Scrolling through Facebook, it doesn’t take long before you stumble upon a video featuring someone holding their pet up and having them “dance” to music, where someone is trying to get a reaction out of their pet if they poke them or say something in a different voice, scaring pets intentionally, or even all the “guilty” dog videos. The media is full of viral videos featuring animals because people find them cute and funny. However, many of these videos present a welfare concern to animals. They are harassed solely for the entertainment of the people who are supposed to be taking care of them and ensuring their well-being.
Some people may wonder where the harm in a little “play” with the pet is, but I assure you that the pet is not playing. How do I know this? By reading body language and calming signals. All too often, trainers and behaviorists cringe at these viral videos as they watch the stressed pet trying to communicate their discomfort with the person. Especially in videos where the person is trying to evoke aggressive behavior, ignoring calming signals can be dangerous.
Animals show their discomfort through body language, as they cannot speak to tell you how they are feeling. Learning the body language of your pet is extremely important because they will generally communicate multiple signals before they bite. Many of these videos put animals into positions where they feel threatened.
Changes in tail and ear carriage (tail may be tucked, ears back)
Mouth tightly closed
Whale eye (showing the whites of their eyes)
Turning away from you
Shaking off (when not wet)
Ears flattened back
Ears flicking back and forth
Tail flicking or twitching side to side or tucked
Tail bristling (puffed out)
Vocalizations (yowling, hissing, growling)
Sudden excessive grooming
The cultural acceptance of these videos is very concerning. According to the CDC, at least 4.5 million dog bites happen in the United States per year, many of these bites are to children. Not to mention that the videos are incredibly accessible for anyone to see. The pets in these videos may be giving tons of stress signals, but not actually bite the person harassing them. However, others may view these and try it with their own pets, who may not be as tolerant as the one in the video.
There are only so many hours in the day. Even less hours are dedicated to interacting with our pets. So why not spend those hours enriching their lives through positive interactions, puzzles, training, or walks, rather than creating viral videos of stressed pets.
Interact with your pets in a way that you can both be happy, and set a model of proper animal husbandry, if not for your friends, then for the little kid who is going to try it on their pet and get bit.
For ideas on fun activities with your pet, check out these links below: