Friday, March 7, 2014

Behaviour Bytes - Guilty Dogs are probably anxious dogs!

Videos and photos of guilty dogs seem to be all the rage these days on many social media outlets. You all know the ones I am talking about. They are shared through whatever social media of our choice, and we watch the brekky shows make a spectacle of these animals too.

They then go "viral" and often generate a lot of money for the people who have created them.

But who is there to stand up as the voice for these animals? 

Warning: Opinion Ahead!

Giro exhibiting typical anxiety behaviours. - ears back,
looks away, head down.
He isn't guilty of anything other than being a gentle soul.
Many veterinarians and animal lovers who know animal body language, watch these videos and are... to be put bluntly....  horrified.

I have sat through countless vet seminars on animal behaviour, and watch these videos, as they are used as examples of anxiety... most times, most of the vets can't watch all of them - we can just watch snippets of video.  I remember one evening, where it was like I was watching a horror movie - my fingers were in front of my face - I didn't want to watch, but I had to watch, as this is what the seminar was all about! - it was about Anxiety in our Pets!

 Little snippets of anxious dogs and cats would filter through the fingers, and tears would run down my face as my empathetic self went into overdrive.  

A happy dog - eyes and ears forward,
relaxed body stance.
As a vet, I just don't get what is so enjoyable about these videos.  What is so enjoyable and funny watching another living creature suffer? 

Now, some aren't so bad. The filming of the behaviour is not causing short term or long term harm, but these are the minority.

But how do you know what is OK or not?  Educate yourself first on what anxiety looks like, and then ask yourself the question - is that pet on the video or photo that we are busily laughing at, actually exhibiting those signs?   Vets are trained for these cues, as we do see them when pets come in to see us.  Most vets work hard to reduce anxiety, but vets are human to, and can miss the signs.

You, as a loving pet owner  NEED to know what are the signs of anxiety, as it is YOUR baby that we all need to protect. (sorry for the capitals, but I am passionate about protecting our pets from anxiety).  

Now, back to the "guilty dog"  and "guilty cat" videos and memes. 

I know we can't change what's out there, but perhaps we can educate on what they actually mean, so you don't feel like you need to watch these horror videos, or worse, feel the need to make your own.

Next time you watch these videos, take this doggy list with you, and see how many you tick off
  • yawning, scratching or sniffing
  • avoiding eye contact
  • looking away
  • pulling the corners of the mouth back
  • salivating
  • pulling ears back
  • creeping around in slow motion
  • standing with tail tucked under

This Pandora (our boss) - she is avoiding
eye contact ( or being demure for the
For cats, their signs are a lot more subtle - they are the signs that you may not see on the videos, but
the owners will experience.
  • avoiding eye contact
  • staying low when moving
  • moving away/avoiding
  • urinating outside the litter tray
  • excessive meowing
Irony is that many people do not take their pet to the vet because they do not want to scare it or increase its anxiety, yet do not hesitate to put their pet into situations at home where they exhibit the same (or worse signs), post it on social media and enjoy the virality of it.

I just don't get it!

I am Dr Liz, the mad vet from Russell Vale Animal Clinic.

Any animal related question at all (I answer them from all over the world), feel free to email me directly.