Is Dog “Ownership” a Basic Human Right or a Privilege?
I was speaking with a Miami dog training friend of mine and we got to talking about traditional dog “trainers” with regards to corrections (typically used as a euphemism for force, abuse and punishment) in the plethora of dog sports and hobbies that are common within the dog training world. The conversation quickly escalated to how many people, trainers and hobbyists feel the need or entitlement to abuse their dogs in “certain / selective” situations (often in the proofing and finishing stages of dog training) to achieve their agenda. Time out, whose goals, plans, expectations or agenda is this? I can assure you it isn’t your dogs!
We should first discuss terminology. I try not to use the word “ownership” when it comes to sentient beings as the word “owner” refers to inanimate objects (things) and strips an animal of any and all rights in a court of law. Contrarily, we use a more realistic and legally correct word, guardian or better yet, pet parent wherever possible.
My emphatic strong belief is that it is never O.K. to abuse a dog! When dog training, expediency should never trump the humane treatment and welfare of your dog. Many dog guardians and competitors argue for positive reinforcement and verbally defend the philosophy, yet they don’t always practice what they preach when it comes to dog sports, hobbies or competitions. In theory they do not practice using punitive techniques when in the company of clients, but when in competition a subtle (or not so subtle) line gets crossed and it is no longer positive reinforcement by any stretch of the imagination. As I hear so often, the dog needs a little extra “incentive,” correction or force in order to obey and to achieve complete compliance. I take great offence and opposition to this.
Where Has The Compassion Gone?
Close your eyes for a moment and ponder, why did you get a dog? Did you get a dog to subjugate it to your every whim, to win championships (for your ego), to make money for you, for companionship or for protection? Whatever the reason, I guarantee your dog doesn’t want to be choked, poked, prodded, kicked, punched or shocked in order for you him/her to win a medal or any competition. Who really cares about a dog sport or dog hobby, the human or the dog? The answer is obvious but sometimes gets lost when dog trainers and competitors feel the end justifies the abuse means. There is NO justification for force or abuse. I don’t care if you are in an Olympic final event and all you need your dog to do is go a little quicker, longer, harder…etc There is no, excuse to abuse a dog in the name of training.
Animals have rights and are sentient beings that feel joy, pain and profound grief just as we do. Those rights don’t disappear because the human animal wants to win something or get their pet to do something faster or better. This is absurd! Dogs are not here solely for our pleasure, for humans to abuse when we see fit! There is no justification or difference in abusing a dog in normal everyday life settings versus when in a competition. If your skills or your dog’s are not up to the goals, expectations or plans that YOU have set, it does not give you the right to force or abuse your dog. There is NO situation where this would be O.K. The old Yiddish proverb, “Man makes plans and god laughs” holds true for both your children and pets. Your grand plans for your son to be the next Michael Jordan or your dog to be a top competitor are just that, your plans.
I am all for dog sports but within the realm of force free positive reinforcement and not abuse. When I hear pundits tell me, in order to get some of the ignorant South Florida veterinarian community on board with force free positive reinforcement (as if science wasn’t enough already) you must convince them that positive reinforcement works better than abusive “traditional” dog training. This makes me question we are from the same species. They are missing the point and forgetting these core tenets, pets are individuals and it is never O.K. to abuse animals. If you are involved in competition or in law enforcement and think that force free positive reinforcement is not effective then I would suggest that you or your dog does not have what it takes (the drive, temperament, skill set, cognition, etc) to be involved in those fields.
Dogs may not have voices but they have rights! Human decency should dictate that. Unless you are completely controlled by ego and morally bankrupt you realize this as well. Dogs do not deserve and should never be abused under any circumstances. Until old timers and newbies get out of their ignorant, outdated, stale thoughts and habits and enter into a new paradigm of compassion, respect, care and love for animals this argument will continue in perpetuity.
This circuitously brings me to the core question, is dog “ownership” a right or privilege (part 2), which we will opine on further in our next article (part two).