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Cute animal videos that go “viral” on the Internet are not always what they appear to be. Take the recent video of the Pit Bull and the deer that labels the duo as being the best of friends. In actuality, if you understand animal body language, it’s not hard to see that neither animal’s intentions look friendly.
Play borrows aspects of the fight-or-flight response, so being able to distinguish protective or predatory behavior from a romp in the park can take a little practice. Play is a safe way for an animal to practice skills it someday may need to defend or assert itself. But slight differences exist between play and something else altogether, and you can see them here.
Closely watching the actions of the Pit Bull and deer “friends” reveals the likely truth.
The behavior of the dog in the video isn’t consistent with play. First of all, his movements aren’t bouncy or inefficient. Play activities such as chasing tend to be relaxed, lack precision, and look silly or goofy. Beyond the Pit Bull’s swift and precise running, the dog also is immensely focused, with a tense mouth and intense visual focus — all indicating he sees the deer as prey rather than a friend. Dogs may chase after a ball with such intensity, but when playing with another creature, their chasing usually uses only a fraction of their full speed and ability.
In the video, even after multiple runs back and forth, when the chasing becomes less intense, the behavior likely calms down for both animals only because they are not allowed contact with each other. But had the fence been opened, it’s unlikely the two would have played. A more likely scenario is the dog chasing the deer or the deer defending itself.
Many people would take the dog’s wagging tail as a friendly gesture. But wagging only signals an intention to interact — and not necessarily in a friendly manner. Tight, highly held tail wags indicate a dog who may react with aggression or chasing. A playful and friendly tail carriage typically wags loosely at medium height.
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