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Your Pet’s Body Language: Ladder of Fear/Agression

Working in the field of veterinary medicine, our staff is familiar with how important body language can be for us to understand and diagnose our patients properly, who can’t just come in and tell us what’s bothering them.  From the time our patients enter our office, they are usually already under some amount of stress, and show us signs of such.  Often, we see patients that are scared, sick, hurt, and/or anxious.  We understand that our patients are not always at their best when they come to see us, and we don’t hold that against them.  While it may be easier to care for and handle nice and happy animals, we go into this profession aware that some of our patients will not fit that description.  So, we proceed with caution and handle every animal understanding that they aren’t all happy that they’re at the doctors.  For our safety, and sometimes for the safety of the pet as well, we may need to muzzle patients, restrain them, sedate them, and/or confine them.  An owner may tell us that their pet needs to be handled carefully, or is timid or aggressive, but often times the animals are the ones to indicate to us that we should proceed with caution.  Though our patients can’t tell us out loud that they’ve had enough, they can show us.  So, we rely on their attitudes and body language to determine what they need and how best to handle them.  

In order to have our clients understand our methods better, it’s important to familiarize you with the well-known ladder of canine aggression.  This ladder illustrates the expected levels of aggression in dogs, breaking down the common signs we are likely to see before a patient jumps to the next level, the end tier of the ladder resulting with the patient biting.  Understand that dogs can skip levels altogether and/or may not indicate some warnings/levels at all, especially if they have bitten before or are experiencing a large amount of pain or fear.

It’s our job to notice the subtle things your pet, our patient, does from the time they walk in to the time we discharge them and send them home.  By watching their body language and anticipating their behaviors and reactions, our staff can stay safer and work to ensure that we help your pet have the best experience possible at our hospital.  

Please remember, our staff does its best to treat every animal kindly and compassionately, whether they want to eat us or not.  But the danger of being bitten, even by a nice animal, is real in this profession.  Even the sweetest dog or nicest cat can bite if they’re scared or hurt, regardless if they’re the perfect angel at home (where they feel comfortable).  If your pet shows signs that they needed to be treated with caution, we will heed their warnings.