Freedom from fear and distress - 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 fear and distress. This is another big one for me. One of the main arguments we have as fear and force opposed holistic practitioners is the trauma we see from aversive and compulsion based methods.
We understand that clearly a dog just like a human will feel distress at points in their life, just as we do. It is unavoidable. (1,2) But how we manage that distress is the difference, do we comfort our dog and listen to their communication in time of distress and prevent a trauma from developing. Or do we punish and cause trauma?
This is the difference, using punishment with dogs suppresses emotion, does not allow for expression of normal behaviours, causes fear and distress. Which is breaking the law in the UK and other countries which also have the Animal Welfare Act and the five freedoms/ domains.
We also understand that fear and distress essentially protects animals, especially in times of vulnerability, for example prey animals. We also understand that there are physiological changes within the body which aids the animal to meet their biological need in that moment such as, thirst provokes the need to seek water, panic or the sensation of pain avoids injury and the feeling of hunger motivates the need to seek out food. So yes a dog will experience negative states in moments like these for their basic survival. (3)
We also have to be mindful of this, in order to stay within the law and ethically meet the biological needs of our dogs, we also have to ensure we aren't doing things like leaving food down all day, which can impede their function to seek food. We have to be mindful to work with prey drive and not totally inhibit it due to the release of oxytocin that dogs experience during the predation sequence.
It truly is a very fine balance to meet all of the biological needs, protect them from fear and harm, but to also meet their species specific needs so that they experience true species specific behaviours.
But what dogs are not evolved to or physically altered in their genetics and epigenetics is the tolerance of pain and fear from humans.
The use of electric shock collars, prongs, choke, crates for endless hours, rubbing their noses in their toileting, locking them outside, locking them in a room, excluding them from the family, not walking them, feeding them a healthy and nutritionally balanced diet for them as an individual, not going to the vets, not allowing them to experience enrichment or punishing them for chewing, digging, barking. All of this is not programmed within a dogs biological make up.
Dogs evolve over years and generations, they do not evolve to tolerate or endure punishment and neglect from humans. They seek connections or their genetics can be altered to such extremes they are terrified from their earliest weeks of life.
When we bring an animal into our home, we are asking this species to adapt to an indoor environment, to not break our things, steal our food, know how, when and where to use the toilet. To cope without their mother and siblings, to just fit into our home and routine. To be quiet and be seen and not heard, essentially.
This is a tall order and what we quickly see is people cannot cope with this new parenting role and the animal suffers.
In order to be within the realm of the law, be the best parent or guardian to our dogs/ animals we must first appreciate them for the species that they are, their breed, their heritage, their needs and how we are going to adapt our life to integrate both of our lives together so that they are thriving and not just surviving.
We are responsible for this life that we have chosen to bring into our home, it is up to us to care for them as we would any other family member, to ensure that all of their needs are met, that they are free from fear and distress as much as possible and definitely not experiencing fear or distress because of human actions or behaviours around them or to them.
If you would like to learn more about the five freedoms and helping a dog to thrive and not just survive The Do No Harm Dog Training and Behaviour Handbook by Linda Michaels MA will be a great source of knowledge, information and guidance for you and is available in paperback or ebook form from Amazon https://amzn.to/3PhC74z
In the next blog we will be exploring the final freedom, freedom from pain, suffering, illness and disease.
Webster J. Animal Welfare: A Cool Eye Towards Eden. Blackwell Science; Oxford, UK: 1994. Assessment of animal welfare: The five freedoms; pp. 10–14.
Broom D.M., Fraser A.F. Domestic Animal Behaviour and Welfare. 5th ed. CABI; Wallingford, UK: 2015. pp. 55–56
Denton D.A., McKinley M.J., Farrell M., Egan G.F. The role of primordial emotions in the evolutionary origin of consciousness. Conscious. Cogn. 2009;18:500–514. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2008.06.00
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