A popular video trend on social media app TikTok has led to warnings from vets and dog behavior experts over concerns it could result in face-biting injuries.
The trend sees pet owners use a popular sound on the app, documenting a comedic voice confronting someone over “talking smack” about them. TikTok users often mouth the audio animatedly in the face of a person, but some have chosen to use their dogs as the role.
According to dog behavior experts and vets alike, however, the trend could be incredibly stressful for dogs and dangerously result in the dog biting the owner’s face, they warned Newsweek.
Vet and TikToker “Cat the Vet” shared her reaction to one of those videos that went viral three days ago, warning that: “It is not big, it is not clever, it is not funny. That dog is incredibly unhappy, it is going to bite you if you carry on like that and I don’t care if it’s your dog and you trust it and think that it won’t, there are children on this app who will copy you and get bitten in the face because they thought it was cool because you did it. Please stop.”
In the original video Cat was reacting to, a woman could be seen mouthing the audio in the face of her dog, along with head-jerking and arm movements. It can be watched in full here.
The family captured in the original video, which has over 2 million views, told Newsweek that they are not responsible for any copy-cat style videos, saying: “We posted a satire video, on a satire platform where the authorized users are 14 and over. Parents are responsible for their children’s use of electronics and what they watch.
“Making the question about ‘What if children repeat what you do’ is like saying. My kid robbed a bank because he watched a movie about bank robbery. Too many people believe everything they see on the internet and believe every dog reacts to every situation the same way. This is 100% not the case.”
Newsweek spoke to Kennel Club Accredited dog trainer and behaviorist Joe Nutkins, who analyzed the reaction of dogs in these videos, noting the various indications of distress. “We can often tell if a dog really isn’t comfortable about something just because they just don’t ‘look comfortable’ generally speaking but they can also give quite clear warning signs too,” she said. “To watch some of the videos was actually quite disturbing really.
“The majority, if not all, of the videos that I have seen show dogs turning their head a little bit to one side. It might literally just be turning a couple of centimeters slightly to one side away from the owner. Then they actually do what’s called ‘whale eye’ which is where the dog turns their head a little bit and then they actually turn their eyes the other way as far as they can. The idea is they show the whites of their eyes as much as possible, trying to indicate that they are not liking the situation,” she added.
Another indicator for Nutkins is the ears, which dogs often use as a form of expression: “You can see a lot of these dogs that are having this new trend showing so much with their ears! I haven’t seen a single dog whose ear position or movement is in a nice natural position; they are all moved in a position showing ‘I’m stressed’ or giving calming signals to ask ‘please don’t do what you’re doing.”
For Nutkins, the ultimate danger with this trend is that the dog may turn around and bite the individual’s face, after feeling threatened and distressed, or could potentially bite at an unsuspecting later point when reminded of the situation: ” One of the biggest risks is that you will force your dog to feel so threatened and so worried that they feel they’ve already given many signals and warnings to say ‘please don’t do this’ but they’re left with one last resort. That last resort is going to be to turn round and bite.”
Even in cases where no injuries are caused, Nutkins said the act could risk ruining any bond or trust your dog may have held with you.
Ryan Neile, head of behavior services at U.K. pet charity Blue Cross expressed similar concern to Newsweek in a statement, saying: “This is a terrifying trend where you can see the animals are visibly frightened and confused by the human’s behaviour.
“You should never shout at any pet (even if pretending) as this only causes distress and fear, while being this close to their face could easily cause the animal to react and cause serious injury.
“Blue Cross is concerned about the increase in people using their pets as props to boost their social media presence and we’ve been made aware of many other worrying examples.
“Pets are not toys to be exploited, humiliated or objectified for our own entertainment, these videos cause distress and confusion to our pets and can lead to illness, serious behaviour issues and serious injuries.”
The RSPCA told Newsweek that though it understands the appeal of featuring dogs in TikTok videos, it should only be done in a way that is safe for all involved, unlike this trend: “We understand why owners want to feature their pets in social media posts and videos online but it’s really important that these videos are filmed in a responsible way that doesn’t cause any stress to the animals.
“Many of these videos show dogs exhibiting clear signals that they’re anxious and uncomfortable with their owner’s behaviour. As these videos go viral and spark trends which are copied by hundreds of thousands of people around the world – including children – this could lead to many incidents where dogs could bite through their fear.
“It’s important to know the signs our pets give us that they’re feeling uncomfortable in order to keep them happy and us safe.”