The conversation about animal cruelty is not a new topic. Yulin dog meat festival, slaughter houses, puppy mills, and individual offenders have been covered in social media and are at the heart of the debate about animal welfare in general –globally and in recent years, in Cambodia.
Yet, when it comes to “training” your pet – cat or dog – the training methods get rather vague. Many pet owners wonder how to toilet train their dogs, get them to stop chewing on furniture, or barking. And many of us, instinctively smack the animal – even ever so lightly – to stop them from continuing the negative behaviours.
This week we received the dog who could not walk. The dog seemed to be in a lot of pain and very distressed. The owner, very genuinely worried, said that the dog began to show the symptoms rather suddenly. After further discussion at what could have led to this, the owner said that it did happen a day after he punished the dog because it kept peeing everywhere in the house. So he hit the dog with a stick.
Obviously, there is no way I would ever condone hitting an animal. In this case, I can easily jump into conclusion that this is a cruel person who should not have a dog; I can judge the owner as cruel and uncaring. But I was there in the room when the owner stood over his dog, in tears, not sure what to do and once we explained to him the repercussions of the physical trauma for the spine and further implications on the dog’s mobility and wellbeing – he almost broke into tears.
So, I dare say that the problem here is not in this one individual, but rather in how the society perceives the training of animals, especially stopping the unwanted behavior, such as peeing or chewing on shoes. And in Cambodia, it is almost always carried out in form of physical violence to some degree.
Animal behaviorists and trainers have been telling us, all this while, that punishment such as this does not work. Awful treatment like hitting or slapping the dog brings no results. In fact, this type of discipline, according to many studies tends to build fear and aggression in a dog instead.
There are other highly effective forms of behavior corrections that do not involve violence of any kind. Instead, according to dog trainers and animal behaviorists, taking away something that the dog enjoys is often enough to convey a message that the behavior is not OK. According to the experts, “to employ this method of punishment effectively, you must take away something the dog highly values. Typically, the simple act of removing a valuable item from your dog, be it a favourite toy or a flavourful treat, is enough to get your point across while still retaining affection between you and your pet.”
Few things are necessary to remember when you are using this method is to ensure that the dog understands why he is being punished. First, the appropriate timing: catching your dog 10 minutes after he peed or chewed a shoe and applying this punishment will not lead to results. “Catching your dog’s inappropriate behaviour in the act is key for this to work.” Timing is everything in this training process: you must correct the behaviour using either punishment (as described above) or positive reward within seconds after the behaviour or your dog may not create the association between the correct action you want him to follow.
Do not forget that positive reward for good behaviour combined with the “punishment” works wonders. In fact, most dog trainers employ both techniques in their approach. In other words, reward your dog for good behaviour and combine it with simple verbal short praises immediately (“good dog!” Or “well done!”) after the desired behaviour occurs. It creates an association of the behaviour and the reward in your dog’s memory. Likewise, when punishing bad behaviour simply take away your dog’s favourite toy or your affection (stop cuddling or hugging your dog when he is biting or barking) to create the association between bad behaviour and the punishment.
According to the SPCA training guidelines for companion pets, dogs do not understand sentences. So, “keep commands short and uncomplicated. The most commonly used dog commands are:
• watch me
• down (which means “lie down”)
• off (which means “get off of me” or “get off the furniture”)
• heel (which means “walk close to my side”)
• leave it
The other key element SPCA trainers stress on is consistency: “everyone in the family should use the same commands; otherwise, your dog may be confused. It might help to post a list of commands where everyone can become familiar with them.” Consistency also means that you always reward the desired behavior and never reward any undesired action displayed by your pet. And in the case of undesired behaviour you should employ the humane punishment method (such as removal of the favourite toy or your affection).
In short, hitting the animal or using any type of physical violence will bring no results, a lot of heartaches for you and stress for the dog. In severe cases, like with our recent client, the kicking or hitting may actually put the life of your dog at risk. Using ethical punishment to correct your dog and rewards to encourage good behaviour will keep you from unnecessarily hurting your pet. Rewarding your dog with a treat and removing something valuable to him when the dog is naughty is more effective and works very fast when done correctly.
Lastly, if you have a dog, please seek professional dog trainer’s help! There are few good and reputable trainers in Cambodia and they will not only train your dog, but will train you how to train and treat your dog. And of course there are plenty of on-line resources too – YouTube being one of them. Use all necessary means to keep away from using violence and keep your relationship with your pet safe and healthy.
Stay KIND !
Animal Mama® Animal Clinic & Welfare Centre provides a wide range of services for animals & pets: vet care, boarding, daycare, pet food & supplies, hydrotherapy, grooming and doggy play dates.
Please visit us at:
Villa #15, Street 500
Toul Tom Pong, Phnom Penh 12311