Head halters or haltis
*** Please read fully before making comments. ***
So a guardian surmised this perfectly: “Until I knew about Truelove Harnesses, I felt the only way I could walk my dog was with a halti for fear of being pulled over. I never enjoyed using it and did wonder about the damage it could potentially cause.”
For the purpose of this blog I will refer to halters/ haltis as halters to clear any confusion as I have found in Europe we seem to say “halti” as the brand and in the US the term halter is used. So to make this internationally friendly I am just going to use the term halter.
I would like to clarify as well. I am a full time wheelchair user and I also have arthritis in my shoulders and very limited feeling or sensation in my hands. I use Y Front Harnesses.
I don't think I've spoken to one fear or force opposed professional who has ever said, haltis are fine as a permanent solution. Instead what's normally said is: “although we understand the risk and damage from haltis etc we make it clear that we need to get it off and replaced with a Y Front harness as soon as possible.”
This is very much lesser known information across search engines and scholar papers, trust me I have searched over many hours over many months before completing this blog.
Head halter's can cause severe damage to our dogs. They are a tool that's been designed to "stop dogs from pulling" by altering dogs movement into a way that suppresses their natural behaviours.
They are merely a crutch to make walking easier for dog guardians and most trainers can agree are a very aversive tool and some even claim worse than other aversive tools.
This maybe news for you, this may come as a shock and this maybe upsetting, this information isn't personal or aimed at anyone as individuals, this information is factual and here to improve your dogs welfare.
Sadly there is very little research available as to the damage of these tools, but after much sleuthing, I have found some gems of information to help inform you.
A craniosacral therapist has done a lot of research on the use of head halters and found them to be very harmful in their research of the cranial area and the physiology of the dog. Which is exactly the information I was seeking to pass along.
Halters are rarely fitted well, the halter isn't actually designed for the dog's anatomy, the dog can suffer injuries within the head and neck areas unknown to the guardian, trainer and even the vet! Dog's can still try to express natural behaviours and be adversely inhibited by the halter causing injury.
Over time physically this can lead to serious misalignment of the cranial and facial bones possibly resulting in further symptoms such as headaches, ear ache, blurred vision, impaired swallowing, breathing problems, difficulty swallowing, chewing food, altered mood and much more! (1)
Recent research was done at Nottingham Trent University recently in 2020. The research found that guardians themselves are concerned as to the damage that flat collars are doing to their beloved companions, likening the pressure to that of a tourniquet. (1)
More research was conducted by the Myerscough college. Using temperature as a guide to navigate the emotions of the dog's they were able to work with 22 dogs to assess the changes in temperatures. They did this by using thermal imaging and focused on the areas of the dog's body that indicate stress levels and changes in stress. Dogs' core temperatures will change drastically according to whether they are about to go into a state of fight or flight.
A baseline was used from taking the dogs ear temperature before beginning, they used 21 pet dogs in total and used Y Front harnesses and head halter's.
The findings were that the temperatures of the dog's drastically fell when the halter's were used, which indicated extreme stress.
Physical body language communication could be seen too such as yawning and lip licking, which all points to the damage to the welfare of the dogs.
The dogs had not experienced harnesses before either but they did not attempt to shake or roll to take them off whereas 62% of the dog's attempted to remove the halter, by face rubbing, pawing or shaking the halter off. (2)
Internally the dogs have lots of nerves, specifically the halter affects the cranial nerves, these govern the eyes, ears, throat and nose. They become stretched, distorted and tweaked with the damage to them and the changes in the bone structure.
This can be temporary or permanent depending on whether the bones can realign on their own or whether they become permanently altered. More often than not due to the bones locking into this position, this becomes permanent.
The vagus nerve also runs through the cranial nerves, the vagus nerve travels beyond the throat to the lungs, heart and digestive organs, it also controls swallowing, barking, breathing and regulating the heart.
All body functions in every organism is regulated and controlled by the brain, the cranial nerves are direct extensions of the brain, they send information to all areas of the body.
Trauma whether acute or chronic can negatively impact a dogs health and make life altering changes, making the dog extremely ill. (3)
Suzanne Clothier shares that head halters can compromise dog welfare, even if the dog seemingly gives into the halter . Sharing an experience from her own blog "The problem with head halters."
Suzanne shares that a Labrador was happy and enthusiastic on entering a class and playing tug, when the halter was put on, the dog became very depressed, tail tucked, head lowered and no longer interested in engaging with the trainer who she had previously been playing with. This is a stark contrast from a dog who was previously alert, engaged and happy.
The halter for dogs is also likened to that of the halters used on cows and horses. Whereas halters sit along the long bones of the horse and cows face and away from the eyes, many halters for dogs ride into their eyes causing further discomfort, because when it comes down to it the canine anatomy isn't designed for halters.
Dogs also use their muzzles for their communications, not just amongst their own species but to also engage in the environment and to communicate with us too.
The damage that halter's can do are soft tissue injuries, damage to the spine and cervical bones. (I'll expand on this further along).
Dogs are also not prepared for the jerk that the halter will give, when the human stops and because of the halter working in the way that it does, it's too easy for the human to not be engaged. The halter is merely a crutch and not solving the behaviour or teaching the dog anything at all, but when the human stops unaware of their dog's movements, the halter can snap the dog's head back both sideways and upwards. Or as many of us have seen when the halter is used to jerk the dog deliberately if they try to engage with the environment.
When people have argued that dogs can also go through this in other activities, Suzanne argues that when the dog is aware of a situation, they can engage their muscles and brace for the situation by the brain telling them to, just like us when we engage our muscles in preparation for an abrupt stop or climbing stairs. halter's do not give dogs this grace, thus causing severe injuries in dogs. (3)
Halters are punishment, they are an aversive tool and with this comes adverse effects to emotional safety for dogs. Many trainers including Kommetijie Canine College have shared their experiences of seeing dogs suppressed and emotionally shut down due to head halters. Despite still going through the motions of taking treats and not reacting, this is only due to the suppression of the halter . Which you can read here https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=pfbid02BEc9YJoDhUMvykRK7ijKnK46nr6RyFyxGXeUH419UXqBcyh5CauKsQosZyK5QXqNl&id=857426880942607&sfnsn=scwspmo
From the study by Myerscough college it was found that the dogs were adversely affected in their behaviour and behaviours that guardians believed they could Control with a halter such as lunging at dogs, vehicles and people and the study found the halter actually increased this behaviour.
It was also considered that the dogs were forming associations of anxiety with the leash due to the pressure that the halter applied to them and the negative emotions that they experienced on walks. (4)
It should be considered that using head halters cause discomfort to the facial area for dogs both externally and internally. (5
Although scientific research is limited, as we have seen scientific evidence is available, as well as of course information shared from trainers, behaviourists and a craniosacral therapist.
So what's the answer? Use a Y shape harness, with a front and back clip attachment. Find a Trainer who can help you to learn to enjoy walks with your dog, communicate with them, engage with them and safely walk together.
If you need help finding the right harness for you we have guides within the Do No Harm Dog Training Group and I also have a tutorial for you to condition your dog to a harness safely. https://youtu.be/D3c5HeSrmK8
Draw what you can from this blog, but please let the take away be the negative effects to both emotional and physical welfare of your dogs when a halter is used.
Page one image: Anatomical diagrams muscle location and bone names from Micheau, Dr.A. and Hoa, Dr.D. (2022) Canine myology: Normal anatomy: Vet-anatomy, IMAIOS. Available at: https://www.imaios.com/en/vet-anatomy/dog/dog-myology
Page two image: Suboccipital Muscle Group reference Chau, L. (2022) Suboccipital Muscle Group: Radiology Reference Article, Radiopaedia. Available at: https://radiopaedia.org/articles/suboccipital-Muscle-Group
Page two image: temporal, masseter and pterygoideus medialis muscle. Stone , I. (2023) Don’t use a head halter unless you have to: What you need to know, Simpawtico Dog Training. Available at: https://www.simpawtico-training.com/dont-use-a-head-halter/ (Accessed: 08 October 2023).
Anatomical diagrams muscle location and bone names from Micheau, Dr.A. and Hoa, Dr.D. (2022) Canine myology: Normal anatomy: Vet-anatomy, IMAIOS. Available at: https://www.imaios.com/en/vet-anatomy/dog/dog-myology
Page three image: Anatomical diagrams nerve locations and names from Micheau, Dr.A. and Hoa, Dr.D. (2022) Canine myology: Normal anatomy: Vet-anatomy, IMAIOS. Available at: https://www.imaios.com/en/vet-anatomy/dog/dog-myology
Page four image: Vagus nerve diagram Palazzi, X., Pardo, I. D., Ritenour, H., Rao, D. B., Bolon, B., & Garman, R. H. (2022). A technical guide to sampling the beagle dog nervous system for general toxicity and neurotoxicity studies. Toxicologic Pathology, 50(4), 432–465. https://doi.org/10.1177/01926233221099300
Skeleton: a diagram of a dog like a German shepherd showing the skeletal system to the last rib of the rib cage. The arrows point to the: hyoid bones, occiput bone, mandibular joint and cervical vertebrae.
The first black splat which is a text box reads: The bones in the skull area can become negatively impacted and even altered due to the pressure from a halti device. Damage to the hyoid bones can impact swallowing and vocalisations. https://www.simpawtico-training.com/dont-use-a-head-halter/
Muscles: a diagram of a dog like a German shepherd showing the skeletal system to the last rib of the rib cage. The muscles in the jaw area are highlighted in red. The arrows point to the: temporalis muscle, rectus captitulation dorsalis, semispinalis capitis, masseter muscle, pterygoideus medialis muscle, Obliquus capitulation cranialis and the Obliiquus capitis caudalis muscle.
The black splat which is a text box reads: These groups of muscles can become tender and sore, contribute to headaches, earaches and general aches and pain around the facial muscles.
This condition is medically known as TMJ disorder or Temporomandibular joint disorder. Stone , I. (2023) Don’t use a head halter unless you have to: What you need to know, Simpawtico Dog Training. Available at: https://www.simpawtico-training.com/dont-use-a-head-halter/
The second black splat which is a text box reads: This is the suboccipital muscle group, these four muscles are paired, three of these muscles form the suboccipital triangle.
They are found below the occipital bone, they are the postural support for the head. They are also responsible for extending, lateral flexion and rotation. They are small muscles that act in unison. Chau, L. (2022) Suboccipital Muscle Group: Radiology Reference Article, Radiopaedia. Available at: https://radiopaedia.org/articles/suboccipital-muscle-group
Nerves: a diagram of a dog like a German shepherd showing the skeletal system to the last rib of the rib cage. The nerves of the dog affected by halters are highlighted. The nerves are listed below.
The first black splat which is a text box reads: 12 canine cranial nerves, 1. Olfactory nerve, 2. Optic Nerve, 3. Oculomotor nerve, 4. Trochlear nerve, 5. Trigeminal nerve - branches are the ophthalmic nerve, maxillary nerve and mandibular nerve, 6. Abducens nerve, 7. Facial nerve, 8. Vestibulocochlear nerve, 9. Glossopharyngeal nerve, 10. Vagus nerve (see below), 11.Accessory nerve, 12.Hypoglossal nerve. Admin, V. (2016, July 18). Cranial nerves. Veterian Key. https://veteriankey.com/cranial-nerves/
The second black splat which is a text box reads: Vomeronasal nerve also known as the Jacobson organ. This is a specialised sensory nerve which connects the vomeronasal organ within the nasal cavity to the brain. This nerve detects chemical signatures and pheromones, dogs are able to process the information and communicate thanks to this nerve! Dzięcioł, M., Podgórski, P., Stańczyk, E., Szumny, A., Woszczyło, M., Pieczewska, B., Niżański, W., Nicpoń, J., & Wrzosek, M. A. (2020). MRI features of the vomeronasal organ in dogs (canis familiaris). Frontiers in Veterinary Science, 7. https://doi.org/10.3389/fvets.2020.00159
Vagus nerve:Nerves: a diagram of a dog like a German shepherd showing the skeletal system to the last rib of the rib cage. The vagus nerve of the dog is highlighted in blue. The vagus nerve runs from the stem of the brain to the stomach.
The first black splat which is a text box reads: The vagus nerve also directly communicates with the gut and is responsible for controlling how the body responds to stimuli. Such as "rest and digest" and "freeze, fight and flight".
The second black splat which is a text box reads: Has the largest concentration of tissue after the brain and the spinal cord. The vagus nerve also has its own nervous system independent of the brain.
The third black splat which is a text box reads:
The vagus nerve is connected directly to the brain and is responsible for connecting and regulating internal organ functions. The vagus nerve is also responsible for some involuntary reflexes. Breit, S., Kupferberg, A., Rogler, G., & Hasler, G. (2018, March 13). Vagus nerve as modulator of the brain-gut axis in psychiatric and inflammatory disorders. Frontiers in psychiatry. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5859128/
There is no such thing as bad behaviour in dogs, there is only behaviour.
Dogs are a different species to humans and when we bring them into our home we are essentially adopting a baby or child and entering into an unwritten contract that we are now this baby’s guardian.
What many don’t understand, still today in 2023. We need to adopt this understanding that there is no “nipping” behaviour in the bud, “stopping” behaviour, “punishing” behaviour etc.
We have to understand and accept that we have chosen to bring a different species into our home to become a member of our family. We are responsible for their welfare, medical needs, emotions and care.
Behaviours many deem as bad are behaviours such as: barking, chewing, stealing items, worktop surfing, running off, no recall, digging, animal chasing, not engaging, humping, rough play, showing emotions, fights with other dogs, expression of behaviour that show that they are not feeling OK, which can escalate to a bite. This isn’t an exhaustive list but a general summary of what we see.
We have to understand their needs as a species. All of the behaviour ls above are normal for dogs to express.
It is important to understand that there are biological needs which means a dog may exhibit behaviours such as digging, opportunistic behaviours of worktop surfing, pulling on the lead, sniffing, not engaging, barking, no recall etc.
Then there are behaviours which are a communication of emotion, such as anxiety, separation anxiety, resource guarding – anxiety that the item they have will be taken, growling – needing space, anxious, unsure, frightened. Lunging, barking or trying to attack other dogs, an expression of an emotion and normally because they have been put over threshold and their space invaded with lack of advocacy from their human. (Or in a lousy position because of irresponsible guardians and off lead dogs or arrogance).
Behaviour is fluid, there is no simple answer to any of the above because so much has to be considered and taken into consideration to help the dog if the behaviour could be further affecting them in an adverse way and teaching you the guardian alternative behaviours for an outlet which doesn’t bother you or give you the understanding of your dogs behaviour.
It is important to heal a dog’s emotions instead of focusing on fixing their behaviour because behaviour is often a symptom of an underlying emotional issue. If a dog is exhibiting unwanted behaviour, it usually means they are feeling anxious, stressed, frustrated, or fearful.
It can also mean there is pain, many people say that their dog is fine, however pain is fluid and dogs are stoic, boosters are not a full health check at the Vets, and many guardians find within a health check the vet is only seeking isolation pain and not looking for chronic pain or setting up exams where the dog is addressed as an individual, working with you the guardian to rule out or address medical causes of changes of behaviour. There are many ways that a full vet check can be fully encompassing of your dog as an individual.
Simply correcting the behaviour without addressing the emotional or medical root cause may lead to temporary improvement, but the underlying emotional issue will remain. This could result in the dog developing other unwanted behaviours or the original behaviour resurfacing in the future. This is also like someone correcting you for a fear of spiders or feeling anxious about a situation. It isn’t humane, so it isn’t right to do this to a dog.
When you do this, your dog will either go into shut down, learn you are not a support system and feel that they have to escalate themselves. Leaving them in a state of learned helplessness.
Healing a dog’s emotions involves identifying and addressing the underlying emotional issue. This can be done through learning about healing the emotions, desensitisation and counterconditioning, creating a positive and safe environment, and providing the dog with plenty of exercise and mental stimulation. By addressing the emotional issue, the dog will naturally begin to exhibit positive and desirable behaviours.
Ultimately, healing a dog’s emotions not only helps them feel better and lead happier lives, but it also creates a stronger bond between the dog and you.
When a dog becomes over threshold, it means that they have surpassed their threshold for stress and arousal. At this point, their emotional state has taken over, and they are no longer able to process information and respond to cues.
From a holistic perspective, this can be explained by the complex interactions between a dog’s physical, emotional, mental, and overall welfare and biological needs. When a dog becomes over threshold, their sympathetic nervous system takes over, triggering the “fight or flight” response. At this point, the dog’s body is flooded with stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, which can impair their cognitive function, cause physical changes such as increased heart rate and blood pressure, and limit their ability to focus and learn.
Their body is also becoming physically drained at this point and something not often considered or widely known is that your dog can become poorly and need medical care due to being in situations which cause their body to go through so much stress. Which is why it is so important to move away from the ideology of fixing the dog and instead healing the dog.
To prevent a dog from becoming over threshold, it is important to understand their individual triggers and manage their environment and emotional state. This can involve creating a calm and predictable routine, providing plenty of exercise and mental stimulation, using positive reinforcement training methods, and avoiding situations or stimuli that are known to trigger stress and anxiety.
Overall, holistic approaches to understanding and managing your dog’s behaviour includes considering their physical, emotional, mental, and welfare as interconnected and vital to their overall health and happiness. By addressing all aspects of a dog’s well-being, it may be possible to prevent over threshold responses and help them learn and respond to cues more effectively.
Guardians, listen to your dog’s communications because it is the only way to truly understand your dog’s needs and emotions. Dogs communicate in a variety of ways, including body language, vocalisations, and behaviour. By paying attention to these communications, guardians can develop a deeper understanding of their dog’s personality, likes and dislikes, and needs.
Some common dog communication signals include tail wagging, barking, growling, displaying teeth, licking, yawning, and avoiding eye contact. For example, a dog that is wagging their tail while their ears are pressed back and their body is stiff may be communicating anxiety or fear, rather than happiness. Similarly, a dog that is growling or displaying their teeth may be communicating discomfort or aggression, rather than being “mean”.
By learning to read your dog’s communication signals, you can better meet your dog’s needs and avoid situations that may be overwhelming or stressful for your dog. This can help build a stronger bond between you and your dog, and lead to a happier and healthier relationship.
Additionally, listening to a dog’s communications can help reduce the risk of dog bites or other aggressive behaviours. By recognizing when a dog is uncomfortable or anxious, you can take steps to prevent a situation from escalating and avoid putting yourself, them or others in danger.
If you don’t like species appropriate behaviours such as digging, chewing, destruction, stealing items, lack of engagement it’s time to work with your dog and address these needs rather than working against them or punishing. Provide a dig pit and an area dedicated to their digging needs, provide natural chews as an outlet for their chewing needs, set up destruction boxes and enrichment that is mentally stimulating, play with your dog, train them through games and become exciting to them. Use high value treats. High value toys. Be interesting to them, help them to want to communicate with you rather than going self employed.
Begin to understand your dog and their needs to enjoy your dog for the amazing species and individual that they are.
For further reading on meeting your dogs needs as an individual and understanding the Importance of an holistic doctrine you can read previous blogs here:
Importance of keeping journals https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=pfbid02Fygmws8SALEge3QME5JhjiKoh2hBaMFj8mYAbiVaT3eoUxSXs5SyuWRf1rf5UJ55l&id=100057373879884
Image description: A six window comic strip. The first left hand window has a blue background and a grey and cream Wolfdog holding a purple ear torn teddy in his mouth. A star label text says:stealing items.
The left bottom window has a grey Wolf Dog play bowing, dragging a purple blanket with a brown half eaten shoe. With a green background. A star label text box reads: chewing. There is also a cloud with thunderbolts. The text inside reads: There are only needs: biological, emotional, social,cognitive & force free needs. Linda Michaels MA.
The top centre window is red with a cream and grey Wolfdog digging in soil and the soil is flying everywhere. The spiky text box reads: digging.
The next window on the final column, has a green background and a cream and grey Wolfdog with her back to the screen and her head turned over her shoulder. The spiky text box says: ignoring.
The window underneath this has a pink background and a grey and cream Wolfdog with piloerection, growling, facing into the centre. The spiky text box reads: growling.
The final window on the bottom right hand side is a blue background with a cream and grey Wolfdog lying in a submissive position with ears back and a grey Wolfdog over her in a playful stance on grass. The spiky text box reads: rough play.
The last few weeks I have explored the Five Freedoms/ domains and the Animal Welfare Act 2006.
Under the Animal Welfare Act all Animals have the rights to:
Freedom from hunger, thirst or malnutrition
Freedom from discomfort
To be able to exhibit normal behaviours
Freedom from fear and distress
To be protected from pain, suffering, disease and illnesses.
In this blog I will be sharing my opinion of what the five freedoms and the animal welfare act means to me.
In an ideal world the dog training industry would be regulated and dog trainers and behaviourist would be protected titles with external verification and a pledge to do no harm, just like the hippocratic oath.
It really puzzles me that we have the above law in the UK and very rarely see it in action, if the law was followed to the letter, pet shops would be regulated and would look very different, and the pet food industry would be regulated. Veterinary practices would also look very different with stronger regulation and holistic practitioners would also have to be regulated.
Anyone can currently and does set up a Facebook page overnight and claim to be an experienced dog trainer, behaviourist, walker, hydrotherapist, physiotherapist, nutritionist, groomer and the list goes on and on and on.
Voluntary dog training membership organisations leave a lot to be desired, with some having much better standards than others and much better education opportunities than others.
If the dog world is in disarray amongst professionals, what about the poor guardians trying to navigate who to hire, what food to give, which vet to use, which veterinary advice to follow and which to challenge. How many times do they accept a diagnosis of “you are an over dramatic dog owner?”
What about the “dog professional” who promises a quick fix via aversion and compulsion based methods? What about other professionals that leave a lot to be desired and the ethics are not quite in line with what their website states? What about those who have faked qualifications?
This is why I feel the UK needs a massive shake up! Dog professionals need to be externally verified independent of their organisation. Their title needs to be protected. All organisations must follow one ethos and as soon as there are concerns, this is immediately investigated.
All professionals have a duty of care to then best educate guardians to which is ethically moral and sound for the welfare for dogs.
No we cannot prevent all illnesses, diseases and negative experiences but can we be a part of a solution instead of the problem? Absolutely! If people were genuine and waited to shadow, learn, gain qualifications and become certified (not offer student discount rates - unethical) and organisations policed their members harder and all professionals agreed to abide by the law there would be no shock collars, prongs, chokes, harnesses that compress organs, air horns, sprays or the whole list of horrible devices.
But until the UK government knows what a shock collar is and what it does, understand how a prong works and the Prime minister himself stopped using a slip lead. Well.
It's up to those of us wholly committed to ethical dog welfare standards that need to steer the industry. To educate guardians and keep guiding guardians into the right direction so that the Animal Welfare Act 2006 is never broken and dog welfare is a priority not a “the dog must obey so the law doesn't exist.”
Anyone of us who is properly educated, part of a membership organisation, properly insured and can sleep at night knowing we are doing our best with gentle methods with welfare at the forefront of our work. We know we are our authentic selves. Those who might be cringing. Well. It's never too late to become a better and honest person. If you can't do that you don't belong in our industry.
Image description: A three pane comic strip. The top left window has a yellow orange background with a grey and cream Wolfdog. The Wolfdog is saying "Dick the pr@&k invented shock collars in 1973... 50 years later thanks to evolution... The bottom left window has a grey and cream Wolfdog with a thought hubble behind him with electronic peices as a blueprint. The final window on the right which is one window has a blue background with the comic ZAP with lightning and a WTF in comic style. The Wolfdog is holding a paw to his chin looking thoughtful, his thought bubble is a skeleton with an electric shock collar being zapped!
Freedom from pain, suffering, disease and illnesses - one of the five freedoms of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 UK
Freedom from pain, suffering, disease and illnesses - one of the five freedoms of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 UK
Under the Animal Welfare Act all Animals have the rights to:
Freedom from hunger, thirst or malnutrition
Freedom from discomfort
To be able to exhibit normal behaviours
Freedom from fear and distress
To be protected from pain, suffering, disease and illnesses.
As it is such a big topic I'll explore each freedom within each blog.
Freedom from pain, suffering, disease and illnesses. This is another big one for me. One of the most misunderstood needs when addressing a change in behaviour is working through a process of elimination, beginning with a Vet check to rule out pain and illness as this can and does cause changes in behaviour.
Many guardians think that a booster appointment is the same as a Vet check. It isn't. Within a Vet check we are potentially looking at a full cbc (complete blood count) tweaked as needed for the individual dog so the blood test may actually be looking for more. A urinalysis to rule out any problems with the kidneys and liver or is there any information from the urine during analysis.
Your annual check up may look different if you have a senior dog, where further tests are done such as a cbc and urinalysis for example.
However in the years before the senior years, if you book an independent full vet check or wellness exam, you may already be aware that as well as checking over the body, they will listen to the heart and the lungs, take their temperature, check their pulse rate and respiratory rate. Feel the abdomen and limbs, check their teeth, eyes and ears. They may also take your dog's weight or do a body score. They may also do a rectal exam and check that there are no problems with the anal glands, they may also check their reflexes and watch their movements around the consultation room for a gait analysis. They may also do faecal exams, heartworm tests and possibly give parasite prevention if you purchase this from the vets.
The vet may also ask you about their routine and diet, so the vet can establish what is normal for your individual dog.
If your dog appears unwell or there is a change in behaviour you may find that they need to then explore a cbc and look at other diagnostic tests which can include the above or more depending on your individual dog.
When we advise guardians to have a Vet check when there is a behaviour change, many guardians say that they have just had their boosters so they don't understand why we are recommending a Vet check. This is on all of us as professionals to guide guardians through the above expected process for their dogs health and well being.
Working holistically we can also pull in the services and help across a multidisciplinary team of a nutritionist, hydrotherapist, canine chiropractor, physio, groomer and homoeopaths.
It is clear that it isn't the fault of anyone if a dog is taken ill or injured and that just like for humans being unwell or injured is a part of life.
However the five freedoms brought attention to the avoidance of negative welfare states which can reduce the likelihood of illness, disease and injury. By improving welfare standards, for example Vaccinations, titre tests, health screening and scores, keeping dogs indoors (as opposed to residing outdoors),with a highly nutritious diet, access to fresh water and in a safe environment was the first step in reducing the risk.
It was also identified within the five freedoms that affects and affective states also contribute to the unwellness or imbalances to the internal physical and functional wellness of animals. If you refer back to this blog: Freedom from distress you can read more about affects and affective states. https://www.facebook.com/100057373879884/posts/847933643795757/
There is also another negative affect, which can affect dogs' health and wellness, which are the negative emotions that dogs can experience such as fear, anxiety, panic, frustration, anger, helplessness, depression, boredom and loneliness. The negative emotional states can cause unwellness in dogs just like it does with us. This has been evidenced by the sciences of neuroscience, behavioural and physiological. (2) Remembering that dogs also have mental health needs like us and can become physically unwell due to poor mental health.
So when a behaviourist begins by building a history form and a consult with lots of questions which can sometimes feel time consuming or irrelevant, it is because of the model of the five domains. To understand your dog as an individual in order to understand the why of the behaviour. Much like calling 111 and the speaker says “some of these questions may seem irrelevant.”(3)
It is also really important that we note within this freedom that there is a difference between surviving and thriving. For example the absolute minimum of keeping a dog alive and allowing them to thrive. For example puppy mills, where the dogs are given the absolute minimum to simply stay alive, we know that these dogs and their puppies are absolutely not in a state of thriving.
It is also important to note that dogs can be chronically over or underfed, exposed to bad and or extremes of weather, suffer with chronic injuries or infections and still be alive. (4)
It's important to understand that the phrase “when you know better you do better” is kept in mind here, my intention is not to offend or upset anyone, nor for anyone to feel bad. I raise this awareness and share this knowledge so that you have access to it.
I feel as a professional I have a duty of care to enable guardians and colleagues as much as possible, to have as much knowledge as possible. This will only enable better dog welfare when you have this information in a summarised and easy to understand format for everyone.
Many guardians and in fact professionals do not have this knowledge, nor do they know what to ask a Vet for, within a full health check and there is no shame in that. It is not easy to find this information and have it in terms that are not clinical.
Hopefully by sharing this knowledge you now feel you have a much wider understanding and can educate friends, family and colleagues about their own animals they share their home with.
If you are ever concerned about the welfare of someone's animal within the UK please contact the RSPCA https://www.rspca.org.uk/utilities/contactus/reportcruelty this will take you to a landing page to signpost you to the relavent service. The RSPCA is often overwhelmed with calls nationwide so utilising the website and even their chat button can help them to learn of your concern and take measures to further contact you. You can report concerns anonymously.
In the next and final blog concerning the Five freedoms I will be wrapping up with a summary and how we can help dogs now, with small changes!
1. Broom D.M. Cognitive ability and awareness in domestic animals and decisions about obligations to animals. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 2010;126:1–11. doi: 10.1016/j.applanim.2010.05.001.
2. Panksepp J. Affective consciousness: Core emotional feelings in animals and humans. Conscious. Cogn. 2005;14:30–80. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2004.10.004.
Gregory N.G. Physiology and Behaviour of Animal Suffering. Blackwell Science; Oxford, UK: 2004.
3. Mellor D.J., Beausoleil N.J. Extending the ‘Five Domains’ model for animal welfare assessment to incorporate positive welfare states. Anim. Welfare. 2015;24:241–253. doi: 10.7120/096272220.127.116.11.
McMillan F.D. Maximising quality of life in ill animals. J. Am. Anim. Hosp. Assoc. 2003;39:227–235. doi: 10.5326/0390227.
Mellor D.J., Beausoleil N.J. Extending the ‘Five Domains’ model for animal welfare assessment to incorporate positive welfare states. Anim. Welfare. 2015;24:241–253. doi: 10.7120/09627218.104.22.168.
4. Edgar J.L., Mullan S.M., Pritchard J.C., McFarlane U.J.C., Main D.C.J. Towards a ‘good life’ for farm animals: Development of a resource tier framework to achieve positive welfare for laying hens. Animals. 2013;3:584–605. doi: 10.3390/ani3030584.
Mellor D.J. Animal emotions, behaviour and the promotion of positive welfare states. N. Z. Vet. J. 2012;60:1–8. doi: 10.1080/00480169.2011.619047.
Appleby M.C., Mench J.A., Olsson J.A.S., Hughes B.A., editors. Animal Welfare. 2nd ed. CAB International; Wallingford, UK: 2011.
Grandin T., editor. Improving Animal Welfare: A Practical Approach. 2nd ed. CAB International; Boston, MA, USA: 2015.
Webster J., editor. Management and Welfare of Farm Animals. UFAW Farm Handbook. Wiley-Blackwell; Chichester, UK: 2011.
I am so honoured to have won the Prestige Awards again this year for the Best dog training and behaviourist services Lincolnshire! I am also super pleased to share I came runner up for the The Pet Professional Guild Homeward Bound Summit competition! I want to give special thanks to Claire Elvin and Paul of Bilsby Dog Field and Bilsby Canine Hydrotherapy for allowing me to submit Riff Raffs case study for the competition. As this is such a personal and tremendous journey that you have allowed me to share and Riff Raff is just awesome. Thankyou!
For Miyagis Dog Training