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Over the years I’ve conducted various research studies to find out just how well we understand our dogs.
One recent study involved over 100 people. They had to answer questions which included images of typical dog body postures, common behavioural scenarios and basic handling & management questions. A summary of the results showed that;
- over 40 % of respondents had been bitten by dogs.
- only 20% of respondents correctly identified a picture of a dog smiling as being ‘friendly’. Most considered the showing of teeth to mean the dog was either aggressive or stressed.
- 54% of people believe a wagging tail only means the dog is friendly and approachable, but dogs can bite you when they’re wagging their tail.
Why were some of these results important?
More than 200,000 people a year are estimated to be bitten by dogs in England, with the annual cost to the NHS of treating injuries about £3 million. Hospital admissions due to dog bites have been steadily rising for the last five years. And, sadly there have also been a number of horrific dog bite fatalities over recent years too.
While most dog owners recognise when their dog is fearful or happy, the language of dog can be subtle – ranging from a glance or a slight shift in the dog’s posture to something more obvious, like a play bow. Canine communication can be complex; a given signal may have multiple distinct meanings depending on the situation and the accompanying behaviours. If we misinterpret these [signals], this may lead to dog bites.
How to speak ‘Dog’
Dogs talk to us all the time using a combination of visual, verbal and olfactory cues and signals. And, like humans, much of dogs’ communication is through body language – particularly facial expressions and body posture. Yet, in the language of dog, there are no language barriers; dogs from different countries or breeds will typically recognise when another is happy, disinterested, anxious or playful.
So, if we can learn to correctly interpret our dog’s signals this will help reduce down the potential for our pet to have to escalate his behaviour before it’s too late.
To help you get started in learning the language of dog, download our visual guide to common canine body postures. And, if you would like to learn more about how to speak dog, contact us at: [email protected]