Blurred Lines: Where Does "Discipline" End and Abuse Begin?


A couple of days ago I had to call the police because a woman was abusing her dog right outside my kitchen window. He was off the leash (she didn't even have a leash on her!) and I guess he didn't want to jog next to her. She called him to her and the dog practically crawled back to her. This scene alone was heartbreaking. What followed was her grabbing him by the muzzle, violently shaking him (I was actually afraid she might snap his neck) and then proceeding to lift him off the ground by the muzzle. He was whimpering with pain. It all happened within a couple of seconds and as soon as she grabbed his muzzle I opened my kitchen window and started yelling at her to stop. She completely ignored me and started jogging away, her poor dog following, tail between the legs. I called the police on her immediately.

I was shocked and traumatized by what I had seen as well as overwhelmed with anger. It's hard for me to understand what possesses humans to unleash their fury onto their dogs in such a way. I'm sure we've all been angry with our dogs - anger is a normal human emotion. But to lash out at them to the point of physical violence is a whole other conversation we need to be having. I've been noticing that people who believe in physically disciplining their dogs are dangerously crossing the line to abuse.


I've been thinking about this for the last couple of days. I know a lot of people who wouldn't call themselves dog abusers but they still punish their dogs physically. I know I've lost my temper in the past and yelled at Bailey for just ... being Bailey. I know I've seen a lot of people interact with their dogs in a way that made me very uneasy.


How can we be better than that? How can we start with OURSELVES first and then let our actions reflect on the outside, where they contribute to raising the human consciousness onto a new level of understanding canine behavior? How can we lead with love, kindness and compassion?

Let's start with this concept: your dog is NOT to blame when something goes wrong. When he "messes up" it's either because you didn't communicate with him clearly enough or because there was a lack of boundary - which was YOUR responsibility to set in the first place! The next time you want to get pissy because your dog did something "on purpose" ask yourself ... could I have prevented that? Can I use positive communication to make sure this doesn't happen again? Can I seek the help of a professional if I am at a dead end? Can I solve this problem without disrespecting the integrity of my dog?

I really don't think there's such a big void between "disciplining" our dogs and abuse. To me, any physical handling of the dog with the intent to cause pain IS abuse. This doesn't always mean you are a terrible person or a shitty dog owner - sometimes it means that you've been exposed to information in the media that led you to believe you have to "dominate" your dog. That you have to be "the alpha." You may have been exposed to trainers who told you that applying pain to your dog's neck (through prong/choke/shock collars) will "teach" him what's right. You may have been told that smacking your dog over the nose is discipline and that it doesn't really hurt him.

All of this information is false. There is countless scientific research done that PROVES the damage aversive collars do. That PROVES force-free training is the best one for your dog's state of mind. That PROVES there is no such thing as a dog dominating a human.

I don't know what led that woman to believe that she can hurt her dog in the way she did. With her, wasn't just a case of misused "discipline," it was pure violence. What shocked me was how comfortable she was doing it out in the open. Zero shame. Where does this begin? Maybe it begins in the collective belief that when a dog behaves "badly" he deserves to be punished? Maybe it begins in the lack of laws we have to protect dogs? Maybe it begins in believing the trainers who insist that dogs need to be TAMED and their wild spirit needs to be broken in order for us to be "the boss"?

I don't know if the police was able to track the woman down. I know that at best they could have fined her for an unleashed dog and issued a warning that she's been reported for abuse. At best. I don't know what this poor dog's life looks like on a daily basis or what I'm going to do if I see them again. I only know that I am haunted by how normal she seemed. You know, the kind of person you see in a grocery store and never think twice about. I'm haunted by the lack of her shame. The dog's painful whimpering. The police telling me they can't dispatch anyone right away because everyone is out of the station, monitoring snow covered roads. The constant questioning "should I have done more than just yell and report her?"


If you only take one thing away from this post I hope that it is this: BE KIND. Be kind to your dogs and to your humans. Self-reflect and hold yourself accountable to being a kind dog parent, a kind dog guardian. Someone who understands where a dog's behavior ends and their own anger begins. Who understands where your own agenda threatens to overpower your dog's integrity as a sentient being.

Nobody is perfect and we have all fucked up - but it's what we strive for on a daily basis that matters. It's the conversations we have with our family, friends and neighbors that matter. This woman is someone's friend and neighbor too and I wonder if the people in her life ever address how she treats the dog.

Don't shy away from the tough topics just because you don't want to offend someone. TALK about positive reinforcement, TALK to the person screaming at her dog at the top of their lungs, TALK to the person with a prong collar, TALK about how your emotions affect you as a dog parent/trainer, TALK to someone when you're frustrated with your dog. Start a conversation about raising our dogs with respect. When you respect someone you don't hurt them - it's as simple as that.

We can all do (and be) better. I can only hope that I have done my part for that one day and that I am putting enough educative material out there with this blog.

Let me know down below how you're contributing to the way we're treating dogs or if you have ideas on how to be more involved. Any action and idea is welcome - it can be as simple as sharing positive reinforcement Facebook posts or promoting local force-free trainers.

Let's build a better and safer world for the creatures who embody nothing else but unconditional love.❤️