Negative media portrayals of dogs must be counteracted by vets, or “plummeting” levels of ownership will be detrimental to the profession, according to a behavioural medicine specialist.
Negative media portrayals of dogs must be counteracted by vets – or “plummeting” levels of ownership will be detrimental to the profession, according to a behavioural medicine specialist.
Outlining how aggressive responses were a natural part of a dog’s repertoire of behaviour, Ms Heath told delegates: “Aggressive responses are normal – they are necessary for survival.
“When you have individual dogs in group situations, or even as solitary animals, you are not going to get through life without having aggressive responses as part of your repertoire.
“If you look at it from its natural state, aggression may be appropriate in certain circumstances. It may be right to show an aggressive response, it may be adaptive for the individual and it may even be adaptive for the survival of the group.
“But, when we look at the domestic context, the circumstances where it is appropriate for a dog to be aggressive are very few and far between.”
Referring to public ignorance about why dogs communicate aggression, Ms Heath added: “The media has influenced the whole topic of canine aggression and, when we look at some of the more emotive headlines, we can see a great deal of misunderstanding.
“A lack of understanding, especially with regards to the motivations that allude to why that animal is expressing that kind of aggressive display, leads to a lot of miscommunication between owners and their pets, between society and dogs in general and even between veterinary practices and patients.”
Highlighting the need for vets to dispel misinformation about canine aggression, she added: “Severe aggressive behaviour may lead to relinquishment or euthanasia, and we know that negative effects of canine aggression can lead to a decrease in the dog-owning ethos. In the western world, dog ownership figures are plummeting.
“The media has done a pretty good job of informing the public of the perils of dog ownership. If we don’t do something as a profession to counteract that and highlight the benefits of dogs in society, and we don’t do something to help combat the problems we are seeing of canine aggression through misunderstanding, it will have an effect on us as a profession.”
- See this week’s Veterinary Times (Vol. 40, No. 44) for the full story by reporter Joel Dudley.