One of Lacy’s cute things is to wham her face between our knees and keep it there for a while as we stroke her ears and whisper sweet nothings to her. (This is not to be confused with crotch-sniffing, which she doesn’t do.)
We call it “Wigwam” (it just seemed to describe it well).
I know that she’s doing this to get reassurance. She needs to feel that we are her people, her protectors. She’s anxious by nature, and you can hear her sigh and see her whole body relax as she wigwams.
But it took me a while to make the connection which explains why she does it.
It’s the muzzle-grab
The muzzle-grab is what an older dog may do to a younger one, perhaps a puppy who is getting out of hand. They open their mouth wide, and wrap it right round the pup’s muzzle to keep it shut. The teeth are covered - it’s not intended as a bite. It’s a very clear way of saying “Keep your mouth shut near me,” is painless, and effective.
They can also do this in play to a close companion (one living in the same house, usually). A dog who doesn’t enjoy these privileges will get a real snap or face-down. It’s a reprimand for the family, just as we have things we may say only to family members. (In my family growing up, “FLO” - when we had visitors - meant “Family lay off” or “Stop eating all the cakes!”)
Those hippo jaws that dogs play with are a precursor to a muzzle-grab, if they can get in the right position.
But here’s the key: sometimes a dog will solicit a muzzle-grab from an older dog or a companion. This is to be reassured that they are still part of the group, meriting the kind of action normally directed to a puppy. They are loved and cherished, in other words. They feel they belong.
It’s a bit like a cat purring to provoke affection, or a puppy nuzzling a hand for pets.
And this is what Lacy is doing to us. She is provoking a muzzle-grab by pushing her head between our knees. She is putting herself in this vulnerable position - her eyes covered, her head trapped - to seek that feeling we all need to experience regularly. To feel loved and protected.
I knew what Lacy was doing. It satisfies my curiosity to know why.
Dog Body Language
This is just a glimpse into the complex and sophisticated body language dogs employ. We - especially the British with our history of empire - tend to expect everyone else to learn our language. If they don’t get it the first time, we shout at them! And this is how many people treat their dogs.
They assume because their dog doesn’t understand their words she’s being deliberately obtuse, stubborn - or just plain stupid. This is so unjust!
If we can just take the time to learn our dogs’ sensitive body language, not only do we have a new way of communicating with them, but SO MANY misunderstandings will be avoided! It’s not difficult to observe and note what our dog is saying to us. But many dog-owners have no idea. They just don't see it. They prefer to act the sergeant-major and shout at their dog.
Understanding your reactive - growly - dog
It’s especially important to be able to understand your dog if she has reactive tendencies - fearful, anxious, shy, aggressive - a Growly Dog in short. Once you can understand how your dog actually feels in a situation, it makes it so much easier to get a good outcome. This is definitely not a time for yelling ever louder at your “thick” dog!
This is something I go into in great detail in my course for reactive dogs: From Growly Dog to Confident Dog, and which brings lots of “Aha!” moments to students, who begin to see a way forward, at long last.
Go and check out the course, read the students' success stories, and think how this could change life for you and your tricky dog. Following the feedback from the present students, the course has been updated and now has everything asked for.