This does go for all animals, but since dog behaviour is my comfort zone and since most of these posts I see are of dogs being stressed or mishandled I’m going to focus on dogs. Anyone else who is more knowledgable on other animals expression of stress and behaviour are super welcome to make posts on them too and link them to me because this is important. Also this blog is awesome for pointing out these shitty things.
I think the primary issue here is that people just don’t know what they’re reblogging is problematic. It probably looks cute, it probably makes you laugh and you probably don’t see why it’s not ok.
Mild positive stress (eustress) can help you grow and learn. Positive stress for dogs would be reward based training.
Negative stress (distress) however is not beneficial. Promoting anxiety in your dog will negatively impact their health and wellbeing and not only emotionally. Increased incidence of chronic health and GI issues, increased aging process, anxiety, decreased cognitive function, and increased risk of bacterial or viral infections as their immune system is compromised. After a stressful event, the stress hormones don’t disappear from your dogs body once it’s over, they can stay in your dogs body up to 3 days.
A dogs body language will tell you how they feel. They will tell you when they feel discomfort and if you are a dog owner it’s down to you to know this and help your dog cope. Your dogs stress signals may seem funny and cute, but I can assure you that your own entertainment is not worth putting your dog under more severe states of stress.
Here are common stress signs in dogs that I’m going to break down quickly for you here.
Lip licking. Obviously this is all about context. If you’ve just given your dog a nice piece of turkey, licking his lips is unlikely down to stress.
Yawning. Often more than once during the stressor.
Panting. Context again, while out on a warm day for a walk is unlikely to be related to stress. Look at the dog, is their mouth relaxed or tense? The dog below has a tense mouth, the dog is stressed.
Avoidance - turning away, avoiding eye contact and sniffing are common signs. If the dog is avoiding someone or something, do not push them to interact and remove them from the stressor.
Other signs - tucked or low tail, low body posture, excessive whining or barking, uninterested in food, tense body and movement including in the eyes and mouth, pacing, dilated pupils.
And here’s another one not mentioned in that link. Whale eye. The dog will show the whites of its eyes, often with other signs like tense movement and possibly even growling. Some brachycephalic breeds like pugs will naturally have some of the whites of their eyes showing, so bear that in mind, but even in those breeds if the amount of white is more excessive than normal they are likely displaying whale eye and asking for space.
Now here are some classic tumblr examples of people either not knowing or not caring about dogs trying to communicate their discomfort because it’s “cute” or funny to them.
This dog is very visibly trying to get away. It’s ears are pinned back and it’s showing whale eye. And I’m not surprised, that is some intimidating body language on the owners part.
Ears pinned back, tense mouth and eyes that eventually squint, lip licking. This dog is stressed.
I had to put this one in because this is not ok. This isn’t even ignorance, this is downright appalling. Do not throw things at your dogs, especially their face.
I see a lot of people saying this dog is “smiling”. This is not a smiling dog, this is not a happy dog. Ears are pinned back, mouth is tense and eyes are squinting. This dog would really appreciate to be given some space.
Low body posture, pinned ears, squinting eyes and tense mouth. This dog is stressed. This dog is not feeling guilt, it’s been proven that dogs do not feel guilt they simply respond to their owners voice and body language which in these situations is often intimidating leading them to show stress signals to diffuse the situation.
This dog is stressed from the start and licking anothers lips is appeasement, meaning this dog is trying to diffuse the tension. Whale eye and lip licking accompanied, this dog is stressed.
I’m sure a lot of people have seen the Denver video, a video that makes anyone well versed in dog behaviour cringe. Avoidance, low body posture, tense mouth, squinting eyes, pinned ears, submissive grin. Denver is stressed, as I said before dogs do not feel guilt. He’s responding to his owners voice and body language, he’s being intimidated whether intentional or not on the owners part. All his body language is ignored. Denver is super tolerant in that video to have not snapped as his space was further invaded.
This appears to be resource guarding. This is not how you handle this problem in dogs. Handling a dog like this when they have this sort of reaction around food or objects is just asking for trouble and is unpleasant for the dog. If your dog behaves like this with food or objects please find a qualified positive reinforcement behaviourist to help your dog. Resource guarding often comes from anxiety, grabbing a dog like this is not fair on them and will not help them cope.
If you can’t see how this is not ok at this point I throw in the towel.
The picture says it all. I see a lot of posts on tumblr with dogs and children. Rarely, they will be of a pleasant interaction. But all too often the dogs discomfort is obvious, at least to those that understand it and it is dangerous. I see these pictures on here and then I see news stories about children being attacked by dogs. Situations like the above lead to children getting hurt and the dog getting blamed, when it’s the parents/dog owners responsibility to ensure both that their child is safe and their dog has the space they need and can feel comfortable in their own home.
Following from the above let me explain further why stressing out dogs for entertainment purposes is not cool. These dogs are trying to tell these people that they aren’t comfortable and would like to be given space. These people are blatantly ignoring all these signals, likely because they just don’t see a problem with what they’re doing and don’t understand their dog is stressed (I hope). But what happens when dogs stress signals are being ignored? Depending on the tolerance of each individual dog, they may carry on displaying stress signals for ages or they may not. They try something else, maybe they growl as a warning. Growling is ignored or even punished (the correct thing to do when a dog growls? Give them the space they’re asking for). So all their communication so far has failed, what’s the next step? An air snap most likely, that might make the person back off. Now the dog knows this level of communication is effective, it will probably resort to this action much quicker in future, or even straight away. So they air snap again at a later date when feeling stressed and/or anxious, what if the owner doesn’t tolerate it this time and tries some silly outdated dominance technique to get their dog “under control”? Dog can go two ways really. They can shut down or they can go up another level and bite. Putting a dog into a shut down state is cruel whatever way you look at it. A dog biting has now be labelled as an aggressive dog. But likely when they bit, the person backed off again. Biting worked, biting is now their “go to” communication to get someone to leave them alone and not stress them out. This is not the dogs fault, this is the persons fault.
I’ve been almost forgiving of these people by saying that they just don’t know their dog feels this way and I do hope that if they did know, this wouldn’t happen. But honestly I have to say that underneath all that I do feel it’s unfair on these dogs for them to put up with this because their owners haven’t taken even a small amount of time to understand their pets communication, they might be ignorant but that doesn’t make it acceptable. if you’re looking to get a dog please just check out some basic dog behaviour beforehand, it’ll help you and your dogs relationship so much. However, please avoid Cesar Millan and dominance theory like the plague.
Animals should not be put under stress for human entertainment. Reblogging these sorts of things negatively impacts animals because people will think this is acceptable, they may even think these behaviours are normal. And maybe if people stop making these posts so popular, people will stop doing these things to their pets. One of the five freedoms when analysing an animals welfare is that the pet should be free from fear and distress. Too many popular posts on this website are of the opposite.