Is Dog “Ownership” a Basic Human Right or a Privilege?
I was speaking with a Los Angeles dog training friend of mine and we got to talking about traditional or balanced dog “trainers” with regards to corrections (typically used as a euphemism for leash popping, 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, breeders, trainers and hobbyists feel the need or entitlement to abuse their dogs in “certain/selective” situations (often in the ring, or proofing and finishing stages of dog training) to achieve their agenda. Let’s take a timeout and ask, whose goals, plans, expectations or agenda is this? I can assure you it isn’t your dogs best interest and puts all aspects of a dogs health at risk.
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.
I believe 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 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 do not agree with this supposition.
Where Has The Compassion Gone?
Close your eyes for a moment and ponder, why did you get a dog? Love typically come to mind. But ask yourself, 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, to promote the health of the breed? Whatever the reason, I guarantee your dog doesn’t want to be forced, choked, poked, prodded, kicked, punched or electrically stimulated 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, breeders, 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.
Nonhuman animal (hereafter animal) have rights and are sentient beings that feel joy, pain and profound grief just as we do. Those rights and feelings don’t disappear because the human animal wants to win something or get their pet to do something faster or better. Could you imagine if we used that rationale with people? 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 dogs are not up to the goals, expectations or plans that a person has set, it does not give a person the right to force or abuse a dog. There is no situation under any circumstance where this would be O.K. The old Yiddish proverb, “Man makes plans, and god laughs” holds true for both one’s children and pets. A parent’s grand plans for their son to be the next Michael Jordan or dog to be a top competitor are just that, one’s 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, you must convince people that positive reinforcement works better than abusive traditional or balanced dog “training” I believe 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 law enforcement and think that force free positive reinforcement is not effective, then I would suggest that the person or their 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. Or at least should! Human(e) decency should dictate this. Unless one is entirely controlled by ego and morally bankrupt one can realize that all animals have rights to live and be free. Dogs (and all animals) do not deserve and should never be abused under any circumstances. In order for ignorant, outdated, constraining thoughts beliefs and habits to be abolished we must evolve and enter into a new paradigm of compassion, respect, care and love for animals or this argument will continue in perpetuity.
This circuitously brings me to the core question, is dog “ownership” a right or privilege? Which we will opine on further in our next article (part two).