Positive dog training is a part of a bigger lifestyle practice that can improve the relationship between humans and dogs and enhance their well-being. However, it is important to consider the ethics of dog training to ensure that it is suitable and fair to the dog as an individual.
In this article, we will explore situations when dog training might not be ethical or suitable and how to meet dogs' needs, help them to cope and be fair to them as individuals.
Meeting the Dog's Needs
To understand when dog training might not be ethical, it is important to consider a dog's natural behaviour and instincts. In some situations, training might compromise a dog's physical or emotional health. For example, training dogs to perform tasks they are not suited for, can be detrimental to their well-being. Similarly, training dogs to ignore their natural instincts, can lead to frustration and anxiety.
Overtraining can also be harmful to a dog's physical health. For example, excessive running or jumping for a puppy can damage their developing bones and joints. Therefore, it is important to ensure that training is appropriate for the dog's breed, age, and physical abilities.
Helping the Dog to Cope
The impact of training on a dog's emotional well-being should also be considered. In some situations, training might cause stress, fear, or anxiety in dogs. For example, using aversive training methods, such as shock collars or prong collars, is traumatic for dogs and cause long-term negative effects. Training dogs in overly stimulating or intimidating environments, such as crowded dog parks, can also be overwhelming for some dogs.
It is also good to recognise that using any method to train a dog to do things they are not interested in can be detrimental to their emotional needs. For example, training a dog to perform tasks that they dislike, such as forcing a shy dog to interact with strangers, can cause anxiety and stress, leading to long-term negative effects on the dog's well-being, even if it's associated with a food reward. While positive reinforcement, such as training through food, can be a useful training tool, it can also be a form of coercion if not used correctly or as the first choice every time.
Protecting Canine Agency
Agency is a term used to describe the degree of control that an individual has over their environment and the events that affect them. In the context of a dog's life, agency refers to the dog's ability to make choices and have some degree of control over their actions and experiences.
Dogs with a high degree of agency have opportunities to express their natural behaviour and preferences, make choices, and have some control over their environment. For example, encouraging a dog to choose when and where to sleep, play, or interact with people can help promote their sense of agency.
On the other hand, dogs with a low degree of agency might have limited opportunities to make choices or express their preferences, leading to a feeling of helplessness and lack of control. Even with the most necessary positive reinforcement training, we should aim not to take away the dog's agency, choice and opportunity to practise natural behaviours. Training is simply part of the big picture - not the whole canvas.
Having a sense of agency is essential to a dog's emotional well-being. When dogs have some control over their lives, they are more likely to feel fulfilled and happy. Additionally, promoting a sense of agency in dogs can help to prevent behavioural problems and improve the human-dog relationship.
Being Fair to the Dog as an Individual
Celebrating individuality in dogs means recognising and appreciating the unique traits, personalities, and preferences that make each dog special. Just like humans, dogs have individual likes, dislikes, and quirks that make them who they are. Embracing a dog's individuality means allowing them to express themselves and promoting their natural behaviours, rather than trying to force them to conform to arbitrary standards or expectations.
By celebrating individuality in dogs, we can create a more positive and fulfilling relationship between dogs and humans, one that values and respects their unique qualities and characteristics.
The National Institute for Canine Ethics
The National Institute for Canine Ethics is a membership-based organisation that promotes ethical and humane treatment of dogs. NICE is ABTC and UK Dog Charter Accredited.
By joining, members show their commitment to upholding high standards for dog care and welfare. The institute offers two free webinars each month, covering a range of topics related to canine health and behaviour, to provide members with ongoing education and support. If you are passionate about dogs and want to make a difference in their lives, the National Institute of Canine Ethics is a great community to be a part of.