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Teach with Kindness #chooseforcefree

Top Dog Trainer Tips - Reward-Based Training (loyald.com) We had a chat with Dr. Jaipal Singh Gill, Executive Director, SPCA Singapore on SPCA Singapore’s recent “Teach with Kindness“ campaign to address cruelty in training. A campaign that Loyal.D is very passionate about and we were fortunate to partner with SPCA Singapore in helping to promote better tools in training.


LD: The SPCA Singapore Teach with Kindness campaign was launched last October. What prompted SPCA Singapore to take the lead in launching this campaign in Singapore?

Jaipal: The SPCA has always been aware of and kept track of various issues related to animal

welfare. We educate and raise awareness on a number of issues and sometimes it takes time to see changes. We’ve seen the issue of Buy Vs Adoption change over the years (and are happy to note more people are open to adoption today), we’ve seen more and more people understand that a pet is a commitment for life.


There are a number of “old-school” dog trainers who use aversive methods such as choking, hanging, kicking, and shocking to train an animal. We had always hoped that younger trainers coming into the industry would adopt more humane approaches as they would have easy access to courses and literature based on modern-day understanding of dog behavior and psychology. Unfortunately, this has not always happened as some newer trainers have also adopted a punishment-based approach in order to find quick-fix solutions to complex behavioural issues.


When we saw that some trainers were still hanging and strangling dogs in the present day, practices that are outright cruelty to animals, we knew we had to do something to stop this, and the Teach with Kindness campaign was born.

We came up with a position statement on animal training and this was signed by 14 other organisations, including all major animal welfare groups in Singapore, as well as the Singapore Veterinary Association (SVA) and Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS). We’ve had a few terrible cases of animal abuse come under the spotlight over the years, such as the very disturbing case in 2017 of an experienced trainer choking and strangling an animal first with a choke chain and then with his bare hands. There have been other abuse cases that have made it to court, where animal cruelty was inflicted in the name of animal training.


It’s an ongoing journey to make a difference and we hope to see a change in practices in animal training. We hope by raising awareness and educating pet guardians, we can empower people to teach their pets with kindness.


LD: Is the law strong enough for such animal abuse in Singapore?

Jaipal: There is already a law in place to deal with cruelty in training and a number of people have been charged in court and found guilty for acts committed while disciplining an animal. There is certainly room for improvement. For example, we should raise the length of time someone who has been found guilty of animal cruelty can be barred from keeping a pet or running an animal-related business.


Currently one doesn’t need a license to practice as an animal trainer and trainers are not well regulated. This needs to change so that abusive practices can be weeded out from the industry.


LD: Has the SPCA in other countries carried out a similar campaign and how successful were they?

Jaipal: Many reputable animal welfare organisations have spoken up in favour of a force-free and humane approach to animal training. For example, RSPCA Australia, RSPCA UK, British Columbia SPCA and Dogs Trust UK. Many animal welfare organisations have also called for the electric shock collar to be banned.


LD: What kind of resistance did SPCA Singapore face when promoting this campaign?

Jaipal: People like to stick to what they know and some can be resistant to learning new ways of doing things. If a trainer or a pet guardian has been using an aversive-based approach for 20 years, they may not feel the need to try something else. Awareness and education can make a big difference here. Knowledge is readily available to all of us these days and there have been trainers who have ditched aversive-based methods for force-free approaches. They call themselves “cross-over trainers”. So change is certainly possible.


LD: How have the responses been so far for this campaign in terms of support from the community and influencers?

Jaipal: We’ve had a good response to the campaign with many in the animal welfare and pet keeping community lending their voice and support for the cause. As of now, 65 dog harnesses have been collected from the SPCA, in exchange for aversive tools. We’ve had some influential people join us in raising awareness, which is great.

We've also had a lot of pet, human influencers, and key opinion leaders in Singapore share this story on their Instagram, which has been a big support. (If you too would like to join, the resources are at the end).


LD: Do the dogs at your shelter get slowly trained to walk in a harness so that they are more confident and prepared when meeting potential adopters?

Jaipal: A harness is the best way to walk most dogs. Dogs would need to take time to get used to the harness and our staff and volunteers work on this while the animals are with us. Adopters are then taught some basic techniques to continue this work at home if required. For now, only dogs adopted under Project ADORE need to undergo compulsory training, but we always recommend to our adopters to consider force-free training classes and methods when they adopt from us.


We also keep part of our facility to support the TNRM (trap-neuter-release-manage) programme, so those dogs are sent back to their territory once they have been sterilised and treated for any health issues.


LD: The use of the electric shock collar is already banned in countries such as The Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, parts of the UK, and Australia. Do you see Singapore as taking the lead in Asia to ban the use of this collar and of other cruel animal training methods too? What do we, as a community of dog lovers, need to do to help push this through?

Jaipal: We do believe the electric shock collar needs to be banned. This will not only protect animals from harm but also send a clear signal that our society does not tolerate animal abuse. Singapore can certainly be a leader in animal welfare in the region as our people are engaged, and increasingly aware and passionate about animal welfare issues. We also have ready access to information and educational material.


LD: We know force-free dog trainers who we recommend, is there any such accredited list of trainers in Singapore that you can share?

Jaipal: There is no one comprehensive list as far as we know. The SPCA does maintain a list for our adopters. To run a proper accreditation system for trainers takes a lot of resources and the SPCA is unable to do this at the moment. The British Columbia SPCA for example does run such a programme but this is only for trainers in Canada.


LD: Overall, what changes have you seen in animal welfare and adoption procedures in relation to educating people better? Over the years, has SPCA Singapore done any changes to its adoption procedures to educate and prepare new adopters?

Jaipal: Interest in adoption has gone up and a big change for us over the years has been increased adoption support for prospective adopters. For dogs with behavioural challenges, adopters get to spend as much time with them as they need. We have amazing volunteers who also visit the home to provide support to ensure the adoption is a successful one.


Our aim is always to work with the adopter and provide help as needed so that both the human and the animal are comfortable, and the pet is kept for life. I would say education is vital and this is something we would like to do more of moving ahead.


LD: Thanks for taking the time out for this chat, Jaipal. What do you think are the next steps for this campaign?

Jaipal: The first step was to have this issue noticed and placed firmly on the local animal welfare agenda. The next stage will be a longer one where we provide resources to pet guardians to empower them with the appropriate knowledge and skills to teach their pet. We are also trying to improve the regulation of animal trainers and importantly stop abusive practices. The work is ongoing and we invite everyone to join us in this important mission to protect animals from harm and to teach with kindness.

Pawnotes:


Loyal.D sponsored gift hampers for two winners of the Teach with Kindness campaign and the winners were: @Snowie.the.Samoyed, and Kit, a Corgi-Spitz mix


If you would like to share the message of this campaign, feel free to check out the resources at SPCA Singapore


Read more on top training tips from a cross-over trainer, Fred Leow