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Evaluation of body postures of Belgian Malinois dogs during a police dog training in Germany


Abstract and Figures

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 does (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 stress.
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Ankara Üniv Vet Fak Derg, 59, 241-246, 2012
Evaluation of body postures of Belgian Malinois dogs during a police
dog training in Germany
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
commands (15).
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
County Government.
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 ifadelerininıklamaları.
Body parts Descriptions
Facial Expression
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
Head position
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
Ears position
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
Tail position
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.
Characteristics %
(frequency of
the dogs)
Male 78,6
Female 21,4
Under 2 years old 0
2-5 years old 66,7
Over 5 years old 33,3
Real criminal contact
Yes 74,3
No 25,7
Level of arousal
High in training 76,2
Always high 19
Always relax 4,8
Behavioral problem
Yes 42,8
No 57,2
Currently Available Behavioral problem
Barking 55,1
Unwanted hunting behavior 13,8
Displacement activities 10,3
Stereotype 10,3
Others 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
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Full-text available
Many dog breeds exhibit what has been variously described as extreme "fear / shyness / nervousness / panic / anxiety" accompanied by social withdrawal. This condition is usually familial. There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that anxiety -at any level -can affect: (1) the rate at which learning progresses, and (2) various performance capabilities (King et al., 2000; Mills and Ledger, 2001). Such concerns are paramount for Department of Defense (DOD) military working dogs (MWDs) and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) dogs in the USA and analogous dogs elsewhere. MWDs and TSA dogs have never been more in demand or expected to work in as varied and complex environments as is the case today. MWDs are subjected to stressful and anxiety provoking situations during training and in the course of their work (Koda, 2001; Slabbert and Odendaal, 1999), which may be manifested as physical sequelae (Moore et al., 2001) Prior work has indicated that a validated provocative test that assesses behavioral and physiological responses associated with anxiety in human adults is predictive of later anxious states in puppies from lines involving heritable forms of anxiety and panic (Overall and Dunham 2004 a,b). By coupling behavioral assessments -which unfortunately are not usually phenotypes -to physiological and behavioral phenotypes, and to genetic analysis of these phenotypes, we should be able to provide a probability analysis of puppies who as adults are likely to fail in either performance or testing measures. Genome scans have been successful in identifying simple Mendelian traits, and are finding increasing success in more complicated genetic disorders like anxiety-related behavioral conditions (Hamilton et al., 2003). Using a dense map of microsatellite DNA markers (Parker et al., 2004; Sutter and Ostrander, 2004), we expect to be able to map chromosomal regions in these dogs that contain genes related to the various performance, anxiety, and also olfactory behaviors that have genetic components. This will allow us to provide genetic counseling for preferred breeders based on the predictive power of the genetic markers that we have identified.
Behavioural effects of the use of a shock collar during guard dog training of German shepherd dogs were studied. Direct reactions of 32 dogs to 107 shocks showed reactions (lowering of body posture, high pitched yelps, barks and squeals, avoidance, redirection aggression, tongue flicking) that suggest stress or fear and pain. Most of these immediate reactions lasted only a fraction of a second. The behaviour of 16 dogs that had received shocks in the recent past (S-dogs) was compared with the behaviour of 15 control dogs that had received similar training but never had received shocks (C-dogs) in order to investigate possible effects of a longer duration. Only training sessions were used in which no shocks were delivered and the behaviour of the dogs (position of body, tail and ears, and stress-, pain- and aggression-related behaviours) was recorded in a way that enabled comparison between the groups. During free walking on the training grounds S-dogs showed a lower ear posture and more stress-related behaviours than C-dogs. During obedience training and during manwork (i.e. excercises with a would-be criminal) the same differences were found. Even a comparison between the behaviour of C-dogs with that of S-dogs during free walking and obedience exercises in a park showed similar differences. Differences between the two groups of dogs existed in spite of the fact that C-dogs also were trained in a fairly harsh way. A comparison between the behaviour during free walking with that during obedience exercises and manwork, showed that during training more stress signals were shown and ear positions were lower. The conclusions, therefore are, that being trained is stressful, that receiving shocks is a painful experience to dogs, and that the S-dogs evidently have learned that the presence of their owner (or his commands) announces reception of shocks, even outside of the normal training context. This suggests that the welfare of these shocked dogs is at stake, at least in the presence of their owner.
Scan and one-zero sampling are common quick methods for scoring activities on check-sheets. Real data are used here to test the performances of these methods. There are conditions where one-zero sampling reflects the proportion of time spent in an activity, and methods for discovering such conditions are shown. These methods require information about the behaviour which is not available from one-zero samples. Certain temporal patterns in the sampled activity may prevent one-zero counts of it from consistently reflecting the proportion of time spent in that activity. Such temporal organization can be of biological interest, but it poses problems for techniques of measurement and description.
Dogs show considerable variation in morphology, genetics and behaviour caused by long periods of artificial selection. This is evident in the large number of breeds we have today. Behavioural differences among breeds have often been regarded as remnants from past selection during the breeds’ origin. However, the selection in many breeds has, during the last decades, gone through great changes, which could have influenced breed-typical behaviour. In order to investigate this, breed differences were studied using data from a standardized behavioural test from 13,097 dogs of 31 breeds from the Swedish dog population. Based on the test results, breed scores were calculated for four behavioural traits: playfulness, curiosity/fearlessness, sociability and aggressiveness. These traits have previously been found to be stable and valid, and hence regarded as personality traits in the dog. The present results suggested large differences between breeds in all of the investigated traits, even though there were within-breed variations. No relationships between breed-characteristic behaviour and function in the breeds’ origins were found. Instead, there were correlations between breed scores and current use of the breeding stocks, which suggest that selection in the recent past has affected breed-typical behaviour. The breeds’ use in dog shows, the dominating use in general, was negatively correlated with all investigated traits, both in sires and in dams. In contrast, use in Working dog trials was positively correlated with playfulness and aggressiveness in sires. Thus, these results suggest that selection for dog show use is positively correlated with social and non-social fearfulness, and negatively with playfulness, curiosity in potentially threatening situations and aggressiveness, whereas selection for Working dog use is positively correlated with playfulness and aggressiveness. Furthermore, correlation analyses show that popular breeds have higher sociability and playfulness scores than less popular breeds, suggesting that a positive attitude towards strangers is an important characteristic of a functional pet dog and desirable by dog owners. This indicates that selection towards use in dog shows may be in conflict with pet dog selection. Furthermore, these results suggest that basic dimensions of dog behaviour can be changed when selection pressure changes, and that the domestication of the dog still is in progress. A standardized behavioural test, like the one used in this study, is suggested to be highly useful as a tool in dog breeding programs.
Police dog service requires canines that are balanced in social, play, search and aggression behavior as well as physically healthy. Selecting for one or a limited number of genetic traits, such as extraordinarily high energy and aggression, can result in behavior that is counterproductive to police work. In addition to genes, life experience and training determine adult dog behavior. Dogs with inadequate human socialization, fear reaction, or conflicted training may perform patterned behavior in a controlled environment yet react inappropriately or dangerously to the novelties of street work.
Submission in the wolf and dog is defined on the basis ot its motivation: submission is the effort of the inferior to attain friendly or harmonic social integration. Submission functions as an appeal or a contribution to social integration, but only if it meets a corresponding attitude in the superior. The form of submissive behavior in wolf and dog is ritualized and symbolized cub-behavior. Two main forms of submissive behavior occur in wolf and dog: active submission, derived from begging for milk or food, and passive submission, derived from the posture which the cub adopts when cleaned by its mother. The definition of submission is generally applicable to vertebrates living in groups based on intimacy and a social hierarchical order. The concept of submission as the role of the defeated in the terminal phase of fight with the function to inhibit automatically aggression in the superior should be dismissed. In vertebrates at least three types of conflict with different terminal phases occur: (1). Severe fight based on intolerance; ends with flight by the inferior or with his death. (2). Ritualized fight over a privilege; ends with the “giving-up-the-claim ritual” of the inferior, which automatically blocks the aggression of the superior. (3). Minor conflict in closed groups; settled by submissive behavior of the inferior. In closed vertebrate groups, intermediate forms between (1) and (3) occur, depending on the proportion between activated intimacy and intolerance.