Beyond the 5 Freedoms of Animal Welfare

WDJ’s Training Editor makes a case for considering our dogs’ well-being, rather than just their welfare, when evaluating their quality of life.

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The “Five Freedoms,” a set of standards for humane animal care, have long been internationally respected and embraced by animal protection organizations, including the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Humane Society of the United States, and many more. The American Humane Association calls the Five Freedoms the gold standard of animal welfare.

The original guidelines were developed in response to a 1965 United Kingdom Government report on livestock husbandry. Each of the Freedoms was followed by a “Provision” that explained how the goal could be met. Initially focused on livestock, the application of these five principles of care has been generalized to include the keeping of companion animals, too.

The Five Freedoms and Correlating Five Provisions

These are the Five Freedoms and Five Provisions as currently accepted worldwide:

  1. Freedom from hunger or thirst, provided by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigor.
  2. Freedom from discomfort, provided by an appropriate environment, including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
  3. Freedom from pain, injury, or disease, provided by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
  4. Freedom to express (most) normal behavior, provided by sufficient space, proper facilities, and company of the animal’s own kind.
  5. Freedom from fear and distress, provided by ensuring conditions and treatment that avoid mental suffering.

Many of our agricultural practices still fall short of these standards. Sadly, even many companion-animal-keeping practices fall short in puppy mills, and even in some homes, shelters, and rescues.

An Even More Progressive Model: The Five Domains

More recently, a more progressive approach to animal welfare has been proposed – one that parallels the move toward more dog-friendly dog training. David J. Mellor,Ph.D., Director of the Animal Welfare Science and Bioethics Centre and professor of Animal Welfare Science at Massey University in New Zealand, developed and promotes a set of guidelines he calls the Five Domains. His model emphasizes maximizing our animals’ positive experiences, not just minimizing negative ones. This approach moves beyond animal welfare (taking care of an animal’s basic needs) to the modern, far more progressive and humane concept of animal well-being (ensuring the animal’s quality of life).

In a 2016 paper published in Animals (an international, peer-reviewed, open-access journal devoted entirely to animals, including zoology and veterinary sciences), Dr. Mellor stated, “A marked increase in scientific understanding over the last two decades now shows that the Five Freedoms do not capture, either in the specifics or the generality of their expression, the breadth and depth of current knowledge of the biological processes that are germane to understanding animal welfare and to guiding its management.”

Dr. Mellor more fully described his model in a 2017 paper also published in Animals. “The Five Domains Model is a focusing device to facilitate systematic, structured, comprehensive and coherent assessment of animal welfare,” he wrote. “The purpose of each of the five domains is to draw attention to areas that are relevant to both animal welfare assessment and management.”

Dr. Mellor proposed that there are five domains of critical importance for modern, humane animal keeping.

In order to provide clear guidance on beneficial objectives for animal welfare management, Dr. Mellor described correlating provisions in each of these domains. Here we list his Five Domains, followed by questions we developed to help you assess how well you might be meeting – or falling short of meeting – these provisions when caring for your own dogs.

1: Good Nutrition

Provide ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigor. Minimize thirst and hunger, and enable eating to be a pleasurable experience.

Self-assessment: Do you feed a good quality food that is also pleasant to taste for your dog? Do you add extra tasty tidbits, vary his diet and control the presence of any aversives while he eats, perhaps even incorporate scent work with his meals to make sure he has a pleasurable dining experience? Have water accessible at all times (except perhaps when he is sleeping)? Avoid the use of water or food deprivation as a training tool?

2: Good Environment

Provide shade/shelter or suitable housing, good air quality, and comfortable resting areas. Minimize discomfort and exposure, and promote thermal, physical, and other comforts.

Self-assessment: Do you make sure your dog always has access to areas with appropriate/comfortable temperature levels – heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer? Does he have options to choose for himself how warm or cool he wants to be? If walking with your dog in heat or cold, do you provide various means for him to stay cool or warm as needed, depending on the dog: warm jackets, boots to protect paws from hot pavement, dampening his coat to allow for cooling evaporation?

3: Good Health

Prevent or rapidly diagnose and treat disease and injury, and foster good muscle tone, posture, and cardiorespiratory function. Minimize breathlessness, nausea, pain, and other aversive experiences and promote the pleasures of robustness, vigor, strength, and well-coordinated physical activity.

Self-assessment: Is your dog up-to-date on all necessary prophylactic treatments? Do you seek veterinary care promptly at the first sign of illness or injury? Do you consistently mitigate temporary or long-term pain or discomfort with appropriate analgesics? Is your dog fit, well-exercised, and in good weight, not over-crated or overweight?

4: Appropriate behavior

Provide sufficient space, proper facilities, congenial company, and appropriately varied conditions. Minimize threats and unpleasant restrictions on behavior and promote engagement in rewarding activities.

Self-assessment: Do you allow and encourage your dog to behave like a dog? Does he have regular opportunities to bark, dig, run around, jump on things, play, get wet, get dirty, and otherwise act like a dog – with you, and/or other dogs or individuals of other species, if he enjoys their company?

5: Positive Mental Experiences

Provide safe, congenial, and species-specific opportunities to have pleasurable experiences. Promote various forms of comfort, pleasure, interest, confidence, and a sense of control.

Self-assessment: Do you take him places he likes to go and encourage activities that engage his mind, challenge his creativity, give him choices, spark his curiosity, encourage him to think and problem-solve, build his confidence, and otherwise enhance his enjoyment of life?

Score Your Own Dog-Keeping

We would expect that Whole Dog Journal readers in general are doing a good job of providing for their animal companions’ welfare. Even so, we can all do some self-examination to ensure that we are doing as much as we possibly can to also ensure our animal companions’ well-being.

Take another look at the Five Domains and Provisions, and then do a critical self-examination of all the things you provide to enhance your own dog’s well-being. If you can honestly check off all five of the boxes, our hats are off to you: You are a dog-companion superstar and the champion of your dog’s well-being.

If, on the other hand, you identify some areas that need work, then get started on any needed changes – and kudos to you for your willingness to commit to providing your dog with the best life possible.

49 COMMENTS

  1. I’m sorry, but. This article made me cry. Mostly because I had just watched a program about the conditions that migrant children are being kept in. How three very ill toddlers were sent to hospital only because visiting lawyers insisted, how they have no clothes, inadequate food, no soap or toothbrushes and paste, no washing facilities, how children and teenagers are responsible for the care of younger children and infants, while they themselves are in distress, and how our government went to court to argue this was okay. And then I thought about our prison system, and how most of the people in it haven’t even had a trial yet, but don’t have the money for bail, and our homeless, including the ones with pets, and all this was before even getting to animals in feedlots and factory farms, or even ordinary people’s pets – people who may be trying their best, but who cannot afford to access quality or extensive veterinary care, or buy the most healthful and best (and expensive) tasty food. It seems a cruel joke, the article, clearly with an audience of the top ten percent of animal owners (or guardians or whatever, but legally owners). I am one such owner (and a very long-term subscriber to WDJ) although I would say never veering from the five domains is bloody impossible for any working person. It’s the most depressing, near-sighted article I have ever read. It’s what people dream of, but there is so much more work to do first on a more basic level. I cried.

    • I agree 100%.

      “… pleasant to taste for your dog …add extra tasty tidbits … vary his diet … incorporate scent work … make sure he has a pleasurable dining experience…”

      When I read this I thought it was “The Goop For Dogs”. Out of touch. Non-pragmatic. Elitist. I have a rescue who was pulled from a shelter with 4 days left, starved, covered in parasites and possibly a former bait dog. He has food, shelter, exercise, regular checkups and a high quality kibble. To imply that such care is somehow inadequate smells of snobbery and condescension. I love my dogs, but this article turned me off.

    • Thanks Dierdrie. I dread the day when I’m forced to keep my dog in her crate for 8 hours or pay on a commission alone salary for doggie daycare or petsitting. Thus far my business partner takes her when he is able.

      • Karen and Marie, they are not all “illegally entering our country”. They are seeking asylum out of desperation! Seeking asylum is LEGAL. The problem is that there are not enough judges or lawyers or language interpreters to help expedite their asylum requests. They are kept waiting for many months. If they are sent back home, they face violence from gangs and terrible poverty. They spent all the money they had to get here and went thru incredible hardships and risked their lives. They should be helped and given humane treatment while they wait. They are families with young children, not criminals or gangsters. What is our Statue of Liberty about? Remember how your own ancestors came here, unless you are Native American, you came from immigrants too. Have some compassion, for God’s sake! What about Jesus? Would he be turned away too?

    • First off, this is NOT the place to post your ridiculous bleeding heart liberal politics. But since you DID, I am going to answer you. Try blaming the IDIOT parents who are dragging their kids thousands of miles and putting them in harm’s way from drug cartels, coyotes, human traffickers. If an American parent did that, they would be prosecuted for child abuse. Second, I AM SO SICK OF HEARING ABOUT ILLEGAL ALIEN CHILDREN. What about our AMERICAN CITIZEN CHILDREN who are living in filth and squalor and are homeless. Why don’t people in California do something about the homeless population instead of importing more and more and more and more illegals?? Third the mess at the border is the fault of CONGRESS. The Republicans did nothing when they had all the power and now the Democrats are refusing to address the issue and blocking President Trump at every turn. This country cannot sustain unlimited “migration”. We TAXPAYERS are being robbed of our money to pay for people who have NO RIGHT to be here. They broke our laws and got into our country illegally. And now the ridiculous presidential Democrat candidates want to give all illegals FREE HEALTH CARE? While American taxpayers struggle to pay their own health insurance? I DON’T THINK SO.

      Now I will address this article. Yes, it is pretty ridiculous, but I believe the article presents a best case scenario. Most of us pet owners do the best we can for our pets. I have a little Yorkie who is the love of my life. She is my first dog and I made a heck of a lot of mistakes with her, but as I said, I do the best I can and she has a pretty darn good life!!

  2. Obviously, the article is expressing the ideal situation. I have serious doubts that most of us cannot comply with everything but we can do our best. The children on the border have left countries where their lives were in jeopardy. Poverty, inadequate housing, food and crime prevail. We try to do our best but the numbers are such that it is impossible! Yes, I imagine that we all cry for them. However, the author of the article is writing about dogs and for those of us who love and care for them, we do what we can. Those who don’t probably won’t see or read the article. Let’s not make this political!

  3. Sorry for your distress, but please target the source of the problem for kids at the border. 3 years of request for congress to allocate funds to solve crisis. Facilities designed for 4000 people per month not 150,000 people per month. Loop holes cause most of the problem.
    1. Great economy almost in all of our country’s history screams come here and get jobs.
    2. birth right citizenship.
    3. drug cartels traffic children to get drugs into the USA.
    4. Seeking asylum guarantees release into USA and then illegal crossing immigrants disappear
    5. Lack of significant barriers to prevent illegal entry- need same as you in your home. A locked front door that is only opened to people you know. That means you do not let any stranger to have access to your home. Neither should our country.
    6. Latest Obama error reports say cost per illegal is $65,500 per person or $63.5 billion per 1 million illegals. If projections are accurate, that is over 1 trillion dollars of the tax payers money.
    Think about 1 Trillion dollars and what that would do to help our true USA citizens in areas of education, infrastructure energy research to just name a few.

  4. We are talk g about animals here, helpless and depend on their humans. Comes down to some should not own pets period. And also some people should not breed!!
    Most people can’t take care of themselves, so don’t bring a helpless puppy or child into your circus.

  5. To Gloria and Larry, who have commented above: Whole Dog Journal is not a place to post your political views regarding our Southern border!!! Take your opinions and complaints somewhere more appropriate. You are doing more harm than good for your cause.

    • Lois, thank you for expressing my thoughts. I was appalled to read the post about the southern border on The Whole Dog Journal. It’s bad enough that we are reminded 24/7 of the mess that has been perpetrated at the Southern Border, I do not want to have it invade my desire to give my dog, Ms. Molly, the best life I can. Folks, there are plenty of places you can express your political views, please leave The Whole Dog Journal alone.

    • Sorry, you did not get it. There are 100’s of over populated animal rescue facilities that receive no attention. Pets killed every day for lack of funds to take care of them and find good homes. Just make sure your “love” for animals includes help for these under financed and over populated animal rescue facilities. Thank you.

    • Lois,
      I find it interesting that you are targeting Gloria and Larry for their comments re the southern border but not the person who started the nonsense, ie Dierdre Doyle. Could it be that it is OK by you to express certain particular opinions on the border but not others? I think that is the case.

    • Lois, I was not expressing political views. Please read what I had to say more carefully. I agree that the situation on the border has nothing to do with the article that was written. I applaud everyone who takes good care of their pets and I am an advocate in regard to the importance of that special bond between dog and owner. Note that I mention that the article is written in such a way to express the ideal. None of us are perfect!

      • You most certainly are expressing your LIBERAL POLITICAL views! Go back and read your comment. THIS is NOT a platform for this……….

  6. First, I completely agree with Bluetree…and Goop for Dogs is a perfect description! Seriously, “a pleasant dining experience”? By whose definition? Most dogs would see rolling in the dirt with a moldy bone absolutely delightful. Or better yet, dragging it to the middle of your brand new bedspread.

    Second, just the fact that the Humane Society of the United States is referenced as a source or supporter of these Five Domains should set off alarm bells. HSUS is NOT an animal protection organization. It is a political lobbying organization using the donations of misguided donors to fight for laws designed to restrict animal ownership to the point of extinction. HSUS is PeTA in a nice suit. I can’t believe there are still people, especially in the dog world, who don’t know this. Less than 1% of that money goes to help animals.

    Even the the Five Freedoms lists animal welfare requirements that should be obvious to any ethical dog owner. It’s the nature of human beings to care for one another. That’s why it’s called humane, and if the idea that animals, especially domestic animals, should be fed, watered, safe and healthy is beyond their comprehension and common sense, they should not own a dog or any other animal, including children.

  7. Can’t understand why everyone is so worked up over an article that is meant to remind us that supplying food, water, and shelter to pets is not all that is needed. Dogs in particular are so in tune to their “people” that they need interaction and love as well. This is not new news. Just a reminder. Life is messy and we can’t get it all right all the time. There is more than enough sad stories to go around. Our dogs give us so much love and companionship that we should be reminded to return the favor in whatever ways we can.

  8. Good grief! Don’t let this blog turn into political comments! I have had a subscription to Whole Dog Journal for over ten years! If I continue to see political comments not concerning pet care, I will cancel subscription! Take notice editors of WDJ! You need to ban comments expressing political slant.

  9. No, not censorship! This great PUBLICATION, ADDRESSES PET CARE,NOT SOMEONE’S POLITICAL OPINION! I’m just saying, please don’t let your political leaning (and we all have them) enter in your comment. Once again: Whole Dog Journal should remain about pet care in your comments,

    • I totally agree with you that people shouldn’t use this forum for politics. It actually p!ssed me off that she did, but I had to answer her. I have never seen political comments any other time in any other articles from Whole Dog Journal, so I really don’t think it is a problem that needs to be addressed by censoring comments. I am against censorship and there is so much of it nowadays that I would hate to see that happen here!

  10. This was an excellent article in that it reminded me of ways I could be a better pet parent as well as confirmed and gave me a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment for what I’ve been doing right. Thank you . . . I needed that! 👍😀

  11. Good for you, Jan! We all can learn something new from time to time and I’m glad to hear that you appreciated the article.

  12. My doggie used to eat her poop. Would that be considered a “pleasant dining experience” for her? Just wondering. LOL.

  13. I have my very first dog. The day I decided to rescue Anna my 6 y/o Mutt was the day I decided if I was going to save her she was going to be one of the most important things in my life. I signed up for dog classes (positive reinforcement only) subscribed to WDJ read up on how I could provide my dog the best of the best. This article gives great info and while I know I provide way more than the basics I’m always looking for things I can do to make her life a little more interesting/better for her. Ok maybe not the dining experience as she chows down that raw food with bone broth faster than you can say slow down but I am committed to giving her the best life I can. Thanks WDJ for the interesting info.

  14. All stems from money folks just as nearly every topic of discussion these days. We as pet owners have to have the resources whether in time or perhaps more importantly, money to take care of our pets the way they should be taken care of or as the title of the article suggests, the way we would prefer to.

  15. Most responsible pet owners can not achieve all these “ultimate” experiences for their pets, because they are not independently wealthy, nor incredibly motivated, nor professionally trained to care for their animals. In a perfect world, the care for every pet (whether guinea pig, dog, or alpaca) would be impeccable, but why lay a guilt trip on those that are doing their best?

  16. Very sorry to see this blog hijacked by political commentary. WDJ, please have someone monitoring the comments to keep them on the topic of dogs. There are many other appropriate places to voice political opinions and disagreement. As a subscriber from outside the US, I have my opinions, but recognize this is not the place to display them, and I take exception to the idea that everyone is interested in opinions about US politics in a non-political forum..

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