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As a behavior consultant and technologist, I am trained to tease out variables, uncover potential motivating observations, and work on confirming contingencies. Always is great. Never is too - if in fact either of those conditions prove to be true. The word “fine” leaves us very little information and is a subjective assessment of our dog’s emotional state. Let’s take a look at a few common scenarios and what you are likely to see if a dog is actually, “fine.”

Greeting unfamiliar people: The dog is making curving motions with their body and tail. They approach on a similar curve. Their eyes are soft, almond shaped, and might be slightly squinted and may be blinking gently. They will be moving. They initiate physical contact and will sustain that contact for at least 3 seconds. A jump up, push, bounce off, or spin away may not indicate that the dog is fine.

Hanging out during a social event: Even a dog standing still that is actually “fine” will be moving - feet might move with a slight shift in weight. Their heads will be in a neutral position - not hung low and not high. When they lie down, they will rest on one hock and if there is activity they want to be involved in, it’s less likely they will actually go to sleep. They may rest their heads and relax. Dogs that go to sleep during a social gathering or during play with other dogs could very well be trying to check themselves out of the engagement.

Leash walks: Dogs that are fine may casually glance at things in the environment. They may even get excited but are easily coached into walking away or disengaging. They have the ability to return focus back to the owner or resume sniffing. A dog that is staring at something and can not respond to known cues - even if they are not barking - are not actually fine. They may not be in a state of total distress but there is something. That something might range from curiosity to concern to threat assessment.

Crate time: Dogs will typically eat their treats when left in the crate. They can relax, nap, sleep deeply regardless if someone is home or not. They will be able to sit (if trained) for the door to be open. It is easy to direct them in and out on cue. They do not stiffen when the crate is approached. Their eyes do not widen. There are no dilated pupils, panting, drooling, and obviously no thrashing or bar biting.

When left alone: Similar to the above description, dogs will usually refrain from playing, or fighting, and will sleep for a large portion of the absence. If destructive, something is off. It may not be as serious as separation anxiety - thought it could - it could also be run of the mill boredom, exercise deficit, or isolation stress. If the dog goes to the bathroom, we have to look at house training issues and the possibility of anxiety and distress.

During a consult, “fine” as a label will never go unexamined. We will unpack what “fine” looked like in a specific context to either validate or educate about what the dog may have been experiencing. We will always focus on what is observable and measurable and avoid speculation about what the dog might be thinking or trying to accomplish. Behavior can not be efficiently modified if we do not have a through and accurate assessment of the events that are occurring before the behavior, a detailed and observational description of the behavior itself, and the in deification of the consequences that are maintaining that behavior.

The absence of more intense behaviors like growling, snarling, lip curling, snapping, and biting does not equal a dog being “fine.”


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