Dog cruelty is often defined as inflicting unnecessary pain and suffering on our dogs.
Dog cruelty laws differ broadly from country to country, and it may even differ from county to county in the United States. Most dog cruelty laws only deal with situations of extreme physical violence against a dog, that may result in serious wounds or even death.
Another class of dog cruelty laws address extreme neglect by the dog owner. This includes failure to provide certain basic necessities, including proper food, shelter, and veterinary care.
I think most of us can agree that all of these actions fall under the umbrella of dog cruelty.
Sometimes, a dog may have to go through pain or suffering, as a result of health issues. My Siberian Husky had to go through several painful surgeries when she was young, because we were trying to straighten her crooked leg. Unfortunately, the procedure failed, and amputation was necessary.
Some people may consider having a three legged dog to be selfish and cruel, because of quality of life issues. However, if we talk to three legged dog owners, most of them will tell us that their dogs enjoy life as much as, or more than, their four-legged brothers and sisters.
In general, the majority of us would not consider short term pain from medical treatment, to be dog cruelty. However, this question becomes a lot more controversial when pain is applied in the context of dog training or dog behavior modification.
You Say Dog Cruelty, I Say Dog Behavior Modification
Dog behavior modification is commonly achieved through a process called conditioning. There is –
In aversive based conditioning, we apply a negative stimulus to discourage bad dog behaviors, and remove the negative stimulus, to encourage good dog behaviors. For example, if our dog pulls, we may apply a leash jerk. As soon as he stops pulling, we also stop applying pain through the leash and collar.
Not all aversive dog training methods are pain based.
Sometimes, an unpleasant sound or an unpleasant smell, may be used to deter undesirable behaviors such as chewing shoes, or jumping on people. When it comes to dog cruelty however, most of the controversy is centered around pain based aversive methods (e.g. leash jerks, muzzle slaps, finger pokes) and pain based aversive equipment (e.g. electronic or shock collar, choke chains, prong collar).
Are Aversive Methods Cruel to Dogs?
People who oppose the use of aversive methods, argue that it is dog cruelty because it inflicts unnecessary pain on the dog.
Dog behavior modification, they say, can be achieved more effectively and more successfully, with reward based conditioning.
People who support the use of aversive methods argue that the techniques do not really cause any pain to the dog, but is just a form of communication. It is only used to snap the dog out of his current bad or rear-brain state, and return him into a calm state, where he is able to listen and communicate with his human counterpart.
Do Aversive Methods Cause Pain?
Let us consider the experiments upon which aversive methods are based.
In the Skinner box experiment, a loud or unpleasant noise is applied until a caged rat performs the target behavior. When the target behavior is performed, the noise stops. In essence, the rat performs the behavior, in order to avoid the loud noise.
To be effective, the loud noise must be loud enough so that it triggers an “aversive response” in the rat, thereby giving him the motivation to do what we want him to do.
Aversive methods work, precisely because they deliver an unpleasant stimulus to our dogs.
Are aversive methods a form of communication?
Yes, in the sense that they communicate to the dog, “Do this, or else”.
Do aversive methods deliver pain?
Yes, some of them do, including leash jerks, muzzle slaps, and finger pokes. These techniques work when we deliver the right amount of pain to the dog, thereby causing an aversive response. Too much pain will cause the dog to break down, and too little pain will not provide sufficient motivation.
Different dogs have different temperaments, therefore the right amount of pain will vary by dog, and also by context.
Do aversive methods get the attention of our dog?
Yes they do, through the delivery of an unpleasant stimulus, for example pain.
Aversive methods are always unpleasant for the dog. If they were not unpleasant, they would not work. Saying that an aversive method is only for communication, is simply untrue.
Don’t dogs sometimes cause more pain to each other, especially in a dog fight?
In a dog fight, yes they do. However, that does not mean we should emulate them in this regard.
During play, dogs rarely cause each other pain or harm, because they have very accurate control of the force and location of their bite. Causing pain to their dog friends usually stops play, so dogs are highly motivated to play nice.
Even though a play session may involve growling and a lot of wrestling, there is little to no pain inflicted at the end of the day.
Dogs who are under-socialized may potentially be dangerous, because they are unfamiliar with controlling the force and placement of their bite. This may cause them to inadvertently harm people, and other dogs.
Are Aversive Methods Cruel?
Based on the dog cruelty definition, aversive methods are only cruel if they inflict unnecessary pain on our dog.
What is necessary pain?
Performing surgery on a dog causes necessary pain. The surgical procedure causes short-term pain, but it will frequently increase the long-term quality of life for the dog.
If aversive methods can be effectively used for the short-term, to bring about an increase in long-term quality of life, then it is not so different from the case of surgery.
However, this is almost never the case.
It is best to explore all other avenues of training first, in particular reward dog training, before resorting to any pain based behavior modification methods. Such methods are risky, difficult to implement, and only effective in very limited situations.
Ultimately, the question of whether aversive methods are a form of dog cruelty is a moral judgment. As such, it is something that each individual must decide for themselves, based on their own values, and system of morality.
Should I Use Aversive Methods?
Like many people, I started out with aversive methods because it was recommended to me by so called experts. In my case, it was my breeder, and my first veterinary technician. Both of them recommended alpha rolls, and both of them recommended that I follow Cesar Millan, The Dog Whisperer’s more aversive, dog behavior modification techniques.
Aversive methods worked well for me initially. However, after several weeks, I was almost always applying aversive corrections on my dog, and his behavior was actually getting worse. I started having doubts about the long-term effectiveness of these methods, and decided to explore reward dog training instead.
After switching to only reward dog training, things improved significantly with my dog.
He started misbehaving less, he became less aggressive toward me, and he began to trust me more.
In many ways, whether aversive methods are considered dog cruelty or not, is a moot point.
What matters most, is providing a good quality of life for our dog, and building a good and healthy relationship. I strongly believe that this is most effectively achieved, through reward behavior modification.
It has worked very well for me and my dogs.
courteny nixon says
i think its all rong allthough i do not a dog lover and not to kean it all rong so plz togeher we can prvrnt annamail crulaty
p.s im 10
thx for reading
why do people have to go and be so complicated!!!!!!!!
Heh, I think once people have decided on a course of training, they usually want to stick to it no matter what. If they don’t, then it means that they have made a mistake and they get embarrassed by this.
It is difficult sometimes to think of others and not just of ourselves.
i hate dog crealty
This link has some interesting information about ‘aversive training techniques'(with points backed up by published scientific research):
Thanks for the link Mike. Very good article with great references to scientific studies.
Question: what is dog cruelty?
Answer: the domestication of dogs is cruel.
If by “techniques” you mean any way a person tried to control a dog, of course some are cruel. Some people beat their dogs to make them do things. These aren’t taught techniques, though, and I would hope that any responsible pet owner wouldn’t try to do it this way.
I find that many people see dominance-based training as cruel, when it simply is not. Only when the individual person does something cruel to an animal and calls it “dominance based” is it ever cruel.
((I’m sorry that I haven’t replied back to your other comments. I have a report/presentation due on tuesday and have been swamped with end-of-the-year work at school. I’ll get back to you ina week or so, promise))
Hi Alex, Good to see you again.
I think that “cruelty” is probably not the right word to use in the context of dog training. “Cruelty” is a moral judgement and that is highly dependent upon religious and cultural beliefs. Using such a term I think, just obscures the real issues within dog training.
In dog training, there are certain facts as it relates to reward training and aversive training. The more we stick to those facts, the better decisions we will be able to make.
Btw. please take your time and good luck with that report.
I didn’t even realize that summer holidays are just around the corner. I envy you 🙂
Hi – Great Hub! Your Hubs are always thought provoking. On this one I think that we have to remember that dogs are dogs – not people. We shouldn’t try to change their behavior because we want our dog to behave and act more like us. We should try and make sure that our dogs are safe to be around but lets not try to “humanize” them.
“We should try and make sure that our dogs are safe to be around but lets not try to “humanize” them.”
You are absolutely right. Dogs are not humans, and humans are not dogs. In fact, I think a lot of miscommunication occurs because many people think of their dogs as humans.
I feel that I may be missing your point though. Are you saying that dogs are dogs, and do not process pain and physical methods the way that we do, so we should not apply “human” values such as cruelty on those acts? I.e. the dog does not perceive it as being cruel. That is an interesting perspective.
I will have to think more about it before coming up with a response. 🙂
This is a great hub – fortunately with the 3 dogs that have been in my life reward-based training always worked and still works with the 2 remaining dogs.
I think many people make a fundamental mistake at the very beginning with the choice of dog – a certain breed may have caught their eye, but they don’t research the specific character and physical traits of that breed. So a dog that is of a breed needs a lot of physical activity or careful socialisation (a highly strung breed for example) – can confound the expectations of the new owner so that it becomes a challenge or a battle to gain controm of the dog’s behaviour – so they use techniques which may be more physical than necessary.
“a certain breed may have caught their eye, but they don’t research the specific character and physical traits of that breed.”
That is such a good point Iphigenia. I was one of those people *sheepish look* 🙂
I do think it is unfortunate that there is a general belief that the more physical methods are more effective than the other methods especially for a “difficult” dog. As you say “difficult” may not be a result of the dog but rather the owner, and frequently, the less physical methods may work better than the physical ones.
Hey Shiba – I thought this was a fine hub, in as much as you defined a little thought about aspect of dog ownership as being potentially cruel – and backed up your questioning with information and examples. I like how you are asking for the opinion of others, as opposed to writing about your own opinion. Rated up 🙂
And I really love your dogs! Plus I’d have a 3-legged one, no problem. A dogs a dog, providing it’s happy and healthy!
My favorite frog! Thanks for dropping by.
Yeah I think the issue of “dog cruelty” is most interesting at the edges. I also wanted to bring up the “lonely dog” issue, but didn’t want drone on and on in a single article 🙂 Ok enough droning – off to drink vodka!
Shiba – tis the morning here so am just about awake now 😉
Seriously, hub about dog stuff. I don’t actually know about lonely dog issues and I imagine I’m not alone.
I’d join you in the vodka but seems you had it some time ago – and even for me, drinking vodka in the a.m. is a little naughty 😉
Random Person says
Hey let me be the first to say nice job. It wasn’t too opinionated and it really brought your point across. You did a nice job! Congratulations on your new hub!
P.S Where did that Whitney girl go???
Hey RP, where have you been? Haven’t seen you in a long time. And thanks for saying all those nice things 🙂