Abusing Dogs

By Sean O’Shea

While typically we associate the abuse of dogs with denying them food, shelter, or physically harming them, the abuse I see in my work is far more common, insidious, and acceptable.

Why insidious? Because it’s abuse that is shared under the guise of love, caring, or just a lack of knowledge.

So many owners mistakenly associate leadership (creating a framework of rules and expectations), structure (daily habits, routines, patterns), and accountability (consequences for breaking known rules, or making poor choices in general) with being mean, nasty, and harsh. These owners just want to love their dogs – which is code for selfish/lazy behavior.

But here’s the thing, the only mean, nasty, or harsh thing is denying our dogs the framework and foundation they need to thrive and lead healthy, happy lives.

Owners who decide to forgo leadership, structure, and accountability are basically sentencing their dogs to a life of stress, anxiety, worry, over-arousal, uncertainty, pressure, and way too much responsibility.

And the dogs we see that live like this are every bit as abused and unhealthy as the more obvious and accepted forms.

What would you call constant stress when it’s avoidable? Constant anxiety when it’s avoidable? Constant worry when it’s avoidable? Constant over-arousal when it’s avoidable? Constant pressure when it’s avoidable? Constant responsibility when it’s avoidable?

I’d call it abuse.

Of course no one is hitting the dog, starving the dog, or leaving the dog out in the snow. These dogs likely have the best food, tons of “love”, and a nice cozy bed(s) to sleep on. And yet, they’re emotional wrecks.

If we allow dogs to be emotional disasters (which looks like chronic barking, possessive behavior, separation anxiety, hyper-reactivity, growling/lunging at triggers, maniacal on-leash behavior, maniacal indoor behavior, aggression etc) when we have the ability to change that and offer them something far better, isn’t that abuse?

If we allow our dogs to suffer when there are methods, approaches, and tools that can change all that, isn’t that abusive? Isn’t allowing suffering the same as causing suffering?

Now, if you’re hard at work with a challenging dog, or you’re working on turning a toxic relationship around, this isn’t aimed at you. You’ve got my full support. But if your dog is a wreck, and you prefer the easy, comfortable, lazy (or worst yet, chosen ignorance) approach to “dealing” with this, then this might be for you.

Abuse comes in many packages, and the package that is most pervasive isn’t the horrible, nasty, or unbelievable – it’s the every day, socially acceptable, loving, spoiling, allowing, permissive stuff that’s doing the most damage.

Remember, love isn’t about doing what’s easiest and most fun/comfortable/emotionally enjoyable for you. It’s about doing what’s best and healthiest for those in your charge – even when it’s hard or uncomfortable.

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  1. Nina Heathcote said:

    Lovely written Sean, keep ’em coming, you can’t say it often enough! (And certainly not as well formulated as you!! Still want that book of yours, you most definitely got what it takes!) /Nina x

  2. tuffy said:

    so true-well said!! love the last 2 paragraphs..
    ‘abuse’ is such a loaded word in this society, especially regarding animal training and handling, and you’ve definitely broken it down and unearthed the truth!

  3. Emily said:

    Right on! We are living/ training/ enjoying life with a Shepherd/ Husky mix. She is 8 months old. I spend a lot of time training, focused walking, and setting boundaries. Lots of work, lots of satisfaction!

  4. 3n said:

    How very odd…. I met a girl and her mother with a very overgrown, matted goldendoodle who never got walked. they were at their wits end about: barking, growling, jumping, humping, garbage, food-stealing, destruction, you name it.

    I asked for a piece of bacon and we went for a walk. He didn’t get to eat the bacon – when he did something laudable, he got to sniff and lick my bacon-scented fingers. When he did something I didn’t like, I spoke quietly and turned him around to head back home. He learned *very* quickly that the better he behaved, the longer he’d be outside.

    I told them they basically did the equivalent of thinking they should buy a Maserati because they grew up watching their parents drive a chevette. I gave them a few resources and a couple things to try and I’m going back next week to discuss formal owner training.


  5. cerbdogs said:

    I love this! Reminds me of a piece I did on amthropomorphizing dogs as an excuse for not setting boundaries.

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