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.
This is a very late response, but I would like to point out that there are just some dogs who are not food or toy/play motivated, or some dogs simply do not respond to those things. While I agree that aversive training methods are not meant for all dogs, what do you do in situations like this? There are other methods that I personally use that are neither painful or reward based. My dog loves treats, but she has never connected the treats as a reward, which has made it difficult to train her. I have never hit my dog, jabbed her, flicked her, used a shock collar, or a pinch collar (then again I don’t need to walk her on a least), ect, however, I have put my index finger and middle finger at the side of her neck (never poking or jabbing), mocking what a dog does to warn another dog and assert their dominance coupled with a “psst” sound, now when she does something wrong I just say “psst” and she quits. I have also stood over her, said “no” sternly, and looked her in the eye when I did it. She, and pretty much every other dog I’ve done it to has slouched down or rolled over in submission, and stopped the behavior. I am a little confused if this is considered aversive training because it does not inflict pain in any way. Maybe it’s aversive in the sense that it could be inflicting fear? I would like to hear and thoughts or opinions on this. She does get rewarded with treats and love when she is being good quite a bit.
With my dogs, I establish a yes-mark and a no-mark. These helps to establish a consistent way of communication, so that my dog knows which behaviors are desirable (yes-mark) and which behaviors are not desirable (no-mark). Some people use the “psst” sound as a no-mark. I associate my yes-mark with giving a reward, so that my dog learns to associate desirable behaviors with rewards. Similarly, I associate a no-mark with removing a resource (e.g. access to the backyard, access to people, access to another dog, attention, affection, etc.).
More on how I establish a yes-mark and no-mark with my dog.
Tone and volume of voice can sometimes be intimidating, especially for a more submissive/fearful dog. For example, a neighbor-friend of mine has a very loud booming voice. He is a very friendly and nice guy, but his size and voice can sometimes be intimidating to my more submissive Husky. When interacting with a more submissive dog, I speak softly and calmly. I also avoid prolonged eye-contact so as not to intimidate.
With my dogs, I try to set them up for success and I always give them many chances to redirect their behavior. If my dog does something undesirable, then I no-mark and tell her what to do instead. That works really well with my two Huskies, and then I can reward them for doing a positive behavior. After I consistently repeat this, they stop doing the undesirable behavior and just go straight to the good behavior, because they have learned that that is what they get rewarded for.
Another example of what I do during bite training.
Behavior depends a lot on the dog. I could hard-stare at my Shiba Inu till the cows come home and it doesn’t bother him one bit. On the other hand, my Sibes can get anxious with hard stares. I have desensitized them some to stares, so they feel more comfortable with it now. I do this by pairing it with positive experiences and rewards. I want my dog to associate looking at me with something positive and not something fearful or intimidating.
More on dominance and bad dog behavior.
There are many types of “rewards” or resources that dogs need or want. Food is a common one, but there is also access to people, access to other dogs, play, walks, affection, toys, sticks, tummy rubs, and lots lots more. Every dog is going to want or need something, and probably many different things. The key to reward/resource training is in observing my dogs and identifying what they are most motivated by. Similarly, different dogs get anxious over different things.
I always start with the least stressful method first for my dog, and try to redirect her into doing something positive. In this way, I not only stop the bad behavior but I turn it into something positive that I can reinforce.
An aversive stimulus is simply something that a dog seeks to avert or avoid. A reward stimulus is something that the dog desires or wants. The danger of using aversive training is that it may introduce too much stress to the dog, and cause anxiety behaviors, loss of trust, fear aggression, etc. This is in contrast to reward training which helps to build the dog’s confidence, establish trust, and set the dog up for success. Of course, not all aversive techniques are equal. In my experience, pain and dominance techniques tend to introduce more stress than say sound or scent aversion methods, all other things being equal. But then, a very submissive or fearful dog may also react badly to stares and angry shouting.
Dog behavior is very context dependent, which is why in most situations, it is best to consult with a good professional trainer who has a deep understanding of operant conditioning principles, desensitization, and is up to date on the current theories of dog psychology.
I have a beautiful German Shepherd named Sasha. She is about 1 and a half and for maybe the first six months of her life I used aversive training. I’m only 17 an I only used that because it seemed logical at the time and if she bit us and we didn’t hit her, my dad would get mad at us. I’ve read up a lot more though and sincerely regret laying a hand of harm on her though and completely disagree with aversive training. The problem is, my dad and brothers don’t. My mom is sort of neutral and doesn’t really play with Sasha and doesn’t have the nipping problem. My dad hits or yells at her wen she bites, but encourages biting when he plays rough with her. My brothers just hit. He also encourages undesired behaviours by occasionally giving we food when she begs or says, “yeah, you get him, Sasha,” when she barks out the window. Unfortunately it depends on his mood and yells or grabs her by the collar and drags her around if he doesn’t want her barking/ begging. The other problem is, no one is consistent with her training. They tell her a command and don’t care if she obeys, and if she does obey, they usually don’t give praise. Especially if she is doing something bad, they say a command ONCE and if she doesn’t listen, yells and when she obeys, ignore the praise part. As of today we are going camping in a few days and they decided she needs to stop barking. So they put on the E-Collar (which we bought to stop her from running on the road/ off property) and zap her if she barks and I refuse to. I tell them all the time that her behavioural are easily fixed and how they can fix them but get in trouble for constantly xorrecting them “because its annoying,” yet they don’t change their actions and Sasha gets in trouble for misbehaving. I’m very worried how she’ll be treated at the campsite with dogs everywhere because my parents refuse to take her to a dog park to get accustomed to other animals and people. “She’s not trained enough and isn’t fixed”. The other major problem is they disclipline her when she does something wrong, but call her first. And she is very hesitant to come now because she assosciates it with meanness. What can I do? Talking doesn’t work because my dad is a huge problem and I get In trouble because he “had a dog and you don’t know everything about dogs cause I read a couple books”. And he assumes Im challenging his position or something no matter how respectful I am. And my brothers ignore me cause I’ve tried telling them how to fix her problems too many times already. Please help, because she is super smart and has so much potential. My family wants a golden dog but don’t understand the work and cause the problems for her. By not using considtency, allowing her to ignore them (therefore making the command useless) assosciates come with disclipline and more. HELP!!!!
Getting a good trainer may help because there is a greater chance that family members will listen to someone whom they view as an expert.
Remember that positive techniques work better on people as well. Karen Pryor talks about applying positive conditioning to both people and dogs in her book, Don’t Shoot the Dog!. It was a very fun read for me.
We had a family dog when I was growing up, and it was not a good situation either. Here is his story.
Dog cruelty can cause a dog to lose its life. I went to the animal shelter with my parents and I saw this little white corgi that looked cute from the back but then it turned around and growled at me! It’s eyes were red and it just charged at me and growled and barked like I was trying to kill it or something! I panicked and screamed even though it was in a cage. When we got out of that room my dad said that corgi was a rabid dog and was going to be put down. He also said it was probably abused by his owner before it was brought to the animal shelter. I think that is terrible! I’m also pretty sure that dog was once an innocent little thing until it’s horrible owner ruined it!
Today I was driving by Petsmart. This man was leaving the store with his husky. The dog was walking perfectly fine on a leash. He had a harness on also. The Man just stopped, and took the long leash and wrapped it up, and started beating the dog! The husky would drop to the ground so scared. Then he jerked the dog to walk. The dog began to walk just perfectly again; and the man stopped and beat the dog again with the leash, over and over, yelling at the dog. This all took place right by Petsmart. When I was able to drive by this man; I yelled at him. I was so angry that he was abusing this dog. The dog was doing nothing wrong at all, it was just walking perfectly next to the man. The poor dog would just hunker down to the ground. Should I call Petsmart and would they do anything, if he is on their video?
I don’t think Petsmart has the authority to take action. Here are a couple of articles from the ASPCA and Humane Society on how to report animal cruelty-
Advice needed…we were just on vacation at a pet friendly hotel and returned to find our 5 months old Akita had been removed from our room and placed in a dark closet with no food and no water. What kind of repercussions should we take?
I imagine much of it would depend on the surrounding circumstances and stated hotel policies. One possibility is to file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. If they have broken the law or not adhered to their stated policies, then we can probably report to the local animal care agency and/or consult with a lawyer.
Question about cruelty
I have seen videos on YouTube where owners make their dogs pray or salute or do other things before they are allowed to have their meal. All this seems cute in video and I think is for personal enjoyment of the owners and therefore cruel to the dog who is hungry and just wants his meal. I feel it’s cruel but my friends don’t think so. What do u feel?
Well, I have to work to buy my daily food. At work, I follow what my boss tells me to do. I may be hungry, but I don’t get paid until I finish the work. Is the work system cruel? Should we get money and food without doing any work for it?
i think dog cruelity is VERy TERRIBLE
I love dogs so much and they should not be trained to hurt other dogs or anything else! Dogs are very cleaver animals and this website, documentary, passage is such a good idea to try and stop people to do that sort of stuff.
Lets make a change (every change starts with the first step).
Very well said!