More animal play? Pitbull and deer.

by Matthew Cobb

This video appeared on the FB page of my other Aunty Janet, and was linked to this page.  I’m posting the video because of the behaviour, and despite the presence of a canid. The d*g is called Zeke, and was recently rescued. His owners  said he is ‘a love bug’ and ‘a couch potato ‘and this was the most they had ever seen him move. (Not terms any of us would dare use about our feline masters, I note.) The original site says ‘If you are wondering what would have happened if there was no fence, we can assure you that no animals would be harmed.’ I doubt that—there are too many examples of d*gs worrying sheep.

Anyway, what do you think is going on here? Are they playing? Or rather, what on earth is the doe doing? Is she playing or hiding? Note the other deer behind who doesn’t want to join in…




  1. alexandra
    Posted June 20, 2014 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    The dog appears to be acting like a guard dog, justified since this is probably his home and his job. Tail wagging is not always a sign of friendliness. My dogs’ tails go like crazy when they have a chipmunk treed or gone to ground. So the deer may be lucky that there is such a serious fence. The deer? Confused – maybe another deer is beyond the fence somewhere, or a fawn is lost and the deer is frantic trying to find it.

    • tobynsaunders
      Posted June 20, 2014 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

      They’re playing.

      • moarscienceplz
        Posted June 20, 2014 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

        Yes, playing.
        The dog only barks at the beginning and it certainly seems more of a “let’s play!” noise than an anger or attack noise, and the deer has plenty of opportunity to move further away from the dog, either by moving away from the fence or by doubling back while running. It never attempts either move, so I say it is comfortable being near the doggie.

        • Posted June 21, 2014 at 12:15 am | Permalink

          There’s nothing frantic about that deer. This dog is playing, they doesn’t mean without the fence the deer would be safe though, prety drive can kick in very easily with running animals. So while this video is cute, but I’d wouldn’t automatically allow this dog access to play with loose deer.

  2. GBJames
    Posted June 20, 2014 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    I’m voting for play.

    • Kevin
      Posted June 20, 2014 at 2:37 pm | Permalink


    • Draken
      Posted June 20, 2014 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

      Yes, it’s a play of “guess who gets to bite whose throat until the owner stops twitching if this fence suddenly opens up.”

      Pitbull owners tend to go all lyrical on how their sweet little darlings really never ever attack and should all be allowed into the Ikea ballbath unmuzzled to play with the children.
      I think most pitbull owners are sports school owners who traffick Asians with their stomach full of coke into the country.

      • GBJames
        Posted June 20, 2014 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

        I believe everything told me by people who make unbiased comments like this.

        • lisa parker
          Posted June 21, 2014 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

          Let me guess… you were bitten as a child?

          • GBJames
            Posted June 22, 2014 at 7:00 am | Permalink

            Jo. I guess I need to make more frequent use of sarchasm tags.

            • lisa parker
              Posted June 22, 2014 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

              I meant my comment for Draken. Sorry

      • Posted June 21, 2014 at 12:16 am | Permalink

        Bravo Draken, most unreasonable biased comment I’ve read here in a while.

  3. Gregory Kusnick
    Posted June 20, 2014 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    The deer drew lots to decide who’s going to tire the dog out before they all jump the fence and start munching the roses.

  4. tobynsaunders
    Posted June 20, 2014 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    Of course they’re playing.

  5. Posted June 20, 2014 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    That’s not a play position the dog assumes; and the earlier sharp barking is usually a possessive warning.

    As Alexandra pointed out, tail wagging tends to be a sign of excitement and arousal and not friendliness as is often assumed. Note the raised tail once the corner is reached, a sign of possession and dominance. After a few runs, notice that the dog is simply racing to the corner posts rather than watching the deer. Maybe this becomes the game to him but the positioning once the corner is reached remains firmly defensively possessive.

    As for the deer, maybe it wanted to get away from the sharp barking originally or stay between the dog and the other deer but I don’t enough about deer behaviour to make this more than a guess.

  6. penguin0302
    Posted June 20, 2014 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    Deer says to the other:

    -Watch this, Jake. This goofy dog follows me from one end of the fence to the other.

    Dog says:

    Buddy behind me is filming you. Primary hunter target practice is you, bud.

  7. Jim Thomerson
    Posted June 20, 2014 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    My neighbor has a German shepard. One day she was on one side of the fence and a doe on the other. The doe would run toward the dog, and the dog would back up, barking all the while. Then the dog would run toward the doe, and the doe would retreat. This went on for maybe 45 minutes before my neighbor came out and broke it up.

  8. Barry Lyons
    Posted June 20, 2014 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    If that isn’t an example of play, I don’t know what is. If the deer were truly alarmed, it would have run off earlier away from the fence. Clearly, this back-and-forth “game” of hide-and-seek is play. What else could it be?

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted June 20, 2014 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

      Perhaps the deer is looking for a way around the dog, and the dog is showing the deer that’s not going to be possible.

      In fact this resembles a man-to-man defense in pro sports, where the “players” are in competition with each other, and one guy’s job is to prevent the other guy from doing his job.

  9. Posted June 20, 2014 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    The dog is definitely do guard work. The doe is beginning the process of trying to get away — when they are startled they tend to either freeze or get locked into repetitive movements until something breaks that pattern and they scamper away. They are probably introverts. 🙂

  10. Posted June 20, 2014 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    Deer is near fence surrounding yard.

    Dog, outside the house for a little while during the day, thinks it spots intruder and goes into on-the-job guard mode.

    Deer runs along fence, guard inside assumes his position between intruder and the people/structure his duty is to protect. From page 1, Manual for Domesticated Dog, Guard.

    Deer & dog reach a corner, deer reverses course. Dog mirrors movement of suspect, natch.

    Deer, if it ever had a specific goal or not, locks into repetitive behavior pattern. Who knows what a deer is actually cognizant of? Not the dog, certainly, which does not matter to him nowhow. He is on the job.

    Both animals race along fence side by side a number of times. Deer suddenly changes attention elsewhere and meanders off. Dog does same. The end.

  11. Posted June 20, 2014 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    This is dog play, but many people mistake some of the signs for aggression or territory. The bark is a common outlet for excitement and impatience, and tail wagging means excitement. But the clear specific signals of play from the dog are: pouncy movements and some false starts for a run along the fence. The dog often pauses to check on whether the deer is following. All universal dog language for play. Also when running with the deer the dog is often looking ahead, not at the deer. Between runs it often looks around, away from the deer. The open, panting mouth is also a good sign. These are all signs of non-aggression. This is play. Territory and aggression behavior will be very different.

    • aljones909
      Posted June 20, 2014 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

      Yes, play. The dog looks like it’s smiling (a remarkable trait that dogs have acquired). I’ve walked dogs when other dogs have attacked. They move directly for the kill, don’t bark and definitely don’t smile.

    • Marella
      Posted June 20, 2014 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

      I think the deer is definitely also playing, otherwise why would it stop at the pillar? If it were genuinely afraid for its life it would keep running surely? It’s also clearly not running as fast as it can in order to let the dog keep up, the dog being a rather short legged specimen clearly not built for speed.

  12. Greg Esres
    Posted June 20, 2014 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    The dog initiates the running several times, doesn’t look at the deer while running, outruns the deer, and when they stop, the dog at least once turns his head away from the deer. None of those those things looks like aggressive behavior to me, so I’d vote for “play”.

  13. Merilee
    Posted June 20, 2014 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    Play most def

  14. Hempenstein
    Posted June 20, 2014 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

    First, it’s refreshing to see a dog here. Thanx!

    The dog seems to be doing more or less what my beloved and goofy dog-next-door Oscar (a Shepherd or maybe Rottweiler/perhaps beagle mix) and I used to do. (He’d been rescued by the Canadian ambassador to Serbia’s wife, and my neighbors acquired him from her when they were there with the State Dept.) I’d chase after him, and he’d hide behind the garden shed, until one of us – sometime me, sometimes him – would peek around the shed, and the chase would start again.

  15. Diane G.
    Posted June 20, 2014 at 11:26 pm | Permalink


  16. ppnl
    Posted June 20, 2014 at 11:50 pm | Permalink

    Play and aggression are not mutually exclusive. The dog is obviously enjoying itself. The deer seems to be also but I’m less sure what it is doing. In any case neither seem afraid or angry.

    My dog races along the fence with my neighbors dog all the time. He thinks it is the most fun and exciting thing to do in the world. But underlying the fun is real territoriality and sexual aggression. The fence is there for a reason.

  17. Northern Sentinel
    Posted June 21, 2014 at 4:15 am | Permalink

    Good fences make good playmates.

  18. ConnorH
    Posted June 21, 2014 at 5:53 am | Permalink

    Another vote for play. That looks like a happy dog to me. I don’t get the doe buying into it though, but why the heck shouldn’t it be having a play too?

  19. Barb
    Posted June 21, 2014 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    Well the deer’s tail is not up as a warning, and it clearly paces itself to match the dog, so I would lean towards play, at least on its part.

  20. Posted June 21, 2014 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

    I’m not so sure it’s all play. Maybe there’s some play on the dog’s part, but I’m wondering if the deer’s ‘keeping pace’ or ‘racing’ with the dog has some other utilitarian function. Could he/she be calibrating the “opponent’s” efforts, speed, strength, risk to the deer and companion? Could this be a simple way to test the strength of the boundaries? Or to test dominance?

    I’ve wondered about this before, when many years ago I observed a herd of deer prancing back and forth in the forest, with a little fox running alongside them. Then they would stop and hang out together, for what purpose, I have no certainty.

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted June 22, 2014 at 3:05 am | Permalink

      All those ‘calibration’ and ‘test’ things are widely acknowledged functions of play, not separate phenomena.

  21. Dominic
    Posted June 23, 2014 at 2:48 am | Permalink

    Stotting? The deer is aware that it is safe but is signalling to the other deer that it is fit…? But it seems to be a female…

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