As dedicated pawrents, we love to show our canine companions endless love and affection. But, do we ever stop and think about how our dogs may perceive this love and affection? Do they enjoy the various types of attention given by their human counterparts?
This article will explore the dynamics of the canine-human relationship. We will discuss whether dogs can feel violated and how they may express this experience.
Understanding Consent in Canine-Human Relationships
Consent is defined as, “permission for something to happen or agreement to do something.” So, thinking about our everyday interactions with our dogs, do we allow them to provide consent during these interactions?
From petting to hugging and kissing, we assume our dogs enjoy these displays of affection simply because we do.
Humans are notorious for anthropomorphizing animal behavior. Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human characteristics to animals.
Because of this anthropomorphism, we may misinterpret our dog’s true feelings about something. This misinterpretation can lead to devastating consequences, such as a dog bite.
Dogs may use a bite as the last line of defense when they feel their boundaries have been crossed. People may say that their dog “bit out of nowhere” when, in reality, they missed all the signs leading up to the bite.
Signs of discomfort in dogs
For this reason, we must understand our dog’s body language, the concept of consent, and whether or not our dog may feel violated.
Some signs a dog may display when feeling uncomfortable include:
- Tucked tails
- Tucked ears
- Whale-eye (when the whites of the dog’s eyes are visible)
- Raised hackles
- Avoiding eye contact
Now, here are some signs that may indicate your dog is feeling comfortable with the situation:
- Relaxed tail
- Relaxed neutral or slightly forward-facing ears
- Soft eye contact
- Body faced towards you or leaning into you
- Rolling over to show belly
So, we have established that there are ways our dogs can display feeling uncomfortable and comfortable in certain situations. Now, we will explore what it means for a being to feel violated.
Can dogs feel violated?
To violate someone is the failure to respect someone’s peace, privacy, or rights. The act of being violated may elicit feelings of anxiety, fear, or frustration. So, can dogs feel like their peace, rights, or privacy has been infringed upon?
The canine-human relationship
When exploring this question, we must wonder how our dogs may perceive our actions and their role in the canine-human relationship. Typically, a pet is aware of their reliance on the owner for necessities like food, water, and a safe place to sleep.
So, we can assume there is a general understanding of trust between pets and owners. So, can the owner break this trust?
A study in the Frontiers journal states that “A meaningful social interaction between dogs and caregivers remains a fragile construct. To treat dogs in the way that morality requires of us, it is paramount that we bear in mind the spectrum of positive duties that this relationship engenders, including the duty to live up to the trust that dogs place in us”.
This goes to say that this particular study concluded that dogs do indeed place trust in us, and that said trust, or peace, can potentially be broken, therefore, leading to feelings of violation.
Below are some scenarios in which a dog may feel violated, according to an article published by MiPet Insurance:
- Taking possessions such as food or toys
- A stranger approaching their home
- A strange human or dog approaching their human
Some other situations of violation may include the following:
- Negligence (the deliberate withholding of necessities such as food, water, affection, a clean place to defecate, and mental/physical stimulation)
While some of these examples may seem harmless, like scolding your dog, some are indicative of an abusive situation and should be reported to the proper authorities.
Consent in Practice: Tips for Building a Trusting Relationship with Your Dog
Now that we have discussed the concept of consent and violation within the canine-human relationship, we will discuss how to build a trusting and healthy relationship between you and your dog.
From the moment you bring your dog home, it’s important to start building that relationship with your dog. This includes allowing your dog to decompress and adjust to their new home.
This is especially important for dogs that have been adopted from a shelter. Pet professionals agree on the “3 days, 3 weeks, 3 months” rule.
- 3 days to decompress from shelter life
- 3 weeks of settling in and learning your routine
- 3 months to start to feel at home and bond
This generally means you shouldn’t expect too much of your new dog during this time, to provide them the chance to acclimate to their new life. Try to refrain from too many hectic public outings, intense training, or introductions to new people and animals, as this may cause stress for certain dogs.
Training and Bonding
After the decompression phase, it’s time to start basic training with your new dog.
Training creates a special bond between owner and pet that provides mental and physical stimulation for your dog. Remember that training should always be FUN and done with positive reinforcement. Start with easy-to-train commands like sit, stay, lay, and paw to establish a foundation with your dog.
Use high-value rewards like cheese or deli meat and mix it up often. This will help your dog associate you with yummy treats and fun!
As you get to know your dog, you will learn the types of activities that your dog likes to do. Don’t force your dog to participate in activities that they are uncomfortable in. This would be violating that dog’s trust.
You will know that they are uncomfortable if they are displaying one of the previously mentioned behaviors in our list.
Not all dogs are beach dogs! Not all dogs like meeting strangers. According to the experts with the American Kennel Club, some dogs might not even want to interact with OTHER dogs. If you recognize the aforementioned signals that your dog is feeling discomfort, take a step back from the situation.
You may try using classical conditioning to desensitize your dog to a certain situation, but this still doesn’t mean forcing your dog, and takes time and consistency.
An opportunity to desensitize and build trust
For example, if your dog doesn’t like cats and you frequently see them on walks, you may take the following steps to desensitize your dog to seeing cats on walks:
- Teach your dog the “look” command to direct their attention toward you
- Try to be observant of the environment so you notice any cats before your dog
- Always have high-value treats on hand
- If a cat is spotted, have your dog “look” at you
- Create enough distance from the cat that your dog is not hyper-focusing and can respond to commands
- Let your dog recognize the cat and deliver a reward
Over time, you should be able to decrease the space between your dog and the cat and hopefully manage a walk without any trigger response.
This slow, force-less desensitization will help your dog feel more comfortable and grow the trust within your relationship.
The simplest way to build trust with your dog is to move into new situations at their pace and provide them with proper care and FUN!
Beyond Dogs: Consent in Human-Animal Relationships
In this article, we have been discussing canine-human consent and the relationship between ourselves and our own pets. But what about human-animal consent in scenarios apart from our couch-dwelling furry friends?
The concept of consent between humans and animals across the globe is a complex one with many variables that are continually being explored from cultural, legal, and ethical standpoints. This discussion is not aimed to answer any questions, but to explore implications from each considered sector.
Animals play a role in every society. From agricultural to companion to hunting and more, there’s no doubt humans across the globe depend on animals in some form or fashion.
While animal sacrifices were a part of some practices in the past, today in many religions and societies, it is stated that man assumes authority over animals, but that authority should be executed with the utmost care to respect them as members of our society and the role they play.
Religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism are rooted in the doctrine of non-injury to living beings and a repeated, cyclical embodiment of all living beings.
So, from a cultural standpoint, one would come to the conclusion that different societies do look for consent, or permission from their animals. But, does that mean we actually understand and interpret those signals effectively and appropriately?
While many people may look to an animal for the expression of consent, understanding this permission from an animal is an ongoing area of study that requires the knowledge of species-specific behavioral indications and must overcome language and communication barriers.
While we have been discussing allowing an animal to provide behavioral and expressed consent, in the eyes of the law, an animal is a piece of property and has little to no legal rights of their own.
Therefore, an animal does not legally have the right to express consent. It is the owner or reigning body’s responsibility to determine the consent given or not given to that animal.
There are minimal laws that regulate the treatment of animals.
The few laws in place against cruelty to animals simply state they must be provided with the basic necessities of food, water, and shelter, leaving the rest up for debate. Because of this, only the most shocking cases of neglect or abuse may be prosecuted.
For more information on legislation concerning animal welfare laws around the globe, you can visit the Global Animal Law Association website.
The most controversial ethical dilemma lies within the area of animal research. Legally, an animal can not express consent for participation in a laboratory setting or otherwise.
While some scientists back animal testing as a necessary component for medical advancement, and ensure the quality of care during testing periods, it’s known that an animal may suffer greatly during the duration of treatment.
Another area of ethical debate is in agriculture and food production. Animals being raised for sustenance or agricultural purposes may be excluded from basic rights.
A Petfinder article provides the example of the prosecution of an individual starving his chicken “just because.” While in the poultry industry, it is an accepted practice to starve a hen for an extended period to increase egg production.
Could the desired production of eggs be reached without the starvation of the hen? Surely, the hen does not consent to this practice.
While there does seem to be some alignment between the legal, ethical, and cultural treatment of animals, there are certain disparities, as well.
As a human race, we must take a deeper look into the moral obligation to other sentient beings on Earth, our relationship with them, and the purpose they may serve within our society.
In this article, we have concluded it is reasonable to discern our canine companions can feel violated and they may show this through a variety of body language displays.
We also briefly touched on the ethical, legal, and cultural implications of animal consent.
For many reasons, it’s important we understand animals, in the home and in the wild, and learn about how they may use different signals to communicate. It’s our duty as pet owners and inhabitants of this planet to understand how to respectfully and happily cohabitate with other species.
As pet owners who receive so much love and joy from our four-legged friends, it is our responsibility to learn how to respect their boundaries and build mutually meaningful relationships.