A new survey of dog owners has revealed some worrying knowledge gaps when it comes to understanding the way dogs think, feel and learn.
Whilst the majority of owners feel that training should not frighten, worry or hurt their pet, a fifth said it is acceptable to punish them by shouting or hitting. Furthermore, two per cent did not believe their pet could feel emotions such as happiness or worry.
The findings are published in a new report by the RSPCA; ‘Being #DogKind: How in tune are we with the needs of our canine companions?’
Out of more than 3,000 dog owners, 79 per cent said it was fine to tell a dog off and two per cent reported hitting or smacking their pet. Alarmingly, some owners reported using negative training tools such as choke chains (13 per cent), pinch collars (seven per cent), spray collars (six per cent) and electric shock collars (five per cent).
On a more positive note, however, a high proportion of owners said they use positive rewards during training; 71 per cent use food and treats, 70 per cent use praise, 45 per cent use toys and a fifth use a clicker.
The majority of owners agreed that dogs must be trained from an early age (93 per cent), but only 39 per cent had attended training classes. Reasons given for not taking classes were: already know how to train dogs (41 per cent); pet already trained (15 per cent); can’t afford classes (12 per cent) and; ‘not important’ (eight per cent).
Survey answers suggest that owners’ busy lives may be impacting on their pets, with 22 per cent of dogs being left alone for four hours or more each day; six per cent not being walked everyday and 20 per cent of owners reporting separation-related behaviour in their dogs (though the true figure is likely to be far higher).
In addition, two per cent of dogs have no toys to play with, 18 per cent are never let off the lead and 15 per cent are never allowed to play with other dogs.
Problem behaviour could influence owners’ decisions not to allow off the lead exercise or socialisation. Nearly a quarter of owners (24 per cent) said their dogs chase livestock or wildlife, a fifth show aggression to strangers and 22 per cent are aggressive towards unfamiliar dogs. However, a relatively small proportion of owners sought help for these behaviours.
Another major concern is that the internet was cited as the most popular source of help, which could pose a considerable risk to pet welfare if out of date information is accessed.
The RSPCA has launched a new campaign, #DogKind, to help owners understand their pet better. The charity is urging owners to speak to a vet and seek help from a clinical animal behaviourist if they have concerns about their dog’s behaviour.