Ankara Üniv Vet Fak Derg, 59, 241-246, 2012
Evaluation of body postures of Belgian Malinois dogs during a police
dog training in Germany
Yasemin SALGIRLI DEMIRBAS
Ankara University, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Department of Physiology, Ankara, Turkey.
Summary: Police dog training is a strict training with high level of arousal and stress. In the present study, it was aimed to
investigate behavioral tendency to exhibit submissive body posture in Belgian Malinois dogs while performing routine obedience
exercises in police dog training. Furthermore, factors causing different body postures in those dogs were evaluated. Accordingly, 6 of
the 42 dogs (14, 3 %) were assessed as dogs having neutral - confident body postures during the obedience exercises. Rest of the
dogs (85, 7 %), however, exhibited at least one behavioral element of submission. No statistically significant correlations were found
between age and submissive body posture, gender and submissive body posture as well as between real criminal contact and
submissive body posture. The results obtained in this study show that dogs of the breed, Belgian Malinois are more likely to show
submissive behavior than other behaviors such as neutral or attentive behavior in a training condition with high level of arousal and
Key words: Police dog, body posture, submission, Belgian Malinois.
Belçika Malinois köpeklerinin vücut pozisyonlarının Almanya’daki polis köpeği eğitimi sırasında
Özet: Polis köpeği eğitimi, yüksek uyarılma ve stres seviyesi içeren katı bir eğitimdir. Bu çalışmada, Belçika Malinois
köpeklerinin polis köpeği eğitiminde, itaat egzersizleri sırasında teslimiyetçi vücut dili sergileme yönündeki davranışsal eğilimlerinin
incelenmesi amaçlanmıştır. Ayrıca, bu köpeklerde değişik vücut pozisyonlarına neden olan faktörler de değerlendirilmiştir. Sonuç
olarak itaat egzersizleri sırasında, 42 köpeğin 6’sı (%14,3) normal - kendine güvenli vücut pozisyonuna sahip olarak
değerlendirilmiştir. Bununla birlikte, diğer köpekler (% 85,7) teslimiyet davranışına ait en az bir davranış unsurunu sergilemişlerdir.
Yaş ve teslimiyetçi vücut dili, cinsiyet ve teslimiyetçi vücut dili ve gerçek bir suçluyla karşılaşmış olma ve teslimiyetçi vücut dili
arasında istatistiksel olarak anlamlı bir korelasyon bulunmamıştır. Bu araştırmadan elde edilen sonuçlar Belçika Malinois ırkına ait
köpeklerin uyarılma ve stres seviyesi yüksek eğitim koşullarında nötral davranış veya dikkat davranışından ziyade teslimiyetçi
davranış göstermeye daha yatkın olduklarını göstermiştir.
Anahtar sözcükler: Polis köpeği, vücut pozisyonu, teslimiyet, Belçika Malinois.
This article is based on a dissertation titled “Comparison of Stress and Learning Effects of Three Different Training Methods:
Electronic Training Collar, Pinch Collar and Quitting Signal”.
Dogs have been selectively bred for thousands of
years in order to improve specific behavioral and
phenotypic features. This has resulted in a great variety
of characters in dogs in terms of appearance and
behavior. Nowadays, more than 400 dog breeds exist,
most of which has a certain task such as hunting,
herding, retrieving etc. Until recently, Belgian Malinois
(BM) and German Shepherd Dogs (GSD) have been two
of most commonly used dog breeds in police work (5).
However, BM, which has normally been bred for
different tasks such as herding, guarding and flock
protecting (15) is lately preferred over GSD as police
service dogs mainly because GSD predisposes to a
number of inherited disorders (1). One of the reasons of
using BM as police service dogs is his strong willingness
to work and intelligence, as they
have been selectively
bred for their high reactivity and responsiveness to the
According to Feddersen-Petersen and Ohl (6),
neutral body posture of the dog can be defined as
follows: “Body orientation of the dog must be parallel to
the ground as the legs are held in a normal straight
position. One may also notice the slightly raised head,
noise oriented-ears and smooth facial expression (this
characteristic depends on the dog breed). The dog holds
his tail downwards in a relaxed position when exhibiting
a neutral body posture”. Behavioral elements of submission,
Yasemin Salgirli Demirbas
however, are slightly different from those of neutral
postures. In a dog exhibiting submission, body posture is
crooked and slightly crouched. Ears are lowered while
directing backwards or flattened on the head. The lips are
pulled back horizontally while covering the teeth. This
facial expression is also named as submissive grin (7).
Corners of the eyes are also pulled back as a result of
tense facial muscles. In addition to that, tail is held in a
lowered position, even between the legs, and it may be
wagged or held still. Rolling over is exhibited by the dog
which shows ultimate submission, so that the abdomen,
only vital part that lacks bony protection, is exhibited. In
this case, submissive urination can also be observed (2,
7, 14, 16).
The main aim of the present study was to evaluate
body postures of BM police dogs during routine
obedience exercises. Thus, tendency to submissive body
language in those breed of dogs while performing routine
obedience exercises during police dog training was
assessed. Furthermore, we intended to determine the
factors causing different body postures in these dogs.
Therefore, correlations were sought between the age and
the submissive body postures, between the gender and
the submissive body postures well as between the real
criminal contact and the submissive body postures.
This is the first research effort to evaluate body
postures of BM dogs, which are the most commonly used
police service dogs all over the world, in a police dog
Materials and Methods
Subjects: Forty-two adult police dogs of both
genders (33 males and 9 females) and varying ages (3-10
years old) of the breed Belgian Malinois served as
subjects for this study. Dogs were divided into three
groups, i.e. young (under 2 years old), middle-aged (2-5
years old) and old-aged (over 5 years old) dogs,
according to their age (8). All dogs in the study were
official police service dogs and recruited from two
different police departments in Germany. During the
study, dogs participated the sessions with its own
handler. All subjects could be clearly identified with a
permanent mark (microchip or ear tattoo).
Questionnaire: A questionnaire with three different
sections was addressed to the canine officers who
participated in this research as handlers. The first section
of the questionnaire (general information) was designed
to gather information regarding the dogs’ demographic
data and past experience. In the second part (training
aids), questions related to dogs’ past experiences with the
training aids and former and/or current behavioral
problems of the dogs were asked. The last part (general
assessment) contained the questions about individual
characteristics of the dogs such as self-confidence,
arousal level and motivation type. The aim of using this
questionnaire as a part of this study
was to gain
information about dogs’ characteristics, past experience,
health situation etc., and thus, to avoid incorrect assessment
of the results. Furthermore, through this information,
correlations between those parameters and body
languages of the dogs were possible to be evaluated.
Test Persons: Two test instructors were present
during the entire experiment. The main responsibility of
test instructors was the observation and control of the test
sessions. Besides, one of the test instructors gave the
starting and ending instructions of obedience sessions
while the second instructor was filming the experiment.
Test Area: Three different training grounds were
used as test areas. All test areas were already used as
training grounds for the police dog training. Thus, all of
the dogs were familiar with the area where they were
Experiment: The dogs were brought to the training
area with a leash on standard collar and were kept on the
leash throughout the entire experiment. In the obedience
session, the dog and the handler performed some
standard obedience exercises for 80 seconds. During this
session, the owner gave commands such as sit, heel,
down, stay and come and was not allowed to correct the
dog if the dog made any mistakes. Thus, the general
body posture of the dog as well as the reaction of the dog
to the commands given by its handler during obedience
training could be observed and analyzed. The entire
experiment was filmed on DVDs using a video camera.
The recorded DVDs were reviewed later in order to
analyze the body language of the dogs during the
obedience sessions. Considering the relevant literature
(13, 18, 20), focal animal sampling was used as sampling
method and instantaneous sampling was used as
recording method in order to evaluate body postures of
the dogs during the obedience sessions. To this end, each
obedience session was divided into 10 sample intervals
each of which lasted 8 seconds. At the end of each
sample interval the video was paused and the positions of
separate body parts have been analyzed by using an
extensive ethogram, which was designed following the
studies of Feddersen-Petersen and Ohl (6), Beerda (3),
and Schilder and van der Borg (17). Definitions of bodily
expressions are shown in table 1.
Analyses: Data analysis was performed with SPSS
16.0 Inc. software. Kruskal-Wallis tests were used for the
comparison of group differences in body positions during
the obedience sessions. In order to determine the general
body position of the dogs during the obedience session,
frequency analyses were performed. Two significancy
levels were set at the levels 95 % (p <0, 05**) and 99 %
(p <0, 01*).
Ethical approval was given to this research by
Ankara Üniv Vet Fak Derg, 59, 2012
Behavioral evaluation: In order to assess
submissive body posture, separate ear (low ear), head
(low head), tail positions (low tail) and, also, the
behavioral elements such as flexing of the joints, arching
of the back and extreme ness of body posture were
scored (Figure 1). All in all, when the dog exhibited at
least two submissive behavioral elements during the
obedience session, body postures of the dogs were scored
as submissive body posture.
Overall, 36 dogs (85, 7 %) were evaluated as the
dogs exhibited at least one behavioral element of
submission during the experiment. Eleven dogs (26, 2 %)
were evaluated as the dogs which showed submissive
Table 1. Descriptions of bodily expressions.
Tablo 1. Vücut ifadelerinin açıklamaları.
Body parts Descriptions
Corner of the mouth relax Lips in normal position
Corner of the mouth back Lips drawn back
Corner of the mouth forward Lips are forming “C’’, short and round shape
Submissive grin Lips drawn back to expose teeth
Neutral Head held in a normal and a relaxed position
Elevated Head lifted up to form a wide angle with the neck
Trained eye contact Keeping eye contact with the owner
Slightly lowered The head is held in low position to a small extent
Lowered The head is held in a low position
Turned away The head is turned away from the owner
Neutral The pinnae are held partly sidewards and completely upwards; opening is completely visible
from the side
Maximally backwards The pinnae are flat on the head
Backwards The pinnae are backwards for more than half, are upright of buckled, they are in one line with
the stop of the nose and are not flat on the head
Laterally turned The pinnae are turned sidewards; opening is not visible from the side
High The openings point forward while ears held in an aroused position
Directed to the stimuli/owner Each pinnae are directed to source of the stimuli by establishing different combinations of ear
Neutral The breed specific tail position under neutral conditions
Half low Tail lower than neutral
Low Upper side of tail against back, tail forms a ‘’S’’
Curled between legs Tail held stabile between the legs
Straight out Tail follows line of lower back of dog
Tail higher than neutral
Body posture/ Joints
High posture The breed specific posture as shown by dogs under neutral conditions, but in addition the tail
is positioned higher or the position of the head is elevated and the ears are pointed forwards
Neutral posture The breed posture shown by dogs under neutral conditions
Half low posture From three features: a lowered position of the tail (compared to the neutral posture), a
backward position of the ears and bent legs, two are exhibited
Low posture The position of the tail is lowered, the ears are positioned backwards and the legs are bent
Very low posture Low posture, but now the tail is curled forward between the hind legs
The back is arched Curving position of the back
Extremely ness The back is arched maximum together with lowering of the head
Lowering back Flexed hind legs
Crouching Flexed fore- and hind legs
Yasemin Salgirli Demirbas
body posture since they exhibited at least two submissive
behavioral elements together during the experiment. It
was also observed that 3 dogs exhibited stress related
behaviors such as flexing of the joints, shaking of the
head, whining and barking together with the commands.
Six dogs (14, 3 %) were evaluated as the dogs which had
–neutral-confident body postures in the study.
General information: No statistically significant
correlations were found between the age and the
submissive body posture (p = 0, 758), the gender and the
submissive body posture (p = 0, 931) as well as between
the real criminal contact and the submissive body posture
(p = 0, 931).
Considering the answers given by the dog handlers
to this questionnaire, a summary table containing following
descriptions was established (Table 2):
Table 2. Summary table of characteristics.
Tablo 2. Özelliklere ait özet tablosu.
Under 2 years old 0
2-5 years old 66,7
Over 5 years old 33,3
Real criminal contact
Level of arousal
High in training 76,2
Always high 19
Always relax 4,8
Currently Available Behavioral problem
Unwanted hunting behavior 13,8
Displacement activities 10,3
Self-confident against human 85,7
Self-confident against environment 92,9
Discussion and Conclusion
In this study, it was aimed to evaluate body
language of BM dogs during routine police dog training
and, thus, to assess whether this breed of dogs show
submissive body posture, which is a sign of stress and
nervousness in dogs, in a strict training situation. Police
dog training is a strict and rigid training which requires
high level of arousal and motivation. Many things should
be accomplished in relatively short time in which an
effective handler and dog partnership must also be built.
Dogs must unconditionally pay attention to its handler
and obey commands without any hesitation during the
training (4). Nowadays, police service dogs are being
used worldwide in different areas such as evidence
detection, tracking, narcotic detection, explosive
detection, human remains detection etc. Since even the
slightest mistake during the training may cause a
significant loss in real life, police dog training is a kind
of training putting a significant amount of stress on the
dog as well as on his handler. Therefore, dogs used as
police dogs come from specific breeding lines, which are
ranked high in personality traits such as
‘’aggressiveness’’ and ‘’playfulness’’ (17, 21). However,
it is also emphasized that selecting a dog for one limited
trait such as high energy may cause a behavior which is
counter protective for police work. Thus, it is significant
to choose a dog which is balanced in personality traits
such as sociability, playfulness, search and aggressive
behavior (4). Nowadays, BM is one of the most
commonly used dog breed in police departments in most
of the countries (5).
There were two main reasons for choosing police
dogs for this experiment: The first reason of using police
dogs was to be able to test as many dogs as possible.
Since the breed of BM is commonly used police dogs, it
was easy to reach these dogs from police departments.
The second reason was since police dogs are kept and
trained in a similar way, it was possible to minimize the
variability arising from housing and training conditions.
As a result, only 6 of the 42 dogs (14, 3 %) were
evaluated as the dogs which had –neutral-confident body
posture during obedience exercises. Rest of the dogs, on
Figure 1. Percentage of the dogs of showing elements of submissive body posture.
Şekil 1. Teslimiyetçi vücut dili unsurlarını sergileyen köpeklerin yüzdesi.
Ankara Üniv Vet Fak Derg, 59, 2012
the other hand, exhibited at least one behavioral element
of submissive behavior. Most of the dog handlers (92,
9%), however, reported that their dogs are confident
against environment. Although the results seem to
contradict each other, they are consistent with the idea
that features such as strong desire and high motivation to
work as well as sensitiveness may cause certain amount
of nervousness in dogs in some situations (9).
Accordingly, it may be suggested that dogs of the breed
BM are more likely to show submissive behavior than
other behaviors such as neutral or attentive behavior in a
training condition with high level of arousal since they
are not a breed of dog which easily copes with stress.
A number of different researches reported that
rapidly acting stress mediators such as noradrenaline and
corticosterone improve learning (10, 11, 19). Thus, it can
also be proposed that sensitivity to stress and low
frustration threshold in BM may be a factor which
enhances their learning ability as they show high
intelligence in a training situation requiring learning of
complex actions (9).
This raises an important question whether this
context dependent nervousness is affected by other
factors such as age, gender and history of confronting
with a real criminal. However, no statistically significant
correlations were found between those parameters.
Within the frame
of the study, it was also set out to
investigate the tendency in BM police dogs to
behavioral disorders. Accordingly, dogs having currently
behavioral problems were assessed as 42, 8%
of the dogs. This seemingly high ratio may also support
the idea that BM is sensitive to stress and frustration.
With respect to these findings, it can be suggested
that BM is a breed of dog which can show behavioral
elements of submission under strict training conditions
although it is a confident dog in nature. Within the frame
of the present study no detailed investigation on
relationship between the dog and his handler was
conducted. Therefore, it is not yet known whether there
is a correlation between dog handler-dog relationship and
body language of BM dogs as stated by Lefebvre (12). In
the future, research evaluating influence of the handler
and the dog relationship on behavior of the dog during a
police dog training could likely help answering this
Further studies are needed to demonstrate the
context dependent nervousness in BM using a
standardised temperament test.
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Geliş tarihi: 04.01.2012 / Kabul tarihi: 29.03.2012
Address for correspondence:
Dr. Yasemin Salgirli
Ankara Üniversitesi Veteriner Fakültesi
Fizyoloji Anabilim Dalı
06110 Dışkapı Ankara