At least once a day someone posts a video on Facebook of a dog doing something “hysterically funny” — like that “naughty” German Shepherd who jumps through a glass window, or the Boxer who stands in a kennel at a shelter with his “sneaky” eyes darting back and forth.
These videos get thousands and thousands of “likes” and comments.
Nine out of 10 times, when I watch them, my heart sinks. The dogs aren’t being funny or feisty or stubborn; they’re scared.
How is it possible that anyone could watch a dog run around howling and barking and then jump through a freakin’ GLASS WINDOW and not see that the dog is terrified? I’d bet my Mini Cooper that he has separation anxiety.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the suffering that these dogs endure. Is there a root cause underlying all the videos and photos?
The answer is yes: It’s people.
Specifically, it’s people not knowing how to speak “dog.” I certainly didn’t before I met Emma the Beagle. I used to laugh at those memes too.
But after spending the last year observing and writing down Emma’s body language every single day during her separation anxiety training missions, I’ve gotten a Ph.D. in fearful-dog speak. I’ve discovered that when Emma is scared or anxious, she gets itchy. She yawns. She licks her lips. Her eyes widen so that you can see more of the whites (a.k.a. “whale eye). She whimpers and howls and barks. She urinates. Sometimes she shuts down and makes herself as tiny as possible; other times she growls and snaps.
Also, Emma’s face is extremely expressive. Take a look at the photo above. The left is what Emma looked like when we drove her home from the shelter two years ago. Back then I shared that photo with friends to show them how adorable Emma was. Now I look at it and I shake my head wondering how I didn’t see how distressed she was.
The picture on the right is what Emma looks like now. I’m not sure she could look any more relaxed. Can you tell the difference?
It seems to me that we are facing a crisis of epic proportions. Millions of people share their homes with dogs, but if the videos I’m seeing are any indication (not to mention the conversations I overhear at the vet or dog parks), a majority of them do not know how to read their pups. How many dogs are being punished for “misbehaving” when that behavior is simply a signal that the dog is frightened?
We desperately need a campaign to help educate people to speak “dog.” I’ve got all kinds of thoughts floating in my mind how to accomplish that, but I want to take some time to put together a strategic plan. If you have any ideas, please share.
The next time you see one of those videos, look closely. Is the dog being funny, or is he scared?