The Kennel Club issues stark safety warning and urges awareness of dog body language
Statistics released today by one of the UK’s largest dog welfare organisations shows that up to nine in ten owners wouldn’t be able to identify some crucial signs of stress in a dog – despite the fact that almost three quarters (72%) believe they can accurately read their dog’s body language and know if they’re feeling fearful or happy.
A staggering nine in ten (88%) do not know that yawning could be an early warning sign of anxiety or fear, and there was a similarly high lack of awareness about other important stress signs, including licking lips (82%) and staring, wide eyes (65%).
Furthermore, of those owners who are also parents, the majority have not made their children aware of some of the signals which can show a dog is stressed or fearful, resulting in a ‘dangerous knowledge gap’. Less than one in five have identified and discussed a dog yawning, licking their lips or holding their tail firmly upright as potential early warning signals of fear or stress, with their children.
The Kennel Club, which explored awareness amongst owners – including those who are also parents – is urging more people to learn about dog body language and what certain signals can mean to ensure safe interactions with the nation’s pets. Recognising when a dog is stressed, scared or unsure can help to prevent situations which can escalate, and keep both humans and dogs safe.
Its research also found:
- One in ten dog owners (10%) couldn’t identify any signs of stress or fear in a dog – these include yawning, licking lips, stiffening their body, holding their tail firmly upright and showing staring, wide eyes
- Less than half could identify the more well-known signs including a dog putting their tail between their legs (45%) or stiffening their body (47%)
- Meanwhile, more than one in four (28%) believe that their dog can behave unpredictably
Bill Lambert, spokesperson for The Kennel Club commented: “It's alarming that so many owners are simply unaware of how a dog can show signs of stress or fear, while, on the contrary, how many falsely believe they understand their dog’s body language, which can be gravely dangerous in escalating situations. Given this, it’s unsurprising that one in four say that their dog can behave unpredictably. Not being able to recognise when your dog is frightened or stressed can have serious consequences and we are extremely concerned about this worrying knowledge gap.
“By failing to understand the signals, we are not only putting ourselves in a potentially harmful situation, but also our dogs who are relying on our understanding of how they express themselves. Much more awareness of our beloved pets’ behaviour is needed, for owners, children and the wider public alike, to ensure everybody is kept safe.”
The research, which questioned over 2,000 dog owners in the UK, also showed that 44% of owners have never talked to their family or friends about staying safe around dogs, and more than a third (35%) don’t believe the general public understand how a dog shows fear.
Carolyn Menteith, a Kennel Club accredited dog trainer and Chair of the UK Dog Behaviour and Training Charter, added: “Unless you know what you are looking for, some of the signs that dogs show when they are feeling stressed, worried or anxious can be quite subtle. If possible, their first resort will usually be to try and leave the situation they are finding difficult – but often people, especially children, may not give them the opportunity to do so. They may then go on to show their discomfort by yawning or licking their lips, turning away from whatever is causing them concern, showing the whites of their eyes, holding their ears back, or staying quite tense and still.
"Dogs have lots of body language signals that they will show before they resort to giving a verbal warning – a growl – which usually happens after the other clues have been ignored. It’s a short step from there to a snap or a bite and sadly this is often the first sign that an owner will recognise, so for safety, looking for those early signals is vitally important.”
Following this research, The Kennel Club has shared advice to help the public to recognise important canine body language signals and get to know how a dog is feeling:
- Signs of a relaxed dog can include:
- Relaxed body posture, that is free from tension
- Soft eyes without a fixed gaze
- A tail that moves loosely when wagging
- Ears in a neutral position
- Signs of a worried, frightened or stressed dog can include:
- Looking tense and having a stiff body
- Tucking their tail beneath their legs, or hold it firmly upright
- Looking overly alert, with wide, whitened eyes, yawning or licking their lips
- The more subtle signals usually come first, but some dogs might use a growl as a quick way of getting out of a potentially stressful situation
Of course, it’s important to remember that every dog is different, and this will affect the way that they communicate, so the context around certain behaviours must be considered, especially around young children who may interpret these signals differently and should never be left unsupervised with a dog.
For those that are concerned about their dog’s behaviour or body language, The Kennel Club advises speaking to both a vet and a qualified and experienced trainer, such as a Kennel Club Accredited Instructor or through The Kennel Club Good Citizen Dog Training scheme.
The Kennel Club has a range of educational resources on its website, including advice about safe interactions between children and dogs via its Safe and Sound scheme, which can be found by visiting thekennelclub.org.uk/safeandsound, as well as access to Kennel Club Accredited Instructors for those who have concerns about their dogs behaviour, by visiting thekennelclub.org.uk/kcai.