Sarah Wilson

Dog Expert

Reading Dogs: Knock! It! Off!


Reading Dogs image

Let’s start reading dogs!

When adult dogs reach the end of their tether with a younger dog (usually a pushy adolescent) this cheek grab is a way they say: Knock! It! Off!

This usually comes after the older dog has made several lower level “requests” for the younger pushy dog to be less pushy.

And, as luck would have it, we have one of those lower level requests captured in the photo below. The older dog (the gray in harness) is, I greatly expect, a saint.

You can see that the brown dog thinks this moment below is rather funny. Big eyes, ears back, mouth elongated, toes splayed – my guess is he’s been bouncing happily (but obnoxiously) into the gray dog’s space. He sees her restrained “stop it” coming but isn’t taking it the least bit seriously.

Reading Dogs Cheek Grab 1The gray is making the brown dog move with a “rrrawrr” to the side of his face/neck. This is probably still several requests into the request process but notice how low and relaxed the gray dog’s tail is, ears are up but teeth are not bared, face is not wrinkled. This is a polite statement of “I know we’re playing but don’t do that. You’re just about on my last nerve.

Notice how the brown dog’s right front leg is in front of the gray dog’s body. He may have just come up and tried to swing that leg over the gray or bumped the gray’s shoulder – either way, both are as obnoxious as a human teen pushing an adult or trying to get them in a head lock. Doesn’t matter how “happy” the teen is doing it; those  behaviors are generally rude.

Now we see the cheek grab. Notice again where that right front paw is. My guess? The brown dog did not take the gray’s hint displayed above and came back again. This time the gray says, “Okay, let me be clear.

Reading Dogs Cheek Grab ImageThis is, believe it or not, a careful grab using just the incisors (the small front teeth). It is possible, even likely, that there will be no mark on the brown dog despite the dramatic look of it. The gray has simply grabbed and is holding for a second or two. The brown dog now looks like he may be getting the point.

If the gray were my dog, I would have stepped in on her behalf when her first “quit it” message was ignored. Some people say “Let the dogs work it out.” I’m not one of those people.

If you allow the younger dog to continue to harass the older dog, the older can be forced to escalate to the point where the younger dog responds and that point sometimes results in punctures. Especially with individuals (and breeds) that tend to get more active and silly in response to excitement/play.

Oh and PS, in this situation, if I saw this happening, I would deal with the brown dog as the fly in this ointment; not the gray. The gray is defending herself with restraint. Good dog.

Now you know.

If you enjoyed learning about reading dogs, click on:  Reading Dogs: Two Dogs Greeting – Safe or Unsafe?

If you like my blogs, you’ll love my e-mails and my books: My Smart PuppyChildproofing Your DogDogologyTails from the Barkside.


  1. How would you deal with the brown dog? Put a leash on the brown dog and walk away? Walk away and then put the brown dog in a Down?

    • Personally I would body block the brown away from the gray but that is me and that assumes I know the dogs. I can’t recommend that action. So on leash is good and I would work on head turns away from the gray. I want to make sure I change the dog’s mind, not just control his body. Head turns are great for that.

  2. It’s interesting you say you would have stepped in on the gray dogs behalf. I was just telling someone the other day, one of our rescues is getting to the point where she doesn’t “just handle” obnoxious fosters. She has been very patient with their antics and, I feel, she has gotten to the point our other family dogs are at. She knows we will handle conflict so she is more willing to put up with the rough play the foster dogs initiate. We never let it get out of hand and have never had blood spilled. I’m feeling very comfortable she is learning as our others we reared from puppyhood, that the humans will protect her if she’s in a difficult situation. I feel she is becoming much more level headed as a result.

    • I completely agreed, Nancy. When your dog can trust that you will help then, they can turn to you first rather than “handling it” themselves. That is exactly my experience, too.

  3. When do you know it’s too much, though? I’m totally open to the fact that I might be missing something, but my older dog tends to correct adolescent puppies very swiftly and very harshly without giving many warning signals- often times just seconds after a greeting if the puppy isn’t basically belly-up in submission. There’s never any blood. He always goes for the face- but more the top of the muzzle, but it’s not lightning speed. It will often take him 2-3 seconds to administer the correction, and those seconds are filled with growls and puppy “Don’t hurt mes!” and drama.

    I’ve just been keeping him away from them. But we’re out a lot and I can’t avoid the interaction all of the time, since puppies like to approach, and sometimes I miss that they’re coming. Or miss that they’re still juveniles. Or they come up even though I have my dog leashed and am trying to get space and let the owner know my dog’s not nice to puppies. I do correct him when he does this. Verbal, and walk him away. But is there anything else I can do in this situation, either to avoid these interactions, or slowly make them more appropriate? I’m not terribly concerned a puppy will be physically injured, but I can’t imagine that sort of response is good for either dog. (However, if the puppy stays around, this normally only happens once or twice. Then they live peaceably, though sometimes my dog will just ignore them and sometimes he’ll begin playing. That first one or two is intense though. It scares several new puppy owners- the type of scared that makes them check all over to make sure their pup isn’t hurt… not anyone’s favorite part of the day.

  4. I am guessing that this is a situation where the two dogs aren’t living together, how would you deal with this situation when you have brought a new puppy into the home, would you still intervene?

    • Depends on the dogs and the moment. But, if a pup is getting in an adult’s face repeatedly and not stopping or is getting into an “assertively submissive”tangle then yes, I sure would. Those moments are a great chance to step in and teach the pup to respect low-level signals from the adults and teach my adult that I’ll take care of it so they don’t have to go farther. Additionally, gives me a chance to start building the pup’s ability to listen even when distracted.

  5. I need you help! We have this problem, the story below.. Our dog would give a warning growl, younger but bigger dog always back down. NOW the younger but bigger dog is showing teeth and wrinkle face back and scaring my older but very small CHI( who was always the dominate one) . I was referred to you by a friend. She said you might be able to help us and get to keep both dogs. The dogs had a fight on my 11 year olds lap and when my 6 year old try to break it up his hand almost was attacked. Please help us. We as in all of our family love our dogs. Thanks Shena

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