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Veterinary professionals, you can help teach clients how to differentiate between an aggressive, anxious and relaxed dog by understanding these canine body language basics. Here are the basics from Atlantic Coast Veterinary Conference speaker Dr. Shana Gilbert-Gregory.
Miscommunication between dogs and humans can negatively impact the human-animal bond. One way to combat this communication barrier is helping veterinary clients learn how to speak the same language as your patients.
It's commonly believed among pet owners that a when a dog wags its tail, or when it's smiling, it's happy. But as you know and Shana Gilbert-Gregory, VMD, MS, DAVCB, a behavioral medicine clinician at Mount Laurel Animal Hospital in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, explains to clients regularly-that's not always the case.
In fact, an aggressive dog might wag its tail and bite at the same time, and when a dog gives a lot of “kisses,” pet owners might not know it's really actually anxious. Teaching dog owners how to distinguish between relaxed, anxious and aggressive dogs in the moment will help to prevent a traumatic escalation of negative behavior at home and in the veterinary hospital.
“Dogs talk all the time. They're trying to talk to us the same way we talk to each other,” said Dr. Gilbert-Gregory in her session at the 30th Atlantic Coast Veterinary Conference (ACVC). “The problem is we don't understand them. They're not capable of learning our language, so we have to learn theirs.”
When it comes to understanding canine body language, it's important to pay attention to what different parts of the dog's body are saying, said Dr. Gilbert-Gregory. Body postures, movement and facial gestures can be used to relay this information.
What does an anxious dog look like?
Share this handout with clients
This printable sheet explains some signs of canine distress along with pictures.
“Aggression is a form of communication that's actually a normal and natural form of communication. If dogs perceive a threat, they're going to protect themselves,” said Dr. Gilbert-Gregory. “[But] having animals exhibit aggression towards you is brutal as a human.”
Aggression is scary, especially when exhibited in a context that is unexpected by people. And when dogs exhibit aggression in contexts people find undesirable or unpredictable, it can dramatically affect the human-animal bond, she said.
An aggressive dog can be scary for pet owners and the veterinary team. If you see these signs, take a step back, Dr. Gilbert-Gregory said:
Making sure your clients as well as your veterinary team understand these canine body language basics can not only prevent traumatic and bond-breaking situations between a pet and owner but strengthen the bond between veterinary professionals and their patients.