Cruelty to dogs and the various forms that this, alongside of neglect and mistreatment can take is something that most dog owners try not to think about too much, and it can understandably be very hard for animal lovers to read news articles and other forms of media outlining the details of abuse cases. However, it is a good idea for all dog owners to develop a basic understanding of what constitutes abuse or cruelty to dogs, and know that this can come in various different guises as well as just physical punishment.
In this article, we will look at what does and does not constitute abuse or cruelty to dogs, what forms abuse comes in, and some of the grey areas that can lead to confusion. Read on to learn more.
The technical definition of abuse, and the one that we mean within the context of this article, is defined as “the improper use or treatment of an entity,” and can come in many different forms, including physical abuse, physical mistreatment, neglect, emotional mistreatment, denying or withholding essentials such as food or access to medicine, and in some extreme cases, sexual violations.
When it comes to physical abuse, some things are cut and dried, such as if a person deliberately hits or beats a dog in anger, with the purpose of causing them pain.
However, physical chastisement, such as negative reinforcement training techniques and minor physical forms of correction such as a single, moderated slap delivered to a misbehaving dog without aggression are not classed as physical abuse, even though these practices are largely frowned upon today, and are widely deemed to be both inappropriate and ineffective ways of managing a dog’s behaviour.
Emotional abuse is very complex, and often, harder to identify, as affected dogs will not display any outward signs of poor treatment. Shouting at or intimidating a dog in anger, even with no intention to strike them, can be considered to be emotional abuse, as can deliberately withholding food as a punishment, ruling by fear, or deliberately causing a dog to feel afraid, anxious or insecure.
Neglect is a form of abuse in and of itself, but rather than being able to be defined by clear, proactive activities such as hitting or deliberately intimidating the dog, neglect involves the absence of care, rather than the presence of abuse.
Neglect can take various forms including, but not limited to not providing enough food, not providing enough entertainment, stimulation, exercise or emotional support, failing to seek veterinary treatment for a sick animal, and abandoning a dog or essentially failing to care for a dog’s core needs.
Mistreatment can be even harder to define than either abuse or neglect, and tends to be the title used to cover any inappropriate behaviour that cannot be neatly filed under either abuse or neglect.
Feeding a dog a wholly inappropriate diet, administering medications or drugs not intended for dogs or not prescribed specifically to the dog in question, or otherwise doing anything to or with a dog that is both outside of the accepted norms and that has a direct negative impact on the dog in question can be classed as mistreatment, whether this mistreatment is malicious and deliberate or not.
As well as the above rather simplistic cut and dried explanations of what constitutes abuse, neglect and mistreatment, there are a whole range of things that fall under potentially grey areas where abuse is concerned as well. What may seem normal and acceptable to one person might seem wholly inappropriate to another, and there are almost an infinite number of examples of such things, such as negative reinforcement training, the use of dogs in medical and cosmetic trials, deliberately breeding for exaggerated appearance traits, and large-scale puppy farming mills being just a few of them.
The results of abuse, mistreatment and neglect can be complex and varied, and are rarely as simple as a clear-cut case of cause and direct effect, such as delivering a blow to a dog ending in them feeling short-term pain.
Physical abuse can of course lead to both immediate pain and more serious physical problems, but it doesn’t end there. A dog that has been physically abused will undergo a range of personality changes too, and will often become fearful, unruly and distrustful of humans, as well as potentially aggressive. A range of other behavioural problems that can accompany stress and fear, such as inappropriate urination, may also remain long after the physical effects of abuse have faded.
Emotional abuse in and of itself, as well as when present as a side effect of physical abuse, can be highly challenging to fully understand and resolve in affected dogs. Some dogs in rehoming shelters will have suffered from either physical or emotional abuse, neglect, mistreatment or all of these things, and shelter staff and the new adoptive owner of such dogs will possibly have to spend hundreds of hours working both passively and proactively to resolve the lingering effects of such treatment.
In some cases, dogs that have been badly abused will never recover enough to be able to be rehomed, and many dogs are euthanized every year for this very reason.
If you know or suspect that a dog is being mistreated, abused or otherwise incorrectly managed, speak out; contact the RSPCA and your local police force to investigate.