A dog trainer is helping people online to recognize whether or not a dog wants belly rubs, with TikTok users unable to tell the difference.
To show the distinction between an anxious dog and one who is desperate for strokes, Bronagh Daly—owner of Five By Five Canine—shared a clip to TikTok of her Australian Shepherd Oz.
“It’s incredibly important for people to understand the difference between a dog wanting belly pets and wanting space for trust and safety reasons,” Daly told Newsweek.
The video shows two clips of Oz side-by-side. In the left clip captioned “wants pets,” Oz is lying on a mat inside a dog crate while Daly bends down and strokes his stomach. He appears relaxed, with a satisfied expression on his face and his paws in the air.
“When dogs are feeling receptive to belly rubs, they will have a mixture of a loose body, relaxed muscles and tail, soft eyes, a lack of tension in the face,” Daly said.
“They will have a sometimes a loose, wiggling tail, softly folded or neutral ears, and a lightly closed or softly opened mouth—essentially there is a general lack of any tension,” Daly said.
In the right clip labeled “no pets,” Oz looks away from Daly. His ears are thrust back and his chest is puffed out, with the 5-year-old’s body appearing tense and rigid.
“When dogs are showing their bellies to indicate that they want space, this is known as a tap out,” Daly said.
“There is very often muscle tension either in their limbs and their tail or their mouth region—particularly the corners of the lips—as well as in their eyebrow area, their ears, or all of the above.”
Other signals of stress include a “long lip,” which Daly said resembles an “awkward smile,” along with a tucked tail and “whale eye”—when a dog exaggerates the whites of their eyes to seemless threatening.
“Dogs don’t have to show all of these signs to indicate that they’re asking for space though,” she said.
According to Britannica, canines were first domesticated between 14,000 and 29,000 years ago. During that time, dogs have evolved to better communicate with their human owners, even changing their facial structures to create a “mutual gaze” (also known as “puppy dog eyes”).
Although dogs are easier to read than cats, their body language can still be misunderstood. For example, is your dog staring at you because he loves you or because he wants something? Does your pet have the zoomies because they’re excited or stressed out?
“Dogs will be pretty clear when they truly want attention,” Daly said. “They’ll come right over to you, giving body wags and with a big sweeping tail.
“They may also paw you, press their head and/or body into you.”
Daly said it’s important for owners to respect their dog’s need for space, as ignoring signs of discomfort that break their trust in you.
“[You’re[ teaching them that you will both listen to and respect their communication,” she said. “This is especially true for dogs dealing with any kind of behavioral concern.”
TikTokers thanked Daly for sharing her knowledge, with the video receiving over 800,000 views and more than 400 comments.
“This is so helpful!” said MiscellaneousMinis.
“Appreciate this. I always worried I’m doing something they don’t like,” wrote Amber.
“This really helps me to understand my anxious bby,” agreed MrsPotatoD.
“I always watched for cues but your content has shown me how to be better,” commented P. S. Taker.
“So many dogs I owe apologies [to],” said Yuki&Boss.
While Cartoon_Cocktail joked: “My dog looks at me like i just insulted her entire bloodline when i stop petting her belly.”
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