Displacement BehaviorsDisplacement behaviors are normal behaviors displayed out of context. They indicate conflict and anxiety. The dog wants to do something, but he is suppressing the urge to do it. He displaces the suppressed behavior with something else such as a lick or a yawn. For example, you are getting ready to go out and the dog hopes to go too. He is not sure what will happen next. He wants to jump on you or run out the door, but instead he yawns. The uncertainty of the situation causes conflict for the dog and the displacement behaviors are a manifestation of that conflict. The dog may want to bite a child who takes his bone, but instead he bites furiously at his own foot.
Some examples of displacement behaviors include:
- yawning when not tired
- licking chops without the presence of food
- Watch the video below to see why this is important
- sudden scratching when not itchy
- sudden biting at paws or other body part
- sudden sniffing the ground or other object
- wet dog shake when not wet or dirty
These are all things that dogs do anyway. It is important to look at the context to determine whether the dog is feeling anxious. For example: if it is bedtime and the dog gets up, stretches, yawns and goes to her bed, then that yawn was not a displacement behavior. If the kids are hugging the dog or lying on him and he yawns or starts licking at them over and over then this is displacement. He wants to get up and leave or even to bite, but he displaces that with yawning or licking them or himself. In this context the licking or yawning behavior tells you that the dog is uncomfortable with whatever the kids are doing and it is time for you to intervene. You must then either prevent the kids from doing this in the future or use positive training techniques to teach the dog to enjoy (not just tolerate) these actions from the kids. Visit the dog owner information page
for advice on how to do this.Listen to a terrific interview
with Doggone Safe cofounder and dog behavior specialist Teresa Lewin about displacement behavior.
Sometimes dogs are more overt when they feel anxious and want to remove themselves from a situation. Please don't force a dog to stay in situation in which he feels anxious, especially if children are the source of his anxiety. Here are some examples:
- the dog gets up and leaves an uncomfortable
situation (he may bite rather than leaving one of these days)
- turning head away
- hiding behind person or object
- barking and retreating
- the dog rolls over on back in submissive way
(please don't hurt me!)
Other Body Language Signs of Anxiety
- tail between legs
- tail low and only the end is wagging
- tail between legs and wagging
- tail down or straight for curly-tailed dog
(husky, malamute, pug, chow chow, spitz-type dogs etc.)
- ears sideways for erect eared dog
- ears back and very rapid panting
- dog goes into another room away from you and
urinates or defecates (Please find a professional behavior consultant for help with this - search our directory)
All dogs should have a safe place, such as a
crate or mat that they can go to when they want to be left alone. All family
members and guests should be taught not to bother the dog when he is in his safe
place. We have recently heard of a mat product which gives the dog a shock if he tries to leave it, thus teaching him to stay on the mat. This is not what we would consider a safe place for the dog. This is a dangerous product and you should not have one of these.
Watch this video and see if you can spot the warning sign (hint - it happens at about 2 sec into the video). You will likely need to watch it twice. Warning - graphic video. May not be suitable for children. Again this shows us how fast a dog can move. Even with the handler right there he couldn't stop it. The slow motion shows just how slow the human reaction is. Neither the handler nor the reporter saw the warning sign.
This is a classic example of inter-species miscommunciation. The reporter was showing affection for the dog by leaning in and putting both hands on the dog's neck. The dog did not interpret this as a friendly gesture, but rather saw it as a threat and acted accordingly.
Lesson: keep your face out of the face of a strange dog - emphasize this with your kids!