Tag: accident

Why Should We Care What Our Pet is Thinking?

How many times have you seen pictures on the internet of pets and people, children in particular, interacting in ways that make you cringe? The toddler riding a dog like a pony; the little boy whose face is pushed up into the face of a dog; the little girls stretching and twisting the legs of a kitten as they attempt to dress it in their doll’s clothes……Some viewers will recognize that the animal is screaming, “Get away from me!” with his body language, but the photographer, and many viewers think it is adorable and sweet.

The danger in encouraging these kinds of interactions is, the animal only has its body language with which to communicate with us. Yes, we can talk to the animals all we want, but do we “hear” what they are saying to us in their language? A dog’s or cat’s bite is most often its last resort after multiple danger signals are offered in the animal’s body language. When all else fails and the critter feels no other option is available, they will very likely hurt us in order to escape the danger/pain.

If we could teach ourselves and others, especially our children, how to translate an animal’s body language, then experts agree there would be far less serious pet-on-human injuries filling up our hospital emergency rooms and urgent care centers. In fact, in the April, 2017 issue of Clinician’s Brief, Emily D. Levine, DVM, DACVB from the Animal Behavior Clinic of Animal Emergency & Referral Associates in Fairfield, NJ, tells the veterinary profession that more needs to be done to prevent dog bites to kids, since children comprise a very large segment of the approximately 4.5 million dog bites occurring each year. And since children’s faces are so much closer to the dogs’ faces than an adult’s, dog bites to children often have devastating consequences.

According to Dr. Levine’s study of adults’ interpretations of canine body language, over 65% of adults misinterpreted clearly exhibited warning signals from canines toward children, when viewing sample videos showing canine-child interactions. In short, the majority of the adults in the study interpreted danger signals from the dogs to mean those dogs were relaxed and confident, when actually, they were fearful and anxious. One of the most commonly misinterpreted canine signals was the wagging tail. According to Dr. Levine, the average adult does not know that a wagging tail does not necessarily mean the dog is happy.

Similar misinterpretations of animal language occur with other companion animals. Cats, horses, reptiles, ferrets….virtually all animals communicate. Since we’re supposed to be the most intelligent species, it’s up to us to learn the language of our pets if we want to live in harmony with them.

There are some good sources out there to help people learn to read and respect animal body language. For instance, you can find articles, webinars, posters, and even a phone app. to help educate your friends and family about the proper way to interpret body language in your canine companion. And teaching animal body language to kids can actually be fun, because it allows them to get a deeper vision into what the other species is thinking and saying to us. After all, there’s a little bit of Dr. Doolittle in all of us, right?

Learning how to communicate with our companion animals is the key to safety and happiness for pets AND people. The internet has a wealth of information on the language of just about any species. Here are some links to get you started:


The Canine Communication Webinar Series from The ASPCA

Equus Magazine’s Article: How to Read Your Horse’s Body Language


Posters abound on the internet. Do some research and find the poster that best fits your audience:





Here’s a link to a phone app developed by Jill Breitner, an experienced west coast trainer. This app contains more than 60 different canine postures. For each posture there is a breakdown of specific body positions as well as the context in which these positions might be displayed. Available from the App Store or Google Play for $3.99, this app was created in 2015.

The Legislative Corner – Laws and Rules to Protect Animals in Motor Vehicles

The Legislative Corner – Laws and Rules to Protect Animals in Motor Vehicles

If you own a dog or a cat, chances are high that your furry friend rode as a passenger in your vehicle on at least a few occasions. You may have let them roam free in the backseat, permitted them to ride shotgun, or secured them in a crate, but are there laws in place that determine how pets are supposed to ride in the car?

One survey sponsored by AAA and Kurgo Pet Products found that well over half of respondents had participated in at least one distracting behavior while driving with their dogs:

  • 52% had petted their dog while driving
  • 17% allowed their dog to sit in their lap while driving
  • 13% gave food or treats to their dog while driving
  • 4% acknowledged playing with their dog while driving

However, only 16% of owners used some form of restraint for the dog in the vehicle. What is even more surprising is that 83% of people responding to the survey agreed that having an unrestrained dog in a moving car can be dangerous.

Although politicians have historically avoided legislation on this topic, some states are using the law to protect people and their pets while out on the road:

  • In New Jersey, officers can stop a driver they believe is improperly transporting an animal. Tickets range from $250 – $1,000 per pet, and a driver can face a disorderly person’s offense under animal-cruelty laws. In the past, state officers have cited drivers with dogs hanging their heads out of windows, drivers of pick-up trucks with unleashed dogs traveling in the truck bed, drivers with cats resting on their dashboards, and even one driver with a bird perched on their shoulder.
  • Hawaii openly prohibits drivers from having any unrestrained animal in their car. In the “Aloha” State, you can be fined $97 dollars for driving with a dog in your lap and $57 if the animal is unrestrained in a moving vehicle.
  • In Arizona, Connecticut, and Maine, distracted-driving laws have been used to charge drivers with pets on their laps.

The goal of these laws is not to save the lives of our pets; the main focus is to protect human lives. Unrestrained pets can become a distraction and distractions cause accidents. In a collision at 50 mph, an unrestrained 10-pound dog will hit you with about 500 pounds of force – more than enough to cause serious damage, or even death, to both you and your dog. This amount of gravitational force could also pull a dog out of its own collar or tether, depending on the restraint design and the crash circumstances.

TASP knows first hand of two motor vehicle collisions where dogs were ejected from vehicles: one in which a 15lb. dog was restrained with a tether to its collar in the back seat, and one in which a 6lb. dog was riding loose on the front seat. Interestingly, the tethered dog was actually killed, and the loose dog survived but with significant, life-altering injuries. Neither outcome would be what we would want for our pet.

It is clear that there is little chance of predicting what can happen when we depart for a ride with our pet. Risk and uncertainty can never be completely eliminated from our lives, and we need to ask ourselves, as the guardians of our pets, what we can do to keep risk to a minimum for their sake. Maintaining situational awareness and concentrating on the road is the duty of every driver. When we take our pet for a ride, we would be wise to remember our obligation to our pet, our passenger and our fellow travelers and focus on the task at hand.

What do you think about laws that restrict how your pet can ride in your motor vehicle? And, in the absence of formal laws, what do you think YOU can do to reduce the risk of death or injury when your pet goes for a ride with you?