Canine Behavior: On the Defense

An Example of Defensive Behavior in Dogs

This video is a great picture of defensive behavior! The dog on the left (the one doing all the “butt attacks”) is showing signs that it is somewhat afraid of the other dog (look at that toothy gape threat! — those drawn-back lip corners are a sign of nervousness, and the impressive display of teeth shows defensive aggression). The fearful dog is trying to increase social distance by moving the other dog away with its body.

The “butt attack” is really a canid wrestling move called a hipslam. Foxes seem to use this move more often than others, but all canids, including wolves, coyotes, and domesticated Shiba Inus, can hipslam.

The hipslam is a defensive move, essentially putting the part of the dog’s body it can most afford to be bitten in (the one without eyes, ears, etc) nearer the threat and using that body part to push the threat away. (A more confident animal will attack face-first, putting its primary weapons, the teeth, into play.) Notice how the other dog is slowly being backed off?

Watching the body language of dogs

Also notice how the other dog is behaving — confidently yet non threateningly. She shows signs of wanting to interact (raising her paw, offering to nip the other dog) but her tongue flicks indicate she’s not entirely sure what is going on. She’s not afraid — her face is soft, her mouth is open and relaxed, and she’s not running away — but she’s not escalating the situation by fighting back. (Good dog!)

If we were the grownups in charge here, we would separate these two dogs. The left hand dog is clearly uncomfortable with the situation.

More on the “butt whip”

Many Shiba owners also call this move the “Butt Whip”. For comparison, here is a Shiba more-or-less accidentally hipslamming another dog she is very excited to be meeting:

In this video, hipslamming is being used as part of an invitation to play rather than an attempt to increase social distance.

Compare Remi’s soft, “giggly” body language with the stiffer, more stressed body language of the hipslamming dog in the first video. (Also, watch the white dog’s body language change from being stiff and somewhat unsure of things at first to much softer and more interested in play!)

What behaviors do your pets use to show that they’re uncomfortable?