Karen B. London
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Pet Circus Has Serious Message
It may also have a problem

The Wow Wow Dog Circus in Tachikawa City, Japan tours schools, with dogs performing such tricks as jumping rope in a group of dogs or with a person, walking across objects raised off the ground and balancing as they walk on a rolling ball.

Many dogs in Japan are abandoned or killed each year, and this program is part of an effort to make that less common. The goal is an admirable one, and reaching out to children is an excellent strategy.

It concerns me, though, that with one exception, the dogs in this video do not seem happy. Twice in this 53-second video, dogs are seen yawning, which is a sign of stress. Almost all of the dogs have tension in their faces. Only one dog has that relaxed open-mouth expression that indicates a level of comfort with the situation. (The dog I’m referring to is the one who looks like a sesame-colored Shiba Inu and is wearing blue.)

It’s unfortunate that the very organization that is supposed to teach kids how to do right by dogs seems to be stressing its dogs. It’s hard to say whether they are objecting to the training, the activities, the presence of the kids, or perhaps the film crew, but sadly, these dogs don’t look happy to me. On the bright side, the kids seem to be enjoying the dogs a lot, which means that there is a strong likelihood that they are hearing the message that it’s important to take good care of dogs.


Karen B. London, PhD, is a Bark columnist and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior problems in the domestic dog.

Screen Grab from The Guardian’s video “Dogs parade their circus skills for Japanese school children

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Submitted by Anonymous | March 28 2013 |

After watching the video I am not really sure one way or the other, it might have just been the film and editing crew catching some bad moments. None of the dogs look unhealthy or abused or anything, they may have simply been having an off day, it happens. I mean they are trying to promote care for animals so I don't really think they would neglect their own.

Submitted by Anonymous | March 29 2013 |

Hmm.... I yawn at work from time-to-time, and sometimes bite my fingernails... but for the most part I enjoy my job ;) I know these dogs don't get the choice whether to work or not, but is yawning a signal of *serious* stress, do you think? I'd suggest not. If we were seeing changes in posture, or other behaviours that might indicate high stress or fear, that would be a different story. As long as these dogs are not performing all the time, and have a high quality of life otherwise, I'm not too worried about what I see.

I'd like to see all the dogs be highly enthusiastic while they're working, but you see signals of mild stress in performance dogs all the time (e.g., performance as in agility, obedience, conformation). Does this mean that dogs shouldn't participate in these events?

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