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Is Social Media Endangering Canine Welfare?

Holly Leake

Is Social Media Endangering Canine Welfare?

Although few of us would like to admit it, social media has become an integral part of our daily lives. It can be empowering as it provides a voice and a platform to anyone willing to engage online. However, what happens when such a platform is given to someone endorsing unethical training ideologies, paired with an aggressiveness to promote and defend such methods?

This often creates a hostile environment for learning and expressing opinions. Despite our numerous diplomas, degrees, and years of experience, we often feel we cannot compete with the so-called "Facebook expert". This can be frustrating, as these individuals frequently promote aversive methods, thus subjecting more dogs to punishment. They flood dog training posts, making it challenging for dog owners to find ethical and professional advice.
“We think we know how the media affects us, but in truth it controls us more than we know.”
 - Anthony Gierzynski
Social media is also rife with perilous trends that encourage disrespectful treatment, showcasing videos intended to be humorous at the dog's expense. Some videos interpret the dog's thoughts, with comical narrations from the dog's perspective. Although popular and seemingly harmless, they often pose a real issue. Despite no physical harm, assumptions are made about the dog's feelings. Subtle signs of discomfort, like lip licking, looking away, and showing the whites of the eyes, can be dismissed as something entirely different from what the dog is genuinely conveying. Ignoring these signals, which often indicate discomfort, can lead to escalation in communication.

Although the dog in the video may not suffer any immediate consequences, viewers could misinterpret similar behaviours from their own dogs. Misunderstanding canine body language often leads to serious bites. After a bite, dog owners commonly claim there was no warning, when in fact the dog has been communicating their discomfort and stress for a while, and their owner simply didn't understand or acknowledge them. This misunderstanding is likely due to the portrayal of dog behaviour on social media.
Despite warnings that viewers shouldn't replicate these actions at home, many still do. For instance, one client watched a TikTok video claiming that a dog trying to cuddle on the sofa was displaying dominance. This misinformation panicked the client into using alpha rolls whenever the dog sought affection, a tactic recommended and demonstrated in the TikTok video.
“Social media has become a popular way to torment dogs but in a way that seems to be socially acceptable to most”- Holly Leake
Other TikTok trends include barking in your dog's face to gauge their reaction, holding your hand over the dog's head, manipulating their muzzle when snarling, and even wrapping cling film around your head with peanut butter on it, to distract the dog while trimming their claws. These trends can go terribly wrong. Even if your dog is docile, others may not be so tolerant. Ignoring clear warnings to back off, disregarding canine body language, and exhibiting threatening behaviour towards dogs, is never going to end well.

Imagine the consequences of dogs being forced into alpha rolls or barked at in their faces. Videos like these can garner substantial followings, influencing thousands of dog owners daily. Alpha rolls have been linked with increased anxiety and aggression. They can also result in behaviour suppression, which may lead to an unexpected bite, as every dog has a breaking point. Assuming how dogs feel can be risky, especially if we learn from those who aren't qualified professionals. While owners are often blamed for dog bites, we should also consider the spreaders of false information and unethical advice as contributors to canine endangerment.

Many owners seek help for their dog's behaviour but unfortunately consult the wrong individuals. Thanks to social media, they have numerous poor choices. When these trainers gain platforms, they spread false and potentially dangerous information
. While there are certainly helpful training videos and articles from force-free trainers, it's challenging for dog owners to know who to trust. Often, behaviour suppression is misrepresented as behaviour modification in deceiving "before and after" videos.
“Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance.”- George Bernard Shaw
For some, social media may be the only source of information on dog care and training they encounter. A single video or a series over time could gradually convince viewers that choking a dog somehow rectifies reactivity, or that dogs understand when they're misbehaving. Posts about dogs can mislead thousands, if not millions, encouraging them to follow trends and training methods that jeopardise dogs' welfare worldwide.

Although we may think sharing a dog training advice post or a funny dog video is entirely harmless, we should consider whether the post could positively influence people and their dogs. Consider the source of the information. Was it created by a certified dog trainer? Is the video promoting physical force or giving advice not supported by recent science?

If it's a humorous video, does it encourage viewers to annoy their dogs or teach others to misinterpret canine communication? Recognizing the significant influence social media has on our perceptions and knowledge can help us understand how harmful certain aspects of social media can be to canine welfare.

So before liking or sharing an article, video, or post, consider its potential impact on canine welfare.

If it could be detrimental, scroll on.

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