So this image popped up on my Facebook today from a Pit Bull page I like, Of course it has thousands of like, 8,119 last I looked.
Cute right? Kitty is trying to bite this big ol’ pit who, by human standards, is giving him a confused look. That’s about what was expressed in the comments. Lots of joking, a few assholes expressing hope that the dog eats the cat, so many ‘lol’. Walls of it. But not one person mentioned the dog’s body language. In 500+ shares and roughly 300+ comments no one actually looked at how the dog was feeling. It’s strikingly similar to what I often see on Tumblr. A picture goes around of a dog in some situation, maybe he ripped up homework or stole a pizza, and there will be some comments about “that dog is like fuck you” or “poor baby looks so guilty! You know who did it!” and it’s cute and funny up until the moment you really look at the dog. It would be funny if it came with the secure knowledge that people have an idea of what the dog is actually feeling, but I’m convinced people don’t. People have a bad habit of humanizing our animal companions, particularly dogs. We say they are smiling when they are panting and because we associate it with smiling we assume happiness when more often it is stress.
The pit in the top picture has similar signs. ears are pinned, almost touching in fact, the face is tight, eyes are wide, and perhaps most importantly, they are actively leaning away from the cat.. I wouldn’t say this dog is ready to bite the cat right this moment of the picture, but I would say he is stressed to all hell and wants out. He is begging his person to do something.
And that, right there, is one reason why knowing canine body language is so important. Our dogs cannot tell us with words that they are scared, uncomfortable, stressed. They tell us with their bodies, with face/eyes, ears, and tail. They live in a world not made for them, with loud people who crowd them and bare teeth before touching them, with fast cars and huge surroundings. Try one day on all fours or laying on your stomach. From those heights our world is terrifying. Dogs depend on us to guide them through this world and when they beg us for help and we do nothing we are letting them down. We do a huge disservice to our companions when we do not take the time to learn their language and end up ignoring their cries of stress or for help.
The other big reason? I would comfortably say a large majority of dog bites are the fault of the person bitten. Of course in instances of dogs set on a person, or a stray dog comes out of nowhere and attacks, and other similar instances it is not the person’s fault. But in a large majority of cases people talk about “the dog was wagging his tail and then all of a sudden he was over the fence and bit me”. Did you know a high tail with a stiff, slow wag or a low tail with just the tip wagging slowly can be a sign of a bite? We have gotten so comfortable with the idea of ‘man’s best friend’ we do not even know the language of a bite. Most dogs do not want to bite. Biting is a last resort for most dogs and they will give you every warning and chance to avoid it. It is so very important for our safety, our children’s safety, and our dog’s that we stop spreading this pictures of stressed out animals with funny captions that help continue our cycle of ignorance.of dog language.
Learn body language! There are many guides and sites out there. Look them up! Even if you don’t have a dog you probably come in contact with dogs at some point. It will help you be more comfortable around dogs, it will make dogs more comfortable around you, and if you ever come up on a strange dog you’ll have a better understanding of how they are feeling and if they are a danger.
Here’s a guide to bite signs to get you started
Yes, really important stuff to read here.