In the love we have for our dogs, concern for their welfare is inherent. Often times, this concern presents itself when our dogs are sick or injured, and we call the vet. But what else contributes to the welfare of our dogs besides addressing their physical needs?
Historically, the “Five Freedoms” have been considered the animal welfare standard (Conklin, 2014). These freedoms consist of the:
What do we as guardians need to do to minimize the negative experiences and states of dogs and, in addition, create positive ones? An important part of answering that question includes recognizing the affective states of dogs (and all nonhuman animals for that matter). Dawkins (2008) calls for “embracing a science of animal welfare that includes rather than excludes subjective feelings of suffering, pain and pleasure” (p. 937).
Unfortunately, there are many scenarios in which dogs experience negative welfare, some of which are less intuitive than others. For example, it’s expected for shelters to be stressful environments for dogs, but what about other kenneling situations like the boarding facility you take your dog when you go on vacation? Sales et al. (1997) reported that due to high noise levels, kennels may have negative welfare implications for dogs. The high noise levels could have various physiological effects including potentially damaging hearing.
Beerda, Schilder, van Hooff & de Vries (1997) discussed poor housing conditions could contribute to negative welfare as well as “harsh training sessions and uncontrollable or unpredictable social environments” (p. 307). I discuss how differences in dog training methods contribute to the creation of positive or negative welfare in a previous blog post. Negative welfare can cause acute or chronic stress and their associated behavioral and physiological parameters. Beerda et al. predicted that chronic stress is detrimental to the well-being of dogs (p. 317). Identifying stress can often easily done by simply reading canine body language.
When you do take your dog to the vet to have their physical health and welfare addressed, it's ironic just how much your dog may experience negative welfare emotionally and behaviorally. Dr. Karen Overall (2011) calls for a significant change in the veterinary industry:
“I want nothing less than to completely change the way we practice veterinary medicine. I want us to see our relationship with our patients as a partnership where we strive to understand them, meet their needs, and provide the best care possible… But we cannot do any of this if our first response is to compel dogs, cats, or any other species and their people to participate in procedures that scare or hurt them” (p. 105).
While movements like the Fear Free certification program demonstrate that the industry is headed in the right direction, Dr. Overall’s dream is far from a reality. However, you can teach your dog important skills to make vet visits less stressful. To learn more, check out our last blog post on how dogs learn!
Each dog has a “team” of humans who works to improve their welfare. This team should most certainly include a veterinarian but may also include other animal care professionals like a dog trainer, groomer, etc. As a your dog’s guardian, you are your dog’s most important team member. Don’t be afraid to advocate for your dog. Speak up if you believe they may be experiencing negative welfare and work with other team members to determine the best way to promote positive welfare.
Beerda, B., Schilder, M. B. H., van Hooff, J. A. R. A. M., & de Vries, H. W. (1997). Manifestations of chronic and acute stress in dogs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 52(3), 307–319. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0168-1591(96)01131-8
Conklin, T. (2014, February 25). An animal welfare history lesson on the Five Freedoms. Retrieved March 2, 2017, from http://msue.anr.msu.edu/news/an_animal_welfare_history_lesson_on_the_five_freedoms
Dawkins, M. S. (2008). The Science of Animal Suffering. Ethology, 114(10), 937–945. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1439-0310.2008.01557.x
Fear Free Certification. (2017). Retrieved March 5, 2017, from http://www.fearfreepets.com/fear_free/default.aspx
Mellor, D. J. (2016). Moving beyond the “Five Freedoms” by Updating the “Five Provisions” and Introducing Aligned “Animal Welfare Aims.” Animals, 6(10), 59. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani6100059
Overall, K. L. (2011). Behaviors as indices of welfare and why this is important. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 6(2), 105–107. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2011.02.002
Sales, G., Hubrecht, R., Peyvandi, A., Milligan, S., & Shield, B. (1997). Noise in dog kennelling: Is barking a welfare problem for dogs? Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 52(3), 321–329. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0168-1591(96)01132-X