SPRING HILL, Tenn. (WKRN) — While dogs may be man’s best friend, we don’t always understand one another.
“At the end of the day, we are two different creatures operating on two completely different communication planes,” explained Dr. Katie Conklin, the medical support director at My Pets Wellness, which has several locations around Middle Tennessee.
However, the subtle signs dogs show are not always recognized by us, which could lead to trouble.
“The American Veterinary Medical Association reports that there are about 4.5 million bite incidences that are reported each year. That breaks down to about one in five actually requiring hospitalization,” Conklin said. “Out of all of those, most are children. They’re right at eye level with a lot of animals, they lack boundaries, they like to hug, that type of thing.”
Just as we humans communicate our distress and displeasure, dogs also tell us the same.
“If someone kept pressing you and pressing you and pressing you, you might react unfavorably in a manner that’s quite contradictory to your actual personality,” said Conklin. “Well, that’s possible for dogs too.”
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The stages for dogs are outlined in something called the canine ladder of aggression.
“As you’re working your way up this ladder, dogs looking away, dogs yawning, that’s a sign of distress. Dogs pawing at their mouths, they’ll turn their bodies, they’ll freeze, they’ll hunker down, things of that nature,” Conklin explained. “Those are all five or six, seven different ways this dog is telling you, ‘I’m really uncomfortable with whatever’s going on. Please remove me from the situation.'”
The most obvious sign to humans is a growl, which comes almost at the end of the warning signs.
“It seems very counterintuitive, but that is not a behavior you want to stifle. You want to hear that they are angry and they want the child away from them,” the veterinarian warned. “Because if you yell at them and demean them for growling, they’ll skip that step completely and they can go straight to bite from another more subtle step in the ladder.”
According to Conklin, these signs hold true for all breeds.
“Every single dog, no matter how sweet, has the ability to get to the point where they will bite,” she said.
My Pets Wellness has posted videos to help dog owners spot signs of aggression in hopes of preventing something tragic from happening.