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"Excited" Doesn't Mean Happy

I encountered an interesting little dog the other day. She was a young dachshund that was struggling with veterinary care and nail trims. I wasn't meant to be in tech appointments that day, but I ended up being pulled in to take care of this little girl. Knowing she has struggled in the past, I spent a few minutes trying to get her to calm down a little. You see, she's very conflicted. Working with her made me think of an important topic that has come up both at work and at home: Words Matter.

My coworkers and the client both indicated that this little dog "loves people." She gets really "excited" when she comes into the clinic. Excitement is not inherently positive. Sometimes excitement is bad and full of negative feelings. This is why most of us in the profession use the word "arousal" to describe that emotional intensity. Excited and arousal can be used interchangeably, but your typical pet owners always attach a positive emotional state to "excitement."

If you've spent any time studying interpersonal communication, you'll come across a major struggle. Just because I said something and meant to relay a very specific message, does not mean that my partner in communication translated my words the way I wanted them to. That's why the language we use as professionals is so different from what we use when speaking with clients. We use a combination of descriptive terms to ensure understanding of the problem, as well as soft words, to help dampen the intensity.

At the end of the day, my little Dachshund friend was very conflicted. She showed a combination of approach and retreat behaviors. Yes, she was wagging her tail and yes, she did approach. However, her approach was full of appeasement behaviors: ears back, low tail, excessive lip licking, squinty eyes. She was insecure and afraid. She used those appeasement behaviors to prevent conflict and keep herself safe. While working with her, I made sure I described the dog's body language, talked about that Feeling vs Thinking Brain, and helped her understand that she isn't "excited," in the traditional sense. She is nervous, insecure, and conflicted. Next time, hopefully we'll have time to talk about Consent to Pet so the owner can be more aware of when her little dog is actually asking for interaction, versus trying to keep herself out of trouble.

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