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Alarming gap in understanding dog anxiety revealed

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New statistics from The Kennel Club have sounded an alarm bell. The figures indicate a troubling deficit in dog owners’ ability to identify stress signals in their pets. This comes despite a strong belief among owners that they can accurately read their dog’s emotional state. The research shows that an overwhelming 88% of owners do not recognise yawning as an early indicator of a dog’s anxiety or fear.

Bill Lambert, spokesperson for The Kennel Club, observed, “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.”

The lack of awareness extends to other significant stress markers like licking lips and wide eyes, overlooked by 82% and 65% of owners, respectively. Among owners who are also parents, a startling majority haven’t educated their children about these crucial signals, widening what The Kennel Club refers to as a ‘dangerous knowledge gap.’

Carolyn Menteith, a Kennel Club accredited dog trainer and Chair of the UK Dog Behaviour and Training Charter, adds further insight, “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.” She also pointed out that many dogs will attempt to leave a stressful situation but may not be given the opportunity, especially by children. This leaves the dog to resort to more overt signals, which can escalate situations if ignored.

However, the research also found that not all is bleak. Some owners could identify more apparent stress signs, such as a dog putting their tail between their legs (45%) or stiffening their body (47%). But still, 10% couldn’t identify any signs of stress or fear in a dog.

For Lambert, the onus is not just on pet owners but also on society. “Much more awareness of our beloved pets’ behaviour is needed, for owners, children and the wider public alike, to ensure everybody is kept safe,” he noted.

The Kennel Club’s research involved questioning over 2,000 dog owners in the UK. It revealed that 44% of owners have never spoken to their family or friends about safety around dogs, and 35% believe that the general public lacks an understanding of canine fear indicators.

The findings suggest a crucial need for educational initiatives to better inform the public about dog body language, particularly for the safety of both the animals and their human companions. The Kennel Club has already started addressing this gap by offering educational resources on its website.

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