What and Who Dogs Want and Need: Love, Not Shocks

“Causing pain to dogs by inappropriate training methods is clearly completely unacceptable and I want there to be no doubt that painful or unpleasant training for dogs will not be tolerated.” (Scotland’s Environment Secretary, Roseanna Cunningham)

I yesterday learned that Scotland will be banning electric shock collars that some people choose to use on dogs (more details can be found here and here). I received a good number of emails about this announcement, every single one in favor of this move. A few people wrote to me about how happy they were that “barbaric shock collars” and “instruments of torture” were finally being banned. A few wrote to me that some people told them that we really don’t know what dogs want and need so perhaps shock collars weren’t as bad as they seemed.

Source: Visviva, Wikipedia public domain

I thoroughly disagree. I answer them by clearly writing something like, “We do indeed know what and who dogs want and need, and it isn’t rocket science. Dogs (and other animals) want and need to feel loved, safe and secure, want and need to interact and have fun and play with their friends and engage in frenetic “zoomies” when they can (for more on this topic please see “It’s OK For Dogs to Engage in Zoomies and Enjoy FRAPs), sniff different body parts and all sorts of things, pee here and there, hump one another now and then, have good food and veterinary care when needed, and know that their human(s) has their best interests in mind. And, they surely don’t like being shocked, just like we wouldn’t like it, and there is no reason to do it. Given a choice, dogs just want to have fun (for more discussion please see “The Power of Play: Dogs Just Want to Have Fun“) and avoid pain, and this makes perfect sense. 

What and who dogs want and need

The word “who” in the title of this essay and in my answer to those who wrote to me refers to the fact that in addition to the “what” dogs need in terms of hanging out with their friends and having fun on the run, they also must feel loved by their human(s) and safe and comfortable in their presence. It’s essential for them to exercise their senses, their muscles, and their hearts and brains, and they don’t mind being challenged in friendly and non-harmful ways.

Some extra TLC also is just fine. This is especially so for young dogs. We know, for example, that giving puppies a good deal of enrichment and more varied experiences early in life can make significant positive differences in how the adapt to life with humans and other dogs (for more discussion please see “Giving Puppies Extra Socialization Is Beneficial for Them” and links therein). 

Let dogs be dogs: Dogs want and need much more than they usually get from us

It might surprise people to learn that numerous companion dogs who are fortunate enough to share their life with a human are highly stressed, but when you think about it, they’re always trying to adapt to a human-oriented/dominated world in which their wants and needs are secondary to those of their own and other humans.

One thing I always say to people when they ask about how to give their dog the best life possible is to let their dog be a dog. Sure, there are limits to what sort of pure dog-ness is acceptable in terms of where they like to put their noses, what they sometimes like to dine on, and who they choose to mount and hump, but giving a dog the latitude to practice some natural behaviors that we find disgusting or inappropriate is good for them and all part of what it is like to be dog. 

When I write back to people who have taken the time to write to me, I also point out when appropriate that most unfortunately, numerous dogs actually do not get what and who they want and need as they try to adapt to a human-oriented society, a point about which I write in an essay called “Dogs Want and Need Much More Than They Usually Get From Us.” Psychology Today writer Dr. Jessica Pierce also provides an extensive discussion about this in her excellent book called Run, Spot, Run: The Ethics of Keeping Pets. And in her book, Love Is All You Need, Jennifer Arnold notes that dogs live in an environment that “makes it impossible for them to alleviate their own stress and anxiety.” (p. 4) According to Arnold, “In modern society, there is no way for our dogs to keep themselves safe, and thus we are unable to afford them the freedom to meet their own needs. Instead, they must depend on our benevolence for survival.” In an essay called “How to Give Dogs the Best Lives Possible in a Human World,” I wrote about how we can make the world better for dogs based on advice from researchers and trainers. 

Think about it: We teach dogs that they can’t pee or poop wherever they want. To eliminate, they must get our attention and ask for permission to go outside the house. When we go outside, we often restrain dogs with a leash or fence them within yards or parks. Dogs eat what and when we feed them, and they are scolded if they eat what or when we say they shouldn’t. Dogs play with the toys we give them, and they get in trouble for turning our shoes and furniture into toys. Most of the time, our schedule and relationships determine who dogs play with and who their friends will be. One way to relieve stress, your dog’s and perhaps your own, is to get down and dirty with them, and show your dog how much you love them and want them to enjoy themselves as much as possible. 

Scotland’s ban has wide-ranging beneficial effects for dog-human interactions: It’s not shocking to know dogs don’t want to be shocked

The forthcoming ban on electric shock collars in Scotland is not only a great move for the well-being of dogs, but also is a wonderful catalyst for generating important discussions about what and who dogs want and need. And, it’s clear, they surely do not want to be tormented and harmed by these inhumane devices. In addition to the quotation with which I began this short essay, Scotland’s Environment Secretary, Roseanna Cunningham, also stated, “I will therefore be issuing strong Ministerial guidance on the use of all painful training devices for courts to take into consideration in any cases brought before them regarding unnecessary suffering through the use of these devices.”

There simply is no reason to cause pain to teach dogs how to live with us. Mutual respect and tolerance go a long way in developing and maintaining positive relationships between dogs and humans, and it’s surely not at all shocking to know that dogs don’t want to be shocked into submission or fear. Who would?

We impose a lot of demands imposed on dogs, day in and day out. We need to do all we can to reduce them to a minimum or to try to eliminate them totally. Kudos to Scotland for making this move. 

We are most fortunate to have dogs in our lives, and we must work for the day when all dogs are most fortunate to have us in their lives. In the long run, we’ll all be better for it and it’ll be win-win for all.

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