What Does it Mean When My Dog Leans?

Canine Communication: A Lot More Dramatic Than it Looks

Source // Photographer: Monty Sloan, Wolf Park // https://www.facebook.com/wolfphotographycom/

This photograph appears to show a “rally”, or wolf greeting ceremony, tending a little more toward the growly side than is usual. The two white wolves, Kanti (left) and Bicho (right), are brothers to the black female wolf (Fiona) in the middle. The wolves are all siblings, but the boys are much bigger than their sister, and sometimes they appear to forget how large they are.

In this photo, the boys are actually leaning against Fiona in what looks like a friendly manner — the three were all probably very relaxed a moment ago. Fiona, however, seems to have suddenly found herself squooshed between 90 pounds of wolf on each side and is displaying her teeth in an expression called a “gape threat” — possibly expressing her desire to remain three-dimensional.

This is a great example of how wolf communication can look a lot more dramatic than it really is. Fiona is all teeth at this moment but the boys do not seem very concerned, and are offering pleasant, friendly behaviors (soft face, tongue flicking, looking away). Everyone will likely walk away with all the same bits they came in with. (In fact, here’s another photo from later the same day, with everyone once more relaxed and the boys looking like they are about to try the same move again…)

Dogs lean against each other and against their humans when they greet, too!  Can you think of a time when this might not be appropriate behavior?