and eyes in How to Speak Dog: Mastering the Art of Dog-Human Communication. Unlike humans, whose ears are in a fixed position limiting their usefulness in expressing emotions, dogs can send a variety of messages by flattening, perking up, pulling back and flickering their ears.

“Pricked ears,” or those that stand up and sometimes look like pointed satellite receivers (think German shepherd or Chihuahua ears), are easier to read than floppy or “lopped ears,” Coren says. Signals from lopped ears (like those of Labrador retrievers and beagles) can be ambiguous because the movement is more subtle — or muted — and less visible than pricked-ear movement.

He also says that ear signals have to be read along with signals from other body parts, such as the mouth, to put them into context. In his book, Coren explains what different ear positions mean.

I hear ya

■ Ears erect or slightly forward: The dog is alert or gathering information about the environment. This is the “what’s that?” signal. If the dog’s mouth is slightly open and relaxed, and his head slightly tilted, he’s probably noting that something is really interesting.

■ Ears pulled back and flat against the head: If accompanied by a relaxed mouth and a high tail, this is a sign of friendliness. But this ear signal can indicate anxiety if the dog is also baring his teeth.

■ Ears pulled back slightly so that they look like they’re spread sideways: A sign of ambivalence that means the dog doesn’t like something, wants to run or may fight.
“This position of the ears indicates that the animal may quickly turn from uneasy suspicion to aggression, or to fear and escape behaviors,” Coren says.

■ Ears flickering, usually slightly forward, then quickly down or slightly back: Flickering in this manner signals indecision that may contain a fearful and submissive aspect. It could also be read as pacifying, as if the dog were saying “I’m just looking the situation over, so please don’t take offense.”   

Regarding eye language, the direction of a person’s gaze can tell us if someone is paying attention, interested, bored or threatening. The same can be said of a dog’s gaze, Coren says, explaining three ways that dogs speak with their eyes.

■ Direct eye-to-eye stare: This a threat or an expression of dominance. Between dogs, a dominant dog will use it to say he’s the boss or tell another dog to back off.

Coren points out that dogs also use the direct stare to control the behavior of their owners. One example is when a dog sits and stares at you at the dinner table, looking so “hopeful” or “pleading” that you give him a bite of your food.

“When you respond by giving him what he wants, the dog interprets that as a submissive gesture on your part.”

■ Eyes turned away to avoid direct contact: The opposite of the stare, this can be seen as submission or sometimes fear. But it can also indicate boredom or a break in attention.

■ Blinking: This breaks a dominance stare and shows submission, but isn’t as submissive as when a dog averts his eyes fully. Blinking also can be part of a greeting ritual or a signal of friendliness.

Creature Feature appears each Wednesday in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. This column was published July 6, 2011.


Today’s resolution: A fine illusion

30 Aug

“Everything’s fine today, that is our illusion.” — Voltaire

Valencia, California (2011/RO)

Today’s resolution: Don’t get bogged down in pointless reflection.

29 Aug

“Mud is no place for waiting, since it is already being washed by the water of the stream.” — I Ching, 5

Lake No. 1, North Little Rock (2011/RO)

Today’s resolution: Serious play

28 Aug

“You can deny, if you like, nearly all abstractions: justice, beauty, truth, goodness, mind, God. You can deny seriousness, but not play … Play only becomes possible, thinkable and understandable when an influx of mind breaks down the absolute determinism of the cosmos.” — Johan Huizinga in his 1944 study on play

After I finish work today, I’m moving on to a little serious play. Jewelry, that is.

I love to use the Tree of Life in my jewelry. It represents strength, long life and wisdom. (Rhonda Owen Jewelry/2011)


Today’s resolution: Stones, rolling

27 Aug

Fraught with peril

Yesterday, I took myself and this newly made bracelet to the great outdoors (my back yard) for an impromptu photo shoot.

I carefully positioned the stones on a large quartz rock, then stepped away and squatted on my heels to get the angle I wanted. I had to lean, dip and bob to get myself and the camera situated to catch the light for a usable shot. I’m not a photographer so I’m happy when the photo’s in focus and the color’s true; to me, that’s a usable shot.

So I shot, then waited patiently for the digital camera to rev back up for a second photo. While waiting, I rocked back on my heels.

I overrocked, felt myself going back. That’s when I did the turtle roll.

Instinctively, I curled my spine and as my butt hit the ground, I rolled back, legs bent toward my chest, feet skyward. Rolled all the way to my neck, then let the momentum carry me forward so I could do a little flippy thing and end up on my feet. Pretty cool, especially since I didn’t hurt myself. And no one saw me.


Today’s resolution: Discover a secret garden

26 Aug

“Stillness will meet you for tea or a walk by the ocean. You must be gentle when you approach her. She is more sensitive than we can even imagine and she does not explain herself much. Sometimes I bring her flowers — not because she needs them (she tends several gardens) — but because I am better able to meet her when I am carrying flowers. Her favorite time is dawn.” — J. Ruth Gendler, The Book of Qualities

Rose garden, Valencia, California (2011/RO)

Today’s resolution: Appreciate simplicity

25 Aug

“If a time of scant resources brings out an inner truth, one must not feel ashamed of simplicity. For simplicity is then the very thing needed to provide inner strength for future undertakings.” I Ching, 41

The gold-dust day gecko has a simple life in the Hawaiian islands. (2011/RO)

Creature Feature: Tails tell the tale

24 Aug

    Would you tell people that just because a dog is wagging his tail doesn’t mean he’s feeling friendly? I learned the hard way.  

A dog speaks volumes with his tail, but you’re correct that a moving tail doesn’t always mean a dog is relaxed or happy.

“The tail is the loudspeaker of your dog’s emotions — and one of the most misunderstood canine communicators,” according to the June issue of Your Dog, a publication of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University.

There are tail wags for different emotions, such as fear, aggression and happiness. Your Dog provides a guide for interpreting tail language:
■ A low tail that’s wagging quickly means the dog feels fearful and uncertain.
■ A low tail that’s moving slowly can indicate the dog is a little relaxed, but still uncertain.
■ When the tail wags slowly at half-mast, the dog is relaxed and comfortable.
■ At tail at half-mast that’s wagging quickly means the dog is happy and excited.
■ When a dog makes circles with his tail, he’s extremely happy and excited. In fact, the dog may make such vigorous tail circles he does a full-body wag.
■ A tucked-in tail means a dog is frightened or unhappy; the degree of tucking reveals the level of his fear or anxiety. If he’s extremely scared, he may tuck his tail between his legs so much that it almost touches his stomach.
■ A tail that’s straight up and moving slowly indicates controlled tension. When the tail is held high and wagging rapidly in a narrow range of motion, the dog is feeling even more tense and shouldn’t be approached.

The straight-up, rapidly wagging tail is called “flagging,” says the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ virtual pet behaviorist. A dog “flags” his tail when he’s standing his ground or threatening someone or another animal.

When interpreting a dog’s tail language, look at the rest of the body to get the full picture. For example, an assertive (but not necessarily aggressive) dog will try to make himself appear larger by standing tall, perhaps even rising up on his toes. He’ll hold his head high and center his weight on all four feet or lean slightly forward.

An aggressive dog’s body language looks similar to that of an assertive dog, but he’ll center his weight on his front feet so that he can lunge quickly.

Here are a few more clues to reading a dog’s emotions:
■ Hair — When a dog is scared, he may “blow” his coat and seem to suddenly shed bags of hair. A dog may also “raise his hackles,” the hair along his shoulders and spine, which can mean that he’s angry, uncertain, nervous or excited.
■ Feet — When a dog lifts a paw off the ground, he’s communicating deference. A happy dog will do a little dance by rapidly shifting his weight from one foot to the other. A nervous dog may leave sweaty paw prints.
■ Eyes — Direct eye contact is an assertive statement while looking away is a sign of appeasement or deference.

People often believe a dog looks away out of guilt but what’s really happening is that the dog is reading and responding to their body language. If the dog believes someone (such as his owner) is angry, he’ll look away to try to ease the tension.

Creature Feature appears in the Family section of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette every Wednesday. This column was published June 29, 2011.

Today’s resolution, by Simone: Bide my time

24 Aug

“All beings have need of nourishment from above.” — I Ching, 5

Simone says: “Works for me. Especially in the kitchen.”

A grateful heart

Today’s resolution: Let life unfurl, unravel, unroll

23 Aug

“If you escape the narrowness of dimensions/and create a space for all things/to become what they desire to be/you will see the time which is placeless/you will hear what has never been heard/and you will see what has never been seen.” — Dei Hughes, The Rose and the Atom

River walk in North Little Rock (2010/RO)