“Animal Abuse”; the phrase is so wrought with emotion that we, as a society, almost become numb to it. It seems so many dogs I work with have some kind of abuse history. “She was abused.” “He hates men because a man abused him.” “That woman keeps her dog in a tiny dog run, it’s just animal abuse.” The list goes on and on. I think most of us have a dog or know of a dog that has an abuse history. Animal Abuse is a grave thing and it should be taken very seriously. We know from countless studies that animal abuse and the abuse of humans, especially women and children, go hand it hand. More than 70% of battered women report that their partner abused their animal prior to or during the time they were abusing women and their children. The FBI considers animal abuse to be a precursor to the abuse of human beings. However, my point today is not to discuss the typical vision that we see when we think of animal abuse. My point today is to explore how we have become complacent, eased into a pot of slowly boiling water, to abuse our beloved pets and call it something else entirely.
Mirriam Webster defines abuse as the 1. The physical maltreatment of another. 2. To treat a person or an animal in a harsh or harmful way. 3. To treat (someone/something) in a way that causes damage.
The SPCA defines animal abuse as, “abuse, is knowingly depriving an animal of food, water, shelter, or veterinary care or maliciously torturing, maiming, mutilating, or killing an animal.”
Going back to Mirriam Webster we can define torture as, “the act of causing severe physical pain as a form of punishment or as a way to force someone to do or say something.”
By the terms defined in our own language and in our own understanding of previously defined terms of abuse, aversive animal training (specifically that using prong collars and shock collars) is the torturous abuse of animals. I realize that my statement is bold, and that it implicates many individuals who I respect both personally and professionally. However, I can stay silent no longer. Please hear me out before you make your judgment. Consider what I am saying as a dog lover, as a skilled and experienced professional, and in many cases, as a friend.
We, as an American culture, have been deceived by the charming charlatan’s of popular media into thinking that “dominating”, that is, to use fear and force to achieve a desired behavior from another, is an acceptable means of managing another thinking, feeling, sentient being. It is not! Using fear, punishment, and force to achieve a desired behavior is torture, not training!
I was enjoying a lovely day at the dogpark over the weekend and I heard a group of five people discussing their dogs behavior. These were five educated people with \ a typical suburban, upper middle class lifestyle. They had a various assortment of generally sweet but ill-trained and boisterous dogs. One person said to the group, “well, we trained her with a shock collar and it worked great!” Someone expressed concern about hurting their dog, the person replied, “well you only shock them enough to get their attention, after just one or two yelps of surprise they don’t cry anymore but she really listens.” I want you to really think about what was said in that conversation. Remove yourself from the fact that most of us have heard that discussion many times. If it was said, “you only shock the kitten until it cries a couple of times… then he doesn’t cry anymore.” Would you feel differently? How about this, “I only shock my two-year-old child when he goes near the pool or the road, it’s going to save his life!” Would you feel differently?
If you did feel differently, you would not be alone! In fact, The Kennel Club, the worlds oldest dog fancier's club, is working to ban the use of shock collars in the UK. Wales has already passed such legislation and Canada is not far behind. It’s illegal because it is tortuous animal abuse. In fact, the entire behavioral science community agrees that the use of aversive methods, especially shock and prong collars, is animal abuse and torture NOT TRAINING.
It is time to take a stand as a person, as a community, as a country, and as a society. This must end. What are we teaching our children about the sanctity of life and the dignity of a sentient being? What does our acceptance say about our own moral compass?
I challenge you, my colleagues, clients, and friends; start this dialogue. Have the hard talks. I am not encouraging you to become lawless rebels stealing collars and screaming “abuse!” at fellow dog lovers. I am asking you to become educated and, in turn, educate those around you. Below you will find some concise, well researched, and well written articles regarding this issue. Print them out and take them to your veterinarian. Give them to your friends. Talk to your children about them. Print them out and kindly and compassionately give them out when you are at the dog park and you see an animal suffering in silent sweetness. Our dogs are amazing creatures. Though they are tortured and abused by their protectors in the name of training they are kind, willing, loyal, and even obedient. Be their voice. Teach your children to be their voice. Using pain and punishment as a means to achieve a action or behavior is, by our very own semantics, torture. Kindness is powerful. Please take 15 minutes out of your day and review the resources below. Be an advocate for change. Help, in this small way, end the lies of our culture that “if it works, it’s ok.” It is not. It is inhumane. It is wrong. It is torture in the name of training.
Please watch this video:
Resources for you to hand out to friends:
Resources for research on shock and prong collars: