Traditionally, dog training has been all about what the human wants or needs. For example, stay, stand, eat this, don’t eat that, stand still and be groomed, accept nail trimming, come here, keep out of my way, walk at my side, stop barking, don’t growl,…………………….. We really are incredibly demanding of dogs. I don’t think humans expect so much of any other living animal, but perhaps horses come a close second.
But what about the dog’s needs? The five freedoms of animal welfare are:
- FREEDOM FROM HUNGER AND THIRST
- FREEDOM FROM DISCOMFORT
- FREEDOM FROM PAIN, INJURY OR DISEASE
- FREEDOM TO EXPRESS NORMAL SPECIES SPECIFIC BEHAVIOUR
- FREEDOM FROM FEAR AND DISTRESS
These freedoms (or requirements) are protected by UK law under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, and many other acts of law around the world. They seem really basic don’t they? They are basic, but they are also often ignored.
I have two degrees in canine behaviour but the thing that always sticks with me is something I learned 30 years ago, whilst working in a biscuit factory. If you want to get the best out of people (or animals) you must first understand their needs and desires. You then fulfil the needs of the business whilst allowing the employees to meet their own needs. Of course, in human terms, this may largely be the need to earn a living, but a living can be earned in many places, so if you don’t treat staff with respect (another need) you may be unlikely to keep them long term or working at their best.
One of the biggest needs for animals is their safety. They are genetically wired to care about safety. Their ancestors are unlikely to have lived long enough to pass on their genes if they had no desire for safety. How many times do we see a young puppy being forced to walk along by the road on a lead but not wanting to go, a dog in training class that suddenly doesn’t understand a down stay, a dog refusing to go near an unfamiliar item or spooked by an unfamiliar noise.
If we drop our absolute need for dogs to comply with A,B or C and instead consider their needs (especially in regard to feeling safe), then we will achieve A, B or C far easier because it’s not surrounded by fear.
Imagine your car breaks down on a dark country lane. There’s no phone signal so you have no choice but to start walking in the pitch dark. There are no pavements either so you’re walking in the road. You are aware of three fatalities on this road where pedestrians were knocked down. A vehicle passes by and you barely manage to jump out of the way. Luckily you have a friend with you, hooray; but hang on; this friend chooses now to teach you the macarena! Is your concern with learning this fun dance or is no amount of persuading or cajoling going to get you to wiggle those hips?
Dogs are exactly the same. First and foremost they need to feel safe. An environment of fear is no place to be complying with the frivolous needs of others. Whatever requirements we have of the dog, we should first consider if their needs are being met.
Shay Kelly is the author of Dog training and behavor: a guide for everyone and Canine Enrichment: the book your dog needs you to read