If dogs get into a situation where they feel threatened or overwhelmed, they have five ways to react. The so-called 5 F’s are behaviors that dogs can use as conflict strategies to survive the situation in the best possible way.
What are the 5 F’s?
– Fiddle/Flirt (fooling around)
These are the types of reactions your dog may show in a situation that is threatening to him. When this happens, the stress level rises and the dog is on alert. Now he is looking for the best solution to get out of the scenario unharmed.
Fiddle or flirting as possible conflict behavior
Fiddle is a frequently observed conflict strategy. Many dogs show this behavior when they are overwhelmed or do not know what to do. Often it does not fit the situation and you wonder, what is my dog doing? This over-leaping behavior can be sudden dashing around, scratching, jumping or barking. Flirting dogs also try to de-escalate the conflict in a friendly way, for example by a front body down position as a “play request”. This is not an actual dog play, it is only trying to de-escalate.
Freeze to get away unharmed
When freezing, the dog, as the name suggests, becomes stiff and does not move at all. He can freeze completely or only individual parts of the body. Often it is only a few milliseconds and difficult for us humans to recognize, sometimes dogs stay longer in freeze. The gaze is thereby directed to the trigger, so for example to the conspecific, which is monstrous to your dog. This behavior cannot be controlled voluntarily by the dog, it is a reflex that arises due to his emotional situation (similar to the piloerection-raising the hair on the back).
Flight to get out of a situation
Leaving the situation is a good reaction option to end a conflict or avoid it in advance. In doing so, the dog can simply avoid the “danger”, crawl away, turn away, walk away or really run away in order to build distance and feel safe. Unfortunately, this strategy is often not possible for some dogs in everyday life, because they are restricted, for example, by the leash or even in dog zones by the fence.
Fight as a conflict strategy in dogs
This conflict strategy is far less friendly and is mostly shown when dogs see no other way out. The dog continues in the escalation levels. Threatening signals are shown, such as tense / upright posture, fixation, growling, showing teeth, snapping in the air and last but not least attacking. If the warning is not sufficient, it can come to the fight, in order to keep the danger away.
Faint, when nothing else works
This is a type of shock freeze where the dogs become unresponsive, fall over and completely shut down. This is probably the rarest strategy to see, but it shows how much stress the dog must be under.
When is which strategy chosen?
The dog does not make this decision consciously. He gets into a kind of survival mode and behaves unconsciously. It depends on the situation your dog is in, which character type your dog is and which learning experience he has had. Most dogs try to resolve conflicts in a friendly way first, fearful dogs freeze faster, alert dogs try fiddling more often and so on. Most dogs decide for fight only if the other strategies were unsuccessful. The dog tries out and learns with which coping strategy he comes for himself best from the respective situations.
Unfortunately, these behaviors are often overlooked and the dog learns that he only wins distance by fight and chooses this strategy more often in the future.
The strategies can also be changed within a short time.
What can you do when you see the 5 F’s?
If you often see conflict behavior in your dog, you know that he is overwhelmed in certain situations. Train these situations specifically and help him to stay relaxed.
Good to know: These strategies are not only shown by dogs, also other animal species and also we humans react to threatening/overstraining situations with these reaction possibilities.
In a dangerous situation or a conflict there are the 5 F’s as reaction possibilities of the dog. You should know these conflict strategies and in the best case recognize them to be able to help your dog.