Features October 2014 Issue

5 Things To Do If You Witness Animal Abuse

I assume that most Whole Dog Journal readers are as upset as I am when I see someone treating a dog badly. What should you do when you see someone being rough with their dog? Hard as it may be, I urge you to be calm and take several deep breaths before you act. Then . . .

dog being dragged

1. Assess the situation.

Calmly take a good hard look at what’s going on. Does the human appear to be someone who is simply trying to train his dog using outdated methods and who might be receptive to your assistance? If the person is applying hard yanks on a choke chain or prong collar, or blithely pressing the remote button for a shock collar, they are probably simply following the instructions of an outdated dog training professional and may not know that there is a far superior way to communicate with their dog. If, however, you see someone who has lost his temper and is deliberately abusing his dog, hanging, punching, smacking the dog repeatedly, or worse, this person probably won’t take kindly to your intervention and might just as easily redirect his anger onto you. If this is the case, you need to use extreme caution. The action you take will depend on your careful assessment.

2. Evaluate your options.

If it appears that the dog handler may be amendable to your suggestions, you might approach in your best helpful, non-threatening manner as a fellow dog lover, and offer to assist. If, on the other hand, the handler appears emotionally aroused and dangerous, I wouldn’t recommend approaching or confronting him. If the dog abuser appears violent or unsafe, a better option is to call the authorities.

3. Look for backup.

Regardless of how you proceed, look around for another person who can watch out for you when you step forward. It never hurts to have support; there is safety in numbers. Let your back up person or people know what you intend to do, and agree on a signal you will give if you want them to step up in a show of support or call 9-1-1. Ask them to otherwise stay quiet unless you ask for help; catcalls from the peanut gallery won’t help keep the situation calm and positive.

4. Carefully Intervene.

Approach the dog handler with a low key introduction; something like, “Excuse me, but I have a dog myself (or “I’m a dog trainer”), and if you’re willing, I would love to show you a different way to do that, a way that worked really well for my dog (or “works really well for my clients”).” If the person is receptive, you can coach him through a simple positive reinforcement exercise (you may have to provide the treats, if you have them – another good reason to always have dog cookies in your pockets!), and then explain how the exercise applies to what he was trying to get his dog to do.

Or, if the dog is friendly, you are confident in your abilities and the person is willing, you can take the leash and demonstrate one or more positive behaviors. Then leave the person with some good resources – local positive trainers, books, Facebook pages, Yahoo groups – so he will be more likely to pursue more dog-friendly training with his dog. (Consider keeping a one-page handout of dog-friendly training resources for times like this.)

5. Stay out of it and call the authorities.

If you think the treatment of the dog rises to the level of prosecutable or near-prosecutable abuse, or the person seems dangerously angry, don’t even think of attempting to intervene. If the handler is hanging, punching, slapping, kicking the dog – or worse – step back and call for help. Don’t worry about looking up the number for animal control, just call 9-1-1 and let them take it from there.

If you are carrying a cell phone with video capabilities, and you are at a safe distance, record as much as you can. Unless your support group consists of several large, strong guys who eat animal abusers for breakfast, you don’t want to risk getting yourself beat up in your humanitarian crusade. Do know that if the case is prosecuted, you may be called to testify in court against the abuse. Be willing to bear witness.

Arresting animal abusers was one of the most satisfying aspects of my 20-year career as an animal protection professional/humane officer. I have to say that, notwithstanding my own advice above, I might be hard-pressed to stop myself from physically intervening if I saw someone violently abusing an animal. I’m not saying you should, mind you, but I would understand if you did!

Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, is WDJ’s Training Editor. Pat is also the author of many books on positive training. 

Comments (7)

At my hous we have four dogs 1 pure breed Colby pit 1 red nosed pit American bull dog mix and 2 of their puppies. My brothers dad has lost his temper multiple times and hit the dog. On day are female who was a puppy at the time and still is tore up one of his shoes and started to beat her with a steel toed boot. I pushed him back and told him if he ever did that again I would turn him in. That dog cowers away from him now she is also the mom to our to puppies. He keeps kicking at them when they don't listen it's not like a gental kick either it's like he's punting a foot ball across the field. What shoul I do also I don't know if anyone can help me with this other problem I have. One of the puppies is mine Blu and he is staying with my brother right now his dad said it was ok and now ever time my puppy chews something up he threatens to get rid of it. If my dog is registered under my name and he gets rid of it can he get in trouble?

Posted by: Catahoula | November 5, 2016 10:03 AM    Report this comment

its me again i forgot to say i live in indiana crawford county

Posted by: allykat | August 12, 2016 10:38 AM    Report this comment

I need help. I was walking around with my two friends around town when i came acrossed this house. there was this little girl out side no bigger than 5 and she had a chihuahua bi his/her leg swinging it around. and the dog was yelping like crazy and no one was outside with her. well i told her you "shouldn't hold the dog like that". And that "were are your parent" and she just completely ignored me. And i cant call the cops cause i tried calling them on another dog cause and they said they cant do anything its not in there distribution. What should i do? Please help?

Posted by: allykat | August 12, 2016 10:36 AM    Report this comment

Hi. After doing a Google search on what to do about someone abusing their dog, I came across your site. Here is my story (and "my" beloved red nose pitbulls) diesel walked into my house one evening at 3 months old, cute, fuzzy, floppy paws and all. He sniffed me, then proceeded to pee on my floor. It was love at first sight! I had never been 'dog' person, but this dog stole my heart immediately. His back story is this: the guy who 'owns' him is a friend of my brothers. Hes young, stupid, has no manners and lives from house to house. Currently he sleeps in someone s garage and the dog stays on the back porch if the house. When he, on the rare occasion, goes to work, he drops the dog off with me. Or when he goes out to drink . or when he goes to the beach....pretty much whenever, he doesn't want the dog around, which is a lot. The dog has become very attached to my kids and I. We've invested a.lot.of time, a lot of money on shots, good food, flea treatments, fixed my fence so he can't breach it, heartworm pills......

Recently then dog got out of the yard and went missing...I went into a panic and immediately placed calls to animals Servicea, SPCA etc to be on the lookout for him. After that I wanted to get a microchip put in him and get him neutered( I figured he'd be less attractive to potential breeding theives if he were fixed, since he is pure red nose) and his owner said he didnt want him chipped!? (I think he believes its a tracking device?) he's now 6 months old and his 'owner'/has not been here for two days with him. I asked my brother where he had been and he told me a.story about this dog gets beaten by him when he "bites"(which.is actually the dog playing- he does this with my toddler and puts no pressure on his skin) and bites his ears, punches him, throws him to the ground...so my brother told him he needed to stop beating the dog or the dog was going to turn out mean (like so many pits do!)and either hurt him or someone else, and given the type of dog he is, will be put down a lot faster and easier than most if the authorities get involved.

He is such a.good dog and I have no trouble with him at my home around my 4 kids. What I was t to know is....what can I do about this? I'm afraid if I call the authorities and report, he is just going to never bring the dog around again. I live in Sarasota County, FL, if there is any information you can find. I have looked everywhere and only come up with the basic " not your dog, you can't do anything"

Posted by: Kstarlite | May 12, 2016 7:02 PM    Report this comment

Hi. After doing a Google search on what to do about someone abusing their dog, I came across your site. Here is my story (and "my" beloved red nose pitbulls) diesel walked into my house one evening at 3 months old, cute, fuzzy, floppy paws and all. He sniffed me, then proceeded to pee on my floor. It was love at first sight! I had never been 'dog' person, but this dog stole my heart immediately. His back story is this: the guy who 'owns' him is a friend of my brothers. Hes young, stupid, has no manners and lives from house to house. Currently he sleeps in someone s garage and the dog stays on the back porch if the house. When he, on the rare occasion, goes to work, he drops the dog off with me. Or when he goes out to drink . or when he goes to the beach....pretty much whenever, he doesn't want the dog around, which is a lot. The dog has become very attached to my kids and I. We've invested a.lot.of time, a lot of money on shots, good food, flea treatments, fixed my fence so he can't breach it, heartworm pills......

Recently then dog got out of the yard and went missing...I went into a panic and immediately placed calls to animals Servicea, SPCA etc to be on the lookout for him. After that I wanted to get a microchip put in him and get him neutered( I figured he'd be less attractive to potential breeding theives if he were fixed, since he is pure red nose) and his owner said he didnt want him chipped!? (I think he believes its a tracking device?) he's now 6 months old and his 'owner'/has not been here for two days with him. I asked my brother where he had been and he told me a.story about this dog gets beaten by him when he "bites"(which.is actually the dog playing- he does this with my toddler and puts no pressure on his skin) and bites his ears, punches him, throws him to the ground...so my brother told him he needed to stop beating the dog or the dog was going to turn out mean (like so many pits do!)and either hurt him or someone else, and given the type of dog he is, will be put down a lot faster and easier than most if the authorities get involved.

He is such a.good dog and I have no trouble with him at my home around my 4 kids. What I was t to know is....what can I do about this? I'm afraid if I call the authorities and report, he is just going to never bring the dog around again. I live in Sarasota County, FL, if there is any information you can find. I have looked everywhere and only come up with the basic " not your dog, you can't do anything"

Posted by: Kstarlite | May 12, 2016 7:01 PM    Report this comment

I just witnessed a male beating a beautiful little brindle pit bull. It was right out on Oro Dam Blvd. in front of lots of people. The poor dog was screaming!! I honked at the guy and yelled at him which made him stop long enough to flip me off. I would have called 911 but did not have a phone. I had to drive to a phone and call the police.
I have decided that in the future I will be prepared with cash to purchase an animal. I was thinking if I approached him nicely and fawned over his dog and try to buy it then maybe I could get the dog out of harms way immediately.
Hopefully there won't be a next time but I will be prepared in the future. Money and video camera at the ready.

Posted by: Webgypsy | March 16, 2016 6:21 PM    Report this comment

I just had this happen 2 days ago. I saw a woman pick up her small dog roughly by the neck (the dog was squealing) place it very roughly on the ground (essentially throwing it) and then smack it. She did it repeatedly because the dog was not "staying" on the grass. She was outside her RV with 3 small dogs. A leash would have solved her problem. I got hot and shaky and went up to her and asked her to please stop hitting her dog, that there are other ways to go about it. (I wasn't trying to be a good samaritan. I felt like I had no choice. It was as if my body was moving towards her of its own volition.) I was fully expecting her to be angry with me, but she fairly calmly explained that her dog needed to learn, and if he kept getting up he might run into the street, so until he stayed put he was going to get spanked. I pleaded one more time (her sweet dog had come to say hi to me, so had disobeyed her) and she did the exact same thing. I couldn't see it this time, because she took him back to the other side of the RV where he had been, but I heard the squeal and the "spank". I walked away and started to call 911. I wound up instead calling an LAPD animal hotline. The seriousness with which they heard the story and took down all the information, location etc. was such a relief. Afterwards I had moments of second guessing myself, because of outmoded forms of discipline, and because things were going to get a lot more traumatic for those dogs before things get better. But I guess ultimately you have to honor your gut instinct. And of course every situation is going to be different. Ugh! It was awful.

Posted by: Yvonne S. | January 30, 2015 12:04 PM    Report this comment

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