In this set of pictures, the dog is intrigued by the kittens (top
left), while the kittens are still young enough not to be too
intimidated by her arrival. The dog's posture is very soft to convey
friendliness, and she engages in a 'play bow' (top right) to
communicate her non-aggressive intentions. Her tail is wagging - she is
dying to play! The play bow is a universal canine communication to
inform other dogs that every ensuing action should be taken in the
context of play, rather than aggression. That way, if things get a
little heated or over-excited, every dog involved will know that the
intentions are not hostile.
Dogs usually take a self-imposed 'time-out' at this point (e.g.
sniffing the air, looking away, standing still, shaking or scratching)
to give everyone the chance to calm down before play resumes.
Unfortunately, the kittens will not know what this signal means! One of
the kittens is showing distinct signs of arousal with a wide, stiff
stance and the hair on the tail becoming erect (bottom right). This all
makes the kitten look bigger and makes it look more intimidating to a
potential predator. Cats will often stand sideways on in situations
like this to make themselves look even bigger.
Feline body language is much less diverse than canine, simply because cats are generally self-sufficient and do not need to co-operate with others for their survival, whereas dogs are social animals who need to be able to convey their moods and intentions in order to avoid any misunderstanding. In spite of the minefield for miscommunication between the two species, this dog quickly realises that her size may be intimidating to the kittens and lies down (lower left) to make herself as small as possible. In time, she and the kittens became close companions!