Is it animal training or abuse?


WHEN does training your dog become animal abuse? This question came to the fore after videos of Malaysian dog trainers allegedly abusing dogs went viral on social media.

In one video clip, a trainer grabbed a dog by its scruff and shook the canine in an attempt to snatch a chew bone out of its mouth.

A second video showed a dog being slapped across its face by another trainer for picking up a chew bone.

Following outcry by several animal lovers, the Department of Veterinary Services (DVS) announced that it would investigate the training centre for animal abuse.

A representative of the training centre expressed regret that a dog had been smacked at the centre. But he maintained that holding a dog by the scruff is a training method to bring the dog to a “relaxed state of mind”.

There are people who believe that holding the scruff of a dog or a cat promotes submissive behaviour in the animal.

It is linked to mothers picking up kittens or puppies by the scruff to carry them from one place to another.

Once the baby is lifted from the ground, it automatically becomes relaxed and limp as it is carried by its mother.

When the puppy or kitten is released, the mother would usually comfort its baby by cuddling or licking it.

But several websites advise against scruffing a dog or cat without proper guidance, as you may hurt the animal.

Looking back at the videos, I don’t believe the trainers were performing the action correctly or gently.

If it was my dog, I would not want it to be lifted by the scruff so aggressively, even if it is for training or disciplinary purposes.

In one of the videos, one trainer literally lifted a dog by the scruff until it was completely off the ground.

It was a relatively large dog as well. I would imagine that lifting a large dog by the scruff would hurt the dog, especially considering its weight.

Lifting or carrying a dog in a manner that causes it unnecessary pain can constitute animal abuse, according to Malaysia’s Animal Welfare Act.

Slapping or beating a dog also qualifies as animal abuse.

Animal abusers will be fined between RM20,000 and RM100,000 and/or jailed up to three years under the Act.

I asked an animal welfare expert on her thoughts on training methods and what constitutes abuse.

Malaysian Animal Welfare Society president Shenaaz Khan says she does not approve of beating or scruffing a pet as a training method, and that it is tantamount to abuse.

“Some trainers feel that they have to establish their role as the ‘alpha male’ by asserting their dominance over the dog. But I don’t think this should be a blanket way of training dogs,” adds Shenaaz.

“If you can train a golden retriever to be a service dog, it goes to show that there are non-aggressive ways of training a dog to be obedient.”

Shenaaz argues that aggressive training methods like beating or scruffing instils fear in the dog.

“If you’re going to have a pet as a family member, you wouldn’t want to beat it or instil fear in it until it doesn’t want to do anything,” she says.

Commenting on the viral videos, she expresses shock at seeing the trainers apparently punishing the dogs for chewing on a bone.

“A dog going after a bone is completely natural. If you restrict it or punish it for going after a bone, it is almost inhumane,” she adds.

“A dog should be able to be its natural self.”

I totally agree with this observation. The dogs in the video were playing with a chew bone, so why punish them for doing so?

It is heartbreaking to see the confused reaction of one of the dogs after it was slapped for picking up a chew bone.

The dog was clearly unsure about what it did wrong.

Having to instil fear in the dog to establish dominance is not a training method I agree with.

These aggressive training techniques are also known to sometimes result in defensive aggressive behaviour by the dog such as growling, biting or snapping.

I believe in training dogs through positive reinforcement rather than aggressive tactics.

I personally found that training them with treats or their favourite toys work well.

Dogs are very intuitive, so your tone of voice, eye contact and posture are important when giving your dog a command.

It is also important to remember that training does not happen overnight. It is easy to get frustrated and lose your cool, but keeping a level head and being consistent will eventually garner results.

Training your dog is a great way to develop your relationship with it.

So take the opportunity to spend quality time and bond with your furry family member!

  • Online reporter Victoria Brown’s Behind The Cage tackles the pressing issues of animal rights and environmental awareness. She can be reached at victoria@thestar.com.my.
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