SINGAPORE: The Animal and Veterinary Service (AVS) is looking into the alleged mishandling of some dogs by dog trainers at a park.
In a video that was shared on social media by Facebook user Alfie Pan on Monday (Sep 20), men can be seen tugging at the dogs' leashes in a park. In the post, Alfie Pan called the training methods "aversive" and urged dog owners to "do some research" on day care or dog walking services.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the video has been viewed more than 11,000 times on Facebook.
"We are aware of the video depicting the alleged mishandling of some dogs purportedly for training purposes, and are looking into the case," Ms Jessica Kwok, group director of Community Animal Management at AVS, said on Wednesday.
"AVS, a cluster of the National Parks Board (NParks), takes all feedback received from the public on animal cruelty seriously."
SPCA told CNA that it referred the case to AVS on Monday "as they are the appropriate party to investigate and take suitable enforcement action".
"Unfortunately, such unacceptable methods are all too common in the dog training industry and we are deeply concerned about the welfare and safety of dogs who are choked, strangled, hung, kicked, beaten or shocked with electric collars in the name of training," said SPCA's executive director Dr Jaipal Singh Gill.
"Instilling fear in an animal or inflicting pain is a very outdated, ineffective and inhumane way to teach an animal. It can also lead to side effects such as increased aggression. How many of us learn well when under threat of physical or mental harm? These practices must end."
DOG TRAINER APOLOGISES
In the comments of Alfie Pan's Facebook post, some people criticised the actions of the trainers.
After the outcry, Mr Anthony Song, owner of 3Dogs Academy, said on Facebook that they were the dog training school in the video and they were bringing the dogs back after a "pack walk" session.
He told CNA on Wednesday that there were three trainers handling seven dogs and they were trying to get them into two vans.
"I am so sorry that I caused distress to anyone that saw this video ... I think that I could have handled this a lot better. I think my training methods probably need to change," he said.
But the trainer with eight years' experience added that the video did not show the full context of what happened.
He said a King Charles Spaniel that was seen yelping as his leash was being tugged was barking at another dog, but the other canine was not shown in the video.
"The action of tugging is meant to help him break his focus on the other dog and calm him down before uniting him with the rest of the pack in a relaxed state. This corrective method will not harm the dog when executed correctly," he wrote in the Facebook post.
He said that he was holding tightly to a second dog, a Golden Retriever, because it was "hyper excitable" and that he was worried it would run out onto the road nearby.
"I'm worried about him running right into the traffic and getting himself maybe being run over by a car, or else he jumps onto the van and gets bitten (by another dog)," he said.
He also defended a scene that showed a trainer allegedly kicking the dog, saying that he was trying to give the dog a "touch" to get its attention and that it was a "misjudgement".
"I definitely have told him off regarding that, he shouldn't be doing that. In fact, the moment he did that I told him: 'Don't do this'."
But he conceded: "I think SPCA does have a valid point ... maybe I was a little too harsh. I do agree that it's also my fault."
MOVE TOWARDS "HOLISTIC TRAINING"
Mr Daryle Goh, owner of Diamond Dog K9, and an advocate of positive reinforcement training, said that the situation could have been handled better.
The two trainers were "getting too carried away with trying to force the dogs to perform a specific behaviour in that situation", the ex-military dog trainer said.
The dogs were stressed and were unlikely to display the "ideal behaviour" the trainers wanted, he added.
"All you’re doing is adding stress to an already stressed dog. This is damaging to the dog’s mental health. You get all kinds of unpredictable psychological and behavioural side-effects," he said.
"You need to plan ahead and set up situations that the dog can succeed in or put the dog in a less stressful situation where he or she has a chance to be trained and to learn."
He said that some training schools in Singapore still use aversive training methods, but with recent videos surfacing on social media and the public outcry, he foresees a gradual shift towards more "low-stress holistic" approaches.
"There are proper ways to carry out punishment or compulsion training, but I’m not going to cover that because we at Diamond Dog K9 do not like that kind of training at all," he said.
Mr Leslie Sim, the owner of a nine-month-old Cavapoo, shared online that his dog was treated harshly by a dog trainer last month and that he was shocked at their training methods, which involved using a choke chain.
"I was aware of the trainer using a choke chain, however I have not seen how bad it is," he told CNA. "More incidents of such trainers have been surfacing and I am quite concerned (about the) training industry."
SPCA said there is a "kinder way" of training, promoted by qualified professionals with a "deep understanding" of dog behaviour and psychology.
It launched a new initiative last year called Teach with Kindness, for "force-free and humane training methods".
"Teach with Kindness aims to stamp out abusive practices used in training, raise the standards within the animal training industry, and provide support to pet guardians on animal training and behaviour," said Dr Jaipal Singh Gill.