Speaking Doberman

Body Language

The language of the Doberman, as well as all dogs, consists mostly of body language and an extensively complex alphabet of smells - with which we, being human, are not especially concerned with. Much of this body language is subtle and complex - such as facial expressions - so rather than focusing on these minut complexities, we will explore the overall body postures: Relaxed, Alert, Offensive Threat, Defensive Threat, Passive, Submission, Active Submission, Play Bow, and Stress Body Postures.  I believe it is also important to understand some additional behaviors and why they are performed.

Dogs are born with a set of instinctive body postures built in. This, however, does not mean that they can recognize them or know what they mean. Much of their language is learned within the first few weeks of their lives from their parents, littermates, and superior pack members (often their human family). Dogs expect people to understand this language. A young overly excited puppy may greet its owner after being let out of its kennel by jumping up and barking. The owner, rather than heading straight for the door and using the puppy's follow instinct to shuffle it outside right away, is overcome by the puppy's cute exuberance, leans down and reaches for the pup. The already overly excited puppy then continues the greeting by customarily releasing a small puddle of urine on the carpet two feet from the opened back door. This is just one of many examples of simple miscommunication between man and his best friend. Once understood, proper communication can decrease stress for the dog owner, but more so for the dog.

It is important also to understand that many of these postures will be displayed during play and that they are just that, play. Puppies use play as exercise and as practice for when these behaviors will become essential for their survival. Adult dogs will only waste such amounts of energy in times of great bounty, such as living in a home where they are fed at the same time every day.

Relaxed Body Posture

The relaxed posture is the posture the Doberman should usually be displaying. This is the posture that you see when your Doberman is laying at your feet, chewing a fresh bone while you read an interesting book.

The ears on most other breeds are comfortably drooped to the sides but the Doberman's ears, or any dog with a successful ear crop, in this posture are in a leisure upward stance. Additionally, the tail on most other breeds is slumped down while the Doberman's docked tail is wherever it pleases, regardless of gravity. The mouth is relaxed, as if frowning or as if in accompaniment of deep thought.

Alert Body Posture

The Alert Body Posture is similar to the Relaxed Body Posture with some very noticeable differences. The ears of the Doberman are up and forward, the eyes locked in a beaming stare, its body standing tall and still. The dog is indicating interest or concern and is at the verge of going into another behavior, depending upon what it decides is appropriate for what ever is interesting or concerning it.

A stranger should never approach a dog displaying this posture because the dog has not yet decided if this person is a threat. When training, a dog owner must be very aware of this posture. This posture indicates that the dog's wheels are turning, it is compiling the code, whatever it does next is direct result of how it perceives it's current situation. If a correction is to be made it will most effectively be made now, before an inappropriate behavior, and not afterward.

Offensive Threat Posture

In the Offensive Threat Posture the dog is standing tall with the ears up and forward. Eyes are forward in a penetrating stare and the lips are pulled up in an ugly smile, revealing the teeth. The hair down the back and over the haunches is bristled up; if there is a tail to speak of it is raised. This posture is indicating that the dog has determined something a threat that must be dealt with. If this posture alone will not resolve the situation the dog will attack.

A stranger should NEVER approach a dog displaying the Offensive Threat Posture. A dog owner should also understand that if their dog displays this posture inappropriately, a physical correction is unwise, as it can often reinforce any aggression. While this posture is displayed, only a verbal correction should be used. If a verbal correction is ineffective, that is a sign that the dog is in need of further training. Remember, the key is to administer the physical correction just before the inappropriate behavior - and this is especially true for inappropriate displays of offensive aggression.

Defensive Threat Posture

The Defensive Threat Posture is similar to the Offensive Threat Posture in that the dog is ready and about to attack. This posture is indicated by the same growling and showing of teeth but instead of standing tall the dog is crouched up around itself, low to the ground, with its head down.

This posture indicates that the dog has perceived a threat and must protect itself. The dog would rather run from the threat but feels either cornered, surrounded, or that the threat could catch it easily. The hope by displaying this posture is that the threat will decide not to risk an attack on the dog and will go away. However, if the threat remains, the dog's only hope for survival is to wait for the right moment and lash out inflicting as much injury as possible, with the hope an escape route will appear.

Like the Offensive Threat Posture, a stranger should certainly not approach the dog and the dog's owner should not administer a physical correction while this posture is being displayed. The owner should rather lead the dog away from the perceived threat, possibly with a food treat, and allow the dog to relax. Likewise, the owner should not reinforce this behavior by attempting to comfort the dog.

One must remember that the dog is simply frightened and needs to learn not to inappropriately perceive a threat. A dog who regularly displays this posture inappropriately lacks  socialization.

Passive Submission

Passive Submission is how a dog shows submission to another dog or human. This posture is displayed by a subordinate dog in situations where a dominant dog is asserting its dominance or administering a correction.

As people, we mostly saw Passive Submission in our dogs when we scolded them harshly. During Passive Submission a dog tucks back its ears, looks away, crouches down, and sometimes roles over onto its side or back. The tail curls under the body and an excessive submission urine will be expelled.

Active Submission

Active submission comes in a few different levels of intensity. The basic posture consists of the ears tucked back, the tail sometimes down, corners of the mouth up in a smile, a happy face, low body position, eyes engaged, and lots of sniffing and licking.

This is how fellow pack members greet each other. Active Submission simply means that the dog is not afraid, it's not a threat, and it's happy. At one end of the spectrum, a dog displaying Active Submission would have its ears tucked back, wagging its little stub of a tail along with its whole body, prancing around a room, greeting some company. At the other end is when you find the trash having been dumped and picked through and the culprit slithers around the corner to apologize. Active submission is also what a well-trained dog should display while under most commands.

Play Bow

The Play Bow posture indicates that the dog is very interested in playing, wouldn't you know. In this posture the dog's tail is wagging and its head is brought down with it's back end still high. Its feet stretch out ninety degrees from each other. The mouth is usually open displaying the tongue and ears are forward. This posture is also usually accompanied by lots of bouncing around and high to medium pitch short barks. A dog displaying this posture is obviously happy and comfortable but it also must learn the appropriate time and place for this behavior.

Stress Posture

A dog may display the Stress Posture if it is being worked or trained too hard. Trainers must keep a lookout for this posture, as when a dog is stressed it is not learning anything productive. This posture can also indicate that the dog is experiencing pain. In the dog world, it is only a liability to show pain or weakness, so as dog owners we must be very attentive to our animal's disposition. Something as minor as constipation can grow into a devastating problem if not tended to in time.

Dogs displaying the Stress Posture have their tail down and ears back. Their pupils are dilated. They are panting rapidly with the corners of the mouth pulled back. The body is usually scrunched up and lowered to the ground. At times, sweating can be noticed from the pads of the feet.

Dogs display the Stress Posture when they are overwhelmed with mental stress, physical pain, or both. If a good reason cannot be found for this behavior, or if once that reason is removed improvement in the behavior is not observed, the responsible dog owner should have the dog examined by a veterinarian. The Stress Posture might indicate serious illness.