Some people are better communicators than others and according to UnitedStates-based veterinary behaviourist, Dr Theresa DePorter, the same goes fordogs.

Dr DePorter is speaking at the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) AnnualConference on Monday about aggressive behaviour in dogs. She says that a dog’scommunication skills combined with a person’s skill in picking up their cuesplays a big part in reducing dog bite incidents in the community.

“Dogs communicate through body postures and they utilise an array of sensesfrom pheromones to growls as an effective means to communicate with otherdogs. This is how they communicate their emotional state such as fear orstress, not necessarily specific intent. These cues are used to avoid physicalaltercations between dogs, and it works for the most part.

“But, much like humans, not all dogs have the same communication skills, andsome are better at it than others. In general, dog body language iscommunicated on a gradual scale and the degree to which these can be readilydiscerned by people varies based on the dog’s communication skills and theperson’s skill in recognising these cues.

“Being able to understand a dog’s body language is really important for thesafety of pet owners, the community and the welfare of dogs. It’s about beingable to read a dog’s body language in a specific context and actingaccordingly.

Dr DePorter says that the majority of dogs will display signs of conflict,stress, anxiety or aggression before an aggressive event occurs.Unfortunately, these signals can go unnoticed or are widely misinterpreted bypeople.

“Some dogs will display signals to indicate they want a perceived threat tocease. Subtle signals of avoidance such as not engaging in direct eye contactor the absence of movement can often be missed. Owners also regularlymisinterpret rolling over as a solicitation of petting when, if in the rightcontext, it could actually be a dog’s way of displaying extreme appeasementbehaviour.

“Aggressive body signs such as direct eye contact, lips pulled back at thecorners and snarling are often a dog’s attempt to avoid a fight with minimaleffort. However, if the perceived threat persists, the dog may elevate itshead, neck and ears, shift its weight forward and stiffen its legs and toes tomake itself appear larger and more challenging.

Educating the community about dog body language is really critical in reducingdog bite incidents,” Dr DePorter said.

AVA President, Dr Paula Parker says that in an effort to help improvecommunity safety with dogs the AVA has developed a legislative frameworkcalled Dangerous Dogs – a sensible solution. She says that the tendency of adog to bite is dependent on several factors including, early experience,socialisation, training, inherited factors, physical and psychological healthand the situation the dog is put in.

“The AVA wants to see a comprehensive approach to improve community safetywith dogs. Pet ownership has enormous benefits for individuals and thecommunity. Understanding what a dog is trying to communicate and acting toremove them from the situation or address their concerns is key in improvingcommunity safety with dogs,” Dr Parker said.

The AVA Annual Conference is being held at the Brisbane Convention andExhibition Centre, 13-18 May 2018.

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