Some pet videos just aren’t funny

Recently, I attended the Purina Better with Pets Summit. It was a day filled with learning, attended by people who love pets and are dedicated to the wellness of animals and their people. (Read my summary of the day.)

Not only did I get to spend the entire day doing what I love, surrounded by people who love the same things, and learning about how we can all do it better, but I was also asked by Nestlé Purina to write two posts about my experiences at the Summit. And they said they’d pay me to do it. It doesn’t get much better than that.

The power of dogs and the power of video

At the Summit I (and many others around me) was moved to tears by Dr. Arleigh Reynolds as he told the story of how dogs saved the people of Huslia, Alaska. We watched a short film that described how the culture of this small native community changed with the coming of snow machines, and dogs became less central to life. Depression, suicide and a loss of a sense of purpose became the norm, until Frank Attla, a renowned dog sledder created the Frank Attla Youth Program to once again put dogs at the center of the life. Dr. Reynolds volunteers to support the program. (See the 10-minute film here.)

Arleigh Reynolds Purina Better with Pets

Dr. Arleigh Reynolds talks about the dogs of Huslia. (Photo by Purina.)

Dogs brought meaning to Huslia, bringing generations together and healing the community. The emotion generated by that film was palpable, as attendees wiped their eyes.

Video clips of dogs, cats and humans that aren’t funny

The power of video — and the power of the influencers in attendance at the event — were the catalysts that encouraged me to ask a question during another part of the summit. I asked the panel on Raising Pets and Kids something like this, “I see all kinds of pet videos on the Web — and there are some that people think are funny, but I know they’re not. The videos may show interactions between dogs and cats, or between pets and people, and I can read the behavior enough to know that what I’m seeing on the screen is at the very least cruel to the animals, and at worst a setup for a horrible disaster.” I asked Dr. Ilana Reisner, a veterinarian and behavior consultant, what she thinks when she sees these videos. What does she do? And what can we as influencers do to not perpetuate the dangerous misinformation contained in those videos.

Dr. Reisner’s response was to thank me for asking the question, and to explain that she does her best on her Facebook page to debunk some of those videos.  Later, I caught up with her and we talked some more.

Dr. Ilana Reisner Purina Better with Pets Summit

Dr. Ilana Reisner, on the Raising Pets and Kids panel. (Photo by Purina.)

An example of what I mean is a compilation of videos showing cats stealing dogs’ food, eating out of their bowls, and swatting at the dogs for trying to eat. The dogs are puzzled, frustrated, worried, unhappy. This video is labeled by the Huffington Post as comedy.

And I don’t think it’s funny.

I think it’s cruel. I think it’s sending the dogs the wrong message. I think it’s reinforcing the cats’ bad behavior. What bothers me the most is I can predict the future. At some point, one of those cats may push one of those dogs too far. And I don’t want to think about the result.

My blog is called Life with Dogs and Cats for a reason. It’s not Dogs versus Cats. It’s about helping all our pets get along.

But I didn’t feel comfortable speaking out against the incorrect behavior. I can’t tell you why; maybe I was afraid of the trolls who would slam me for raining on everyone’s parade. Or spoiling people’s fun. Or maybe I felt that people would think I’m judging them. But I’m not; who am I to judge?

It was only a few years ago that I learned some of the subtle cues of a stressed dog: yawning, licking lips, shaking it off. Before that, I simply didn’t know; I was essentially deaf to my dog’s signals. I know better now, but I’d be willing to bet that much of what is done in the name of humor is merely ignorance. I like to believe that people are not intentionally cruel, and that once pet parents learn to read their companion animals’ language a little better, they wouldn’t continue behaving in a way that is hurtful.

As more and more studies are done on animal behavior, intelligence, and emotions, we are all (and by all I mean everyone from scientists to pet parents), realizing there’s so much we don’t know and so much we need to learn about the non-human souls with whom we share our lives.

But wait, there’s more

The cats stealing dog food video is mild.

I’ve seen others that show interactions between children — even young babies — and dogs that make me cringe. For example, Ilana told me about a video she posted on her Facebook page featuring an interaction between a dog and a baby. The baby is laughing hysterically at the dog. And I will be the first to tell you that there is no sound on earth more wonderful than a baby’s laughter.

But the dog is confused, stressed, unsure and agitated. Reisner describes his “his wide eyes and indirect approach” that “are consistent with nervousness.”  She continues, “An excited, vocal dog and proximity to a loud, rocking baby’s face are not a safe combination.” And even though the dog’s tail is wagging, it doesn’t “indicate relaxation and friendliness. It basically just indicates that the dog is interacting and somewhat excited.”

The last paragraph on Reisner’s analysis of the video hits home to me: “There’s good reason to worry about interactions between dogs and babies. Babies are vulnerable and are bitten severely by familiar dogs who decided they’re threatening. Remember that in several dog bite studies, including our own at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, parents or grandparents were present in two thirds of cases when children were bitten. For these reasons, it’s a good idea to have an abundance of caution and keep everyone safe.”

Keeping the “and” in dogs and cats

So what does this all mean? Dr. Reisner inspired me  to speak out. From now on, when I see these videos, if I can offer some science-based, non-accusatory comments, I will. Even if one person learns to look for behaviors they might have known about, then perhaps we can prevent just one pet-pet or pet-human interaction from going terribly, horribly wrong.

And I hope to seek input from Dr. Reisner and other behaviorists so that I can continue to learn, and continue to share what I learn with my readers. So we can continue to live in homes of  “and” — creating happy, trusting and safe environments for dogs and cats and humans and other pets.

And now for a video that does amuse me

What do I think is a funny video? Check out this clip of Elsa Clair trying to get a toy that got hung up out of reach. Note that I let her puzzle through a solution; this is good mental stimulation. Eventually, we help her because I don’t want to be frustrate her too much.

And while I’m at it, a disclaimer: the toy that Elsa Clair is playing with is one I rarely bring out, and one that I supervise very closely. I would never let her play with this unsupervised because she could easily get tangled or strangled. In fact any cat toy that includes a string or a feather is kept in a drawer in my house, and only brought out when there’s someone watching. So we can be safe, and still have fun.

What do you think? Am I a spoilsport for wanting to let people know what’s not funny?

23 Comments on "Some pet videos just aren’t funny"

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  1. We agree. Some pet parents need to be more educated to read and understand subtle stress signs of their pets. As you say, those signs not easy to notice first. Purrs

  2. easy rider says:

    I feel sorry for some pets in videos, specially when they were forced by humans to do silly or dangerous things…
    Elsa Clair you must be the feline twin of my momma, but probably the BETTER twin. she tried such a stair-acrobatic once too and it ended with a dissected banister…there is still one element at that stair what’s different and what reminds her what a fool she was many moons ago…

  3. Deziz World says:

    Pawsum posty. We see so many videos dat just not be funny at all. And altho watchin’ Elsa Clair playin’ is quite fun, we’re so glad you were right there. Me almost hung meez selff when me was a baby playin’ wiff just such a toy. Me jumped to get it “unstick” and got meez head caught in da loop of da string just like da one we saw danglin’ from your door toy. And those stairs are purretty high and lead to a hard floor fur a landin’ ifin Elsa Clair had fallen while twyin’ to figger out hers purrdicament. No matter what you shuld never be fwaid to point out to sumone a not funny. Me still plays wiff over da door toys like dat one, but mommy is very careful to supervize such play. Us kitties can find danger almost anywhere. So we awen’t against kitties havin’ fun or toys of any kind in general. We just like to make sure all toys be as safe as pawssible. have a blest day.

    Luv ya’

    Dezi and Lexi

  4. I absolutely love the video of Elsa trying to get the toy. I will definitely put more thought into what I’m watching and sharing and really appreciate the new perspective. The happiness and safety of the whole family, including the furry ones, should always be our #1 priority! Thank you!

    • Elsa Clair certainly takes her play seriously. But I monitor her on that toy new use of the string. It actually makes me nervous when she plays with it because she could get caught in it. So I take it out rarely, and am always one step away– close enough to help her if she gets tangled yet far enough away not to get hit by the flying toy. 😉

  5. Great post. I completely agree – I often see videos on FB that are meant to be funny but aren’t. Like you said, I believe it is just a result of ignorance. People don’t know animals as well or have never had them, so what they see is cute and funny. It is our job as I fluencers to educate. I never say anything about these videos either, but I will try to do better at that now. Thank you.

  6. meowmeowmans says:

    Thank you for speaking up, and for this really important post. There are so many videos out there that are *supposed* to be funny, but that just aren’t.

    • I know. It feels good to know that there are others who feel the same. Sometimes I see these videos and they just make me sad or angry. And I feel like my voice would get lost in the crowd of LOLs, but if enough of us speak up, maybe we can be heard.

  7. suzanprincess says:

    Not a spoilsport at all, because those animals are not having fun to be spoiled! I’ve seen a few videos that made me feel ill at the supposed fun but actual mistreatment of innocents, four legged or two. In fact I avoid most animal videos nowadays because of that, except for Life With Dogs and Cats of, course, which are always humane and fun!

    • Exactly. And here’s the thing: if I post something that I don’t know is dangerous or wrong, I would be thrilled if someone pointed it out. Because I’m always learning. As I’ve said, I consider myself a student of animal behavior. We’re always discovering new things about our non-human companions.

  8. Kristin says:

    I agree! There are many videos and photos of animals shared in social media that show dangerous, cruel, or undesirable behavior. People share them thinking they are funny or cute, but they are not.

    • Right. And I don’t think it’s out of malice. I think they just don’t know. And I don’t claim to know everything either. There are so many other people out there who are influencers who can also speak up when they see something. That would help others see what we see.

  9. so true….and sadly we think people don’t sometimes speak up due to the amount of cyber-bullying that will no doubt rain down on them. we wish that people were more aware – and less cruel to other who take a stand

    • I’ll admit, I don’t want to have trolls stalk me. But these videos just perpetuate poorly informed ideas. And when people think they’re funny, it’s hard to be the one in the corner not laughing, and trying to explain why, without looking like a grumpy grinch.

  10. Connie says:

    There are times when people step all over the ‘fun’ and there are times when you feel the need to put huge disclaimers all over a post or a photo and it is sad that those of us who know that the fun is supervised (as in the case of string) or fake (in the case of lilies) but on the other hand there are people who simply do not know that lilies are obnoxiously toxic and that string can kill, and by saying something you might just be saving a life.. Maybe the animal in the video, or more likely an animal of someone watching that video who might want to reenact it.

    There is a video of a rabbit ‘lounging’ in a bucket of water.. actually the rabbit is hypnotized and submerging a rabbit in water like that can be very very bad for the rabbit in a multitude of ways from chill to drowning.

    There is the video of kittens laying on their back sucking a bottle, but that can easily lead to the kitten inhaling the liquid and having respiratory distress. There are videos of kittens so hungry they are frantic to get to the food, those break my heart most of all, because they never ever ever should get that hungry because they risk hypoglycemia and death.. kittens have so little reserves..

    So yeah, I speak up.. if not for the original poster, but for anyone else who is seeing the video.. because I can’t not.

    • I will, and thank you. And I’m hoping that everyone else should, too. Maybe we can gain some traction and educate people. Those folks who are well intentioned will hopefully learn something.

  11. Powerful post.

    After spending some time speaking out against things that I disagreed with, I got tired of the fight. I’ve learned how to ask questions instead of making statements and those have gone across better. People may still disagree (my pet peeve is children riding dogs), but I have stopped attracting conflict.

    The hard part for me is when people I’m connected to on Facebook share these images and videos. These are people who work in the pet industry and, in my opinion, should know better. I don’t want to inadvertently start a fight, I don’t want to unfriend them (because I’ve learned that when you do this, people get weird), so I just unfollow them so that I don’t have to see the images/videos anymore.

    I feel like I’m doing a disservice by going that route, but I’m not sure what to do instead.

    • I agree. I think trying to convince people in the comments isn’t going to work. I have a few ideas about how to amplify our voices. I’ll let you know when things start to solidify, and let you know how you can help.

  12. So true. It’s sad what lengths people do in hopes of creating a viral pet video i.e. the cruel cats/cucumber video craze.

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