Guests: Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez & Thomas Harrison, Ph.D.

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez received his Ph.D. in Psychology and his M.S. in Behavior Analysis from the University of North Texas, where he founded and was President of the Organization for Reinforcement Contingencies with Animals (ORCA). Most of his past and current work involves behavioral research applied to the welfare and training of zoo and companion animals. He has worked with over 50 species of animals, with a focus on marine animals, carnivores, and primates. He is currently a Senior Lecturer in the School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences at the University of Adelaide in Australia.

Thomas Harrison, Ph.D., studied law at Queen’s University. He worked for the provincial Ministry of the Attorney General and at the Superior Court as policy counsel. Prior to studying law, Thomas worked as an educator and social worker. Thomas has taught legal ethics at Queen’s University and currently teaches critical thinking and animal law at Durham College.

In this episode we discuss:

  • What are “ethics” and why should we care?
  • Can we answer the question “am I a good person?”
  • How can we measure welfare?
  • The five freedoms/five domains of welfare
    • Every animal has right to freedom from
      • Hunger
      • Thirst
      • Discomfort, Injury
      • Express normal behavior
  • Guidelines for beneficence
    • Even if some good comes, can’t outweigh the harm done to the group that were subjects
  • “Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one.” – Marcus Aurelius

Links mentioned:

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Episode Transcript

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez: [00:00:00] I’m being both objective and critical about these tools and what I’m calling aversive training tools and saying, “Yeah, I think it’s a good thing to outlaw them. I think they are problematic for the welfare. I think the limited research we do have on them shows that they are not more effective and problematic for the welfare.” But at the same time, I think one of the worst things we can do is to shame the people that use them. And we need to stop that.


Hannah Branigan: Hey there, fellow training nerds! You’re listening to Drinking from the Toilet. If you like to geek out about combining the science of behavior with positive reinforcement philosophy in real life, you’ve come to the right place. And I’m your host, Hannah Branigan: teacher, trainer, podcaster and author of the book Awesome Obedience and its companion, Awesome Obedience: The Field Guide, which [00:01:00] are both available from

[Episode begins]

This week, we are talking about a kind of complicated topic, maybe a potentially heavy topic. I mean, not as heavy as we sometimes get, and maybe even not as complicated as we sometimes get… I don’t know, you decide.

Our topic this week is ethics and animal training with two ethics experts. (That was harder to say than I expected.)

So I tried to get Chidi from The Good Place, but he was not available, of course. But I think the folks that we do have are more than adequate replacements. So today we’re hanging out with returning guest, Dr. Eduardo Fernandez and a new guest, Dr. Thomas Harrison, who are both very qualified to speak on this topic.

But before we get into that conversation, I’ve gotta send some thanks out to On Cue training treats from Karen Pryor Clicker Training for supporting this episode and these awesome folks for supporting the podcast on Patreon. [00:02:00] So thank you to Laura D, Alyssa L, Kayla P, and Phyllis S. If you’d like to support the podcast, get your questions answered and access our super-secret extra podcast episodes, go to

So you will remember Dr. Eduardo Fernandez from previous podcast episodes, and I’ll drop links to those in the show notes (DFTT episodes #106, #115 and #133). He has a PhD in Psychology and also has a Masters in Behavior Analysis from University of North Texas where he founded and was a president of the Organization for Reinforcement Contingencies in Animals, ORCA, one of my favorite acronyms.

So most of his past and current work involves behavioral research applied to the welfare and training of zoo and companion animals. So you can see how this is very applicable to our topic today. Welfare is a big thing, right? So he has worked with over 50 species of animals with a focus on marine animals, carnivores and primates. And he’s [00:03:00] currently a senior lecturer at the School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences at the University of Adelaide in Australia, which is very cool.

Now, you’ve not heard from Dr. Thomas Harrison before, but you have heard from his partner, my friend and colleague Andrea, who has been on this podcast a couple of times actually (DFTT episodes #14 and #46). I talk to her every day and she’s very cool. And guess what? She’s got good taste as well. So Tom studied Law at Queens University and (he’s Canadian by the way) he worked for the Provincial Ministry of the Attorney General and at the Superior Court as Policy Counsel. Prior to studying Law, Thomas worked as an educator and social worker. Thomas has taught legal ethics at Queens University and currently teaches critical thinking and animal law at Durham College.

So I know absolutely everyone listening to this cares a lot about doing the right thing by their animals. [00:04:00] Now, you may not be quite as insecure as I am, because that would be saying something, but if you have spent any time at all in any animal care or training forum or community, you probably already know from personal experience that doing The Right Thing, capital letters, is not always straightforward. And it often feels like no matter what you do, it’s the Wrong Thing. I’m trying to think if there’s anything that’s straightforward. As I think about it, many of the things that I would’ve thought were really obvious a few years ago now seem not so obvious. It’s like there’s a ton of gray area and uncertainty around this, and I don’t like uncertainty and obviously that’s why we’re all going to The Bad Place.

I know I went into this conversation aware that I didn’t know very much about the study of ethics. I obviously think about it a lot, but I didn’t know that much about it and within minutes of beginning the conversation, I realized that, oh, I actually know even less than that, but I did learn a [00:05:00] lot. So keep listening and we’ll see if Tom and Eddie can clear up any of this gray area for us. And I’m looking forward to hearing what your thoughts are after you listen to the conversation, so enjoy! 

Hannah Branigan: Okay. Thank you both for joining me today for this conversation.

Dr. Thomas Harrison: Hi, Hannah. 

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez: Hi. 

Hannah Branigan: Hi. Since we have two voices, can you just say who you are, say your name and just like a one sentence introduction so we can match identities to voices for those listening who can’t see?

Dr. Thomas Harrison: I’m Thomas Harrison and I am a lawyer, a teacher, and a farmer. I live in Southern Ontario and I’m happy to be here today.

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez: Hi, I’m Eduardo Fernandez. I’m a senior lecturer of Applied Animal Behavior and Welfare in the School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences at the [00:06:00] University of Adelaide. 

Hannah Branigan: Awesome. Cool. So I wanna jump right in with the most important question that I need to ask then, and I’d like for you to weigh in on, and that is: Am I a good person and how can I prove it?

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez: No.

Hannah Branigan: … I expected that from you.

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez: Yeah. You’re welcome.

Dr. Thomas Harrison: Well, and the follow up, I would ask you a question in response in a true Socratic method and say: Why do you care? 

Hannah Branigan: Oh. Um, because my self worth is very much tied up in being perceived as a good person. 

Dr. Thomas Harrison: So it’s the reinforcing value of having it reflected back at you that you were a good person? Or is there another reason why people are trying to be good? Maybe not just you, but just wondering.

Hannah Branigan: That is a good question. Um, I would like to say why it’s important to be good is virtuous, but mostly it’s that [00:07:00] I don’t want to be abandoned and left alone in the woods to die. So to belong to society, I need to be perceived as being Good with a capital G.

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez: Right. But we’re all gonna be left in the woods to die. So, I mean, that’s how it works now.

Hannah Branigan: Yeah. So this is not as reassuring as I had hoped that it would be. No. Um, yeah. So maybe we should– let’s take a left turn and let’s talk about ethics and welfare. And I would really like to know like what are… This is not a new topic and what do we need to know about the history of ethics and animal welfare that’s useful for us in interpreting and making decisions now?

Dr. Thomas Harrison: Well if I were to say something very pithy, it would be something like, “It’s very time and place specific in terms of the way we look at animals.” So if we look a thousand years ago and today, you can [00:08:00] see some of the same things, but there’s lots of things that are different too.

And if you go at other places in the world there’s some same things, but there’s also lots of different things too. So it’s a very circumstantial question. It depends a lot on where you are and who you are and what your perspective is. 

Hannah Branigan: When you say that it’s time and culturally specific, can you give me an example?

Dr. Thomas Harrison: So during the Middle Ages for about a thousand years, animals were regarded as having the same legal, moral and ethical responsibilities as humans and could be – and were often – put on trial. There’s hundreds of documented trials for animals being executed for murder or being charged with sexual assault amongst other things.

And then there was a period starting a few hundred years ago where animals came to be viewed as clockwork machines that couldn’t feel or think, and they were [00:09:00] treated largely as property. And so we have in our laws and ethical perspectives today the legacy of those views that I think have continued to develop.

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez: Yeah, and what I would add onto that is that I think in the past a hundred years or so is that we’ve seen a lot of change, both in how we respond to people and animals from a research or scientific perspective because of that increase in science and then also because of certain events.

So there are two major events that really changed a lot of the ways that we approach ethics, at least with respect to any kind of scientific endeavor. So this means not just research, but also how we apply scientific principles. And those two big events– One of them is pretty obvious. I think most of your listeners could recognize something that happened in Germany less than a hundred years ago and affected the entire world, which led to [00:10:00] things like the Nuremberg Code of 1948, the declaration of Helsinki going into the sixties, and then another big event which happened here in the US were the Tuskegee experiments. So that really formed a lot of how we responded to that. Things like the Belmont Report, American Psychological Association’s standards specifically for research– Both the Belmont Report and APA largely dealt with people, but also animals and things like setting up “IU cooks” [transcription questionable, cannot hear this clearly] which is how we review research.

So again, we’re talking more directly about science, but I think both of those and those standards are pretty important, especially as they all tie into things like the Five Freedoms and the Five Domains. [00:11:00] Five Freedoms really starting in the UK and in Europe in general in the seventies with respect to how farm animals were treated. So that’s where we start to see some of that real movement into, “there should be some specific ethical standard that is somehow guided by science.” So that’s a little bit of getting into now, where there’s that interplay between science and ethics.

Hannah Branigan: So I can see– I hadn’t really thought about it this way, but it makes sense. You were talking about, I assume, World War II and the Holocaust and kinda the horrible experiments that were done on specific groups of people. And then in the US the Tuskegee experience, again, also victimizing specific groups of people. In both cases there’s a significant power differential that was [00:12:00] leveraged in those cases. So what you’re saying is that looking at that comparison, we can then draw parallels to humans as another group that also is having significantly less power? 

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez: Yeah. There’s a component of that power differential that’s really played I think an important part in how we start to view– including how we incorporate empathy into our ethics as well.

So that power differential certainly has guided stuff like the Belmont Report and APA’s guidelines for research in the least. So how are children incorporated? How are disenfranchised persons, people from different groups and we look at things like beneficence, so guidelines for beneficence where we say, “even though more good might be done than bad [00:13:00] by some research or practice, practice even developed by research, it can’t outweigh the benefits for a certain group of people.” That was a big problem of what was seen with the Tuskegee experiments, since if your listeners aren’t familiar with that, the main group of people in the Tuskegee experiments happened to be young, poor Black men. And they were left with diagnosed cases of syphilis where in the process of doing these studies, syphilis became treatable and they weren’t treated to see the outcome, some of the later stages of the development of syphilis. And so you could see where beneficence plays an important role there because some people would argue, “Well, but there was some–” Now, not with respect to Tuskegee, because it’s just outlandishly bad, but you could make an argument that there might [00:14:00] be some benefit to some research, but who are the people that benefit and who are the people that pay the price for that benefit.

So that’s a more common example. I think something where you see stuff like that is prison populations or people in the military where they might say, “Okay, well we can use prisoners as subjects in some research project,” but are they paying more of the price? Is the cost only to them and they receive none of the benefits and the benefits go to someone else?

So those are some of the principles that I think– Again, all of this, going back to that point you made about the power differential, I think that’s where we start to see some of the same concerns, particularly when people started talking about things like the Five Freedoms and now the Five Domains and how we treat any animal in any form [00:15:00] of captivity, or even use the word “captivity” since I don’t mind using that word, but some people get pretty uptight depending on what we’re talking about. But when I use the word, I mean any animal under any form of human care. So that’s pets, zoos, farms, all of those, I would consider animals in captivity, right? And including sanctuaries and preserves. Those are forms of captivity as far as I’m concerned. So they’re under human care at some, at some level.

So where’s the power differential there? How do we guide our ethics? And for me, one of the most important parts, since often we’re talking about where’s– how do we use those ethics to guide our research? It’s also, myself as an animal welfare scientist, how do we then use research to guide our ethics, our standards for caring for animals?[00:16:00] 

Dr. Thomas Harrison: Okay, so if I could, I just wanna overlap some of what he said from a slightly different perspective. I completely agree with him about the complimentary development of ethical perspectives, along with scientific perspectives. And so my perspective is mostly from a legal perspective.

And I would say you see something very isomorphic, something similar happening with respect to legal development. So starting in the late 1700s, you have this increasing concern about animal welfare. And then in the 1820s you have the first animal welfare laws being passed in Britain, not coincidentally, you have this first concerns on legislation abolishing slavery, right? Similarly, at the end of the 1800s, people start looking at children and they say, “how are children different than animals? There’s no laws to protect children, but we protect animals.” So they actually use the animal welfare laws to develop the first child welfare laws.

Eddie [00:17:00] mentioned World War II. Following the horror of the Holocaust, there was a worldwide recognition of the need to protect individual rights. And so you have this huge rights revolution that manifests itself in different ways in different places around the world. So there’s the UN Charter for human rights. And out of that, I would say there’s a direct connection between a consideration and the development of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

And if you look at Maslow from a scientific point of view and you look at the Five Freedoms and the Five Domains, you can see they almost mirror one another to a certain extent, but for animals as opposed to humans. And so you have these complimentary concerns streaming back and forth with one another and mutually informing one another in a way that moves the discussion forward.

The one that you’re having about power differential and who benefits is the discussion that we had briefly prior to the recording, which was [00:18:00] a utilitarian perspective on who benefits and how much should they benefit and is there some, any justification for a human exceptionalism point of view that says “humans in any shape, form, or in any group or any individual, should benefit more than animals.” And there’s some people who would say that that’s no longer justified. I think that’s something Eddie’s talking about in terms of being captured or being held in a way that considers animals as property or as things as opposed to something different, a different paradigm that maybe talks about them as living things that ought to have some measure of rights, legal rights, and maybe some that should be backed up on an evidentiary basis through science. And I think it can be.

But we are moving forward in this discussion in a way that it isn’t completely isolated from all the other things that are going on in the world. So it’s an interesting [00:19:00] discussion to hear the scientific perspective that Eddie just gave. That compliments my legal viewpoint.

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez: Yeah. Yeah. By the way, Tom this is a paper. I’m just pointing this out. This is a paper that I see needed. So yeah, that should be happening as well. Because there’s not enough communication, I think, especially with the increased interest in applied animal behavior research in animal welfare practices, all of this– and this is a big part of what I think has helped guiding training practices within the training community in this movement we’ve seen to whatever we wanna call it. I tend to call it reward based training methods, but people call it force free or reinforcement based. [00:20:00] What’s some of the guiding principles underlying that? So I think that’s important. But you brought up Tom some of that historical perspective and the legal perspective, all guiding ethics as well.

There is a distinction I’ve often made, because when we think about some of the more– where you’ve brought up this utilitarian approach and then even this idea that there should be no ability, that there should be no power differential allowed, that humans cannot benefit more through animal use. So for instance, get rid of animal research altogether. Get rid of the ownership of animals altogether, that kind of thing. These are stuff that’s brought up by people like Peter Singer in Animal Liberation, this ethics perspective. There’s this what I’ve called a false dichotomy that’s been brought up from that ethical perspective. And the false dichotomy has been– [00:21:00] The reason I call it a false dichotomy is because it pits animal welfare versus animal rights. And I’ve called that a false dichotomy because what I would say is that animal welfare is about concern, is about the ethical use of animals in some manner. So what I’ve pointed out is that it’s really a trifecta. There’s animal rights on one end and what I call animal now on the other perspective. So animal now is what I would loosely describe as, “I don’t care where my steak comes from, as long as I can get it for $0.99 a pound from whatever store,” right? So “I don’t care what happened to the animal to get this, I just want to be able to consume the animal now,” as opposed to “We shouldn’t be able to [00:22:00] have pets,” so the animal rights, the most extreme philosophical perspective that people like Peter Singer originally proposed, even defining terms like speciesism to outline, going back to what Hannah said about this power differential. I would say those are really the polar opposites: (a) use animals any way you want or (b) you’re not allowed to use animals at all. And animal welfare is somewhere falling between in that middle of saying “We need to have ways that we guide how animals are cared for.” And as you’ve mentioned, there’s so much history about that from a legal perspective.

Dr. Thomas Harrison: And so I would say first of all, your point about animal welfare and animal rights is slide seven of my next week’s class in animal law which is that they’re not mutually exclusive.

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez: That’s awesome.

Dr. Thomas Harrison: And I use the exact same [00:23:00] terms. It’s a false dichotomy to draw that as a separation point, because you can be a little bit of both, right? And then the other thing I would say, to answer the very first question, which is to quote Marcus Aurelius, who would say, “Waste no more time talking about what a good person is, but just go ahead and do good things.” So that’s how you know Hannah. And so wherever you fall in this animal question, I think that’s the answer, is just try to do your best to do good.

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez: Yeah. 

Hannah Branigan: Okay. “And then post about it on the internet,” I assume was cut off in the original quote. Okay. 

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez: Okay. 

Hannah Branigan: Before, before we go to much further, because I’m already getting a little bit excited about a few things, can we circle back a little bit? Both of you have mentioned this Five Freedoms and Five Domains, but can you explain what that is?

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez: Yeah. Oh boy. By the way, Tom, I have slides that I want to now share. [00:24:00] I have slides I wanna share because just even in talking about that false dichotomy and things where I’ve given ethics presentations for classes and things like that, where I talk about that, we have stuff we can share. So that is– we can talk about that later.

So the Five Freedoms I know we’ve talked about it a few times. So this goes back starting with the Brambell Report in, I don’t even remember the year, but I think the first publication of the Five Freedoms is somewhere around 1979, something like that. I think the Brambell Report might go back even to the 60s, but certainly in the 70s. So the idea was that we’re talking about in the UK people really getting together, and as Tom already pointed out, there’s laws that go back hundreds of years, potentially even further back, setting up different [00:25:00] things. But the Brambell Report and what later became the Five Freedoms, was to try to set a specific I guess we’d say federal specific guidelines for the UK and abroad, all of Europe really I think is what the original intent was. These are the minimum requirements of how farm animals – because they were specifically dealing with farm animals – can be cared for.

So it set up these Five Freedoms. This is every animal has the right to these five basic freedoms. This is minimal care. And so I think it’s hunger, thirst– So freedom from hunger, freedom from thirst, this is why they’re called the Five Freedoms. Freedom from discomfort, freedom from injury, and then one of the freedoms is not a minimal, one of the five, which is freedom to express normal behavior and then freedom from fear or [00:26:00] distress. So those are the Five Freedoms.

Now you hear more conversation now about the Five Domains. So once we get into the Five Domains, which really started in the 90s, but particularly going into 2016 and some of the publications, the Five Domains are meant to express positive welfare, since as what I mentioned just previously, the Five Freedoms really, except for the freedom to express normal behavior, really focused on freedom from things. So minimum care. The Five Domains is meant to illustrate positive welfare indices. So things like freedom for proper nutrition, things like that. [00:27:00] So I would say that’s the main difference there is the Five Domains are going to focus more specifically on positive welfare, which is particularly why you hear more conversation about that now. 

Dr. Thomas Harrison: Yeah. And you know what? I agree totally with what Eddie’s just said. The only thing I might add is in my class I also distinguish between quantitative and qualitative measurements of these these. And from a quantitative or metric point of view, the Five Domains I think are more effective at providing the potential for specific measures of whether or not an animal is in good welfare, as opposed to the Five Freedoms, which is a little more aspirational. 

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez: Yeah. I think that’s one of the things as Dr. Mellor outlined, some of the Five Domains and other people have specified them. I think it definitely– Now that we’re getting into qualitative and quantitative and we’re coming back to some of the scientific ways of understanding this, it certainly is [00:28:00] aspirational. It certainly is less clear how to quantify some aspects. Although I would say that’s been one of the difficulties as I often detail, even quantitatively assessing the Five Freedoms can be a bit difficult, especially when we start talking about things like expressing normal behavior. And I say this as somebody who’s an animal welfare scientist who spends so much of their time trying to quantify normal behavior.

And Tom also brought up this issue of qualitative versus quantitative. Certainly one of the interests of the Five Freedoms was to be able to quantify some of these welfare components. And I would say actually from a welfare science perspective, historically the welfare sciences tend to focus on more of what we can call these negative aspects of welfare that we’re not seeing signs of negative welfare. So we are not seeing what we might call abnormal behaviors, [00:29:00] uh, stereotypies, self-injurious behavior, things like that, that we are not seeing excessive amount of inactivity. And certainly the Five Domains at least puts that more so on positive welfare indices that we are seeing things like general activity, amount of time spent foraging, species-typical behavior, things that we want to see. And some of that can be much more difficult to quantify, especially as we get to things like affective states. So as we start getting to things like, “is your horse happy?” How can I not say this at least once, Hannah? “Is your penguin happy?” Don’t tickle the penguin. Please don’t. So how do we define that? How how do we quantify that? What does that mean? So that’s become [00:30:00] a bit more difficult as we’ve gotten more into some of this identification of positive welfare states, what it means. So as we’re getting more into the expanse of the Five Domains– It’s a lot easier, I would say, to simply say, “Yeah, yeah, the cow’s not hungry.” Right? The cow has plenty to eat. You can quantify that, right? You can say the animal is not injured, the animal is not being terrified. We can at least operationalize that. But once we start trying to say things like “Okay, but is the cow happy? Is the dog happy?” Gets a little harder to quantify. The only thing I’ll add on to the last bit of that is: that’s what I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to do, is come up with these proper quantifications. 

Hannah Branigan: I mean, I spend most of my adult life trying to figure out if I’m happy and if not, what to do about it. So–

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez: I thought we [00:31:00] figured out you’re not [tone: teasing]

Hannah Branigan: Yeah, probably did, but the “what to do about it part.” But I definitely see the problem. These are real conversations that come up in individual dog training conversations that I have all the time. It particularly gets important on the larger scale, if we go back to the issue of power in that, like in many situations, those in power who are making the rules, are making best guesses about the experience of the people that they’re making rules for and about, and they usually have zero experience or knowledge of that individual or group.

And I’ll have clients ask me like, “Oh, how do I know if he likes this?” Or, “How do I know if he,” or “do you think he,” y’know, fill in the blank, because I’m an expert. And I have to be honest that I do not know because I cannot [00:32:00] ask him. This is what I can observe?

Dr. Thomas Harrison: Well I think it touches on– I’m gonna adopt a non-scientific point of view just to complement Eddie’s comments as well. But we’re talking about anthropomorphism to a certain extent, right? Which is, do any animals share our same our thoughts? Do they share our feelings? Do they have the same sensations even that we do? We can’t ask them, right? So Eddie mentioned the effect of qualities that we attempt to measure. It’s very difficult to know when an animal’s in pain or when they’re happy or when they’re feeling pleasure. I think that relates to a question that you asked that you started the podcast with, which is, “how do I know I’m good?” Well, how do you know your dog’s a good dog? Right? And there are people who are writing in the non-scientific areas. So you’re saying, well, [00:33:00] that’s probably something that can never be completely resolved, so maybe we shouldn’t worry about it. And to at least some extent, maybe it doesn’t matter because we know enough to know that we can for example a female dog can be a good mother. We know what a being a mother is and how it might be good to be a good mother or be good in ways that we can understand. And maybe that’s enough. And to the extent that we can’t, because of anthropomorphism, ever know, maybe we need to be aware of that and be careful, but also try to do the best we can to make things right.

Hannah Branigan: This is such a tough– I mean, I just keep thinking about it. So the common one that I get asked every week at least twice is “How do I know if my dog likes throwing a ball?” And then I always think to myself, “How do I know if I like something or if it was just that I did well at it as a child and I was [00:34:00] praised for my achievement and I like the external validation and therefore I believe that I like this particular thing.” I don’t know how to answer those questions for people. I get real tangled up real fast, even attempting to ask it regarding an animal. So how do we determine the standards? 

Dr. Thomas Harrison: Well under my jurisdiction’s laws, 40 or 50 years ago, they passed some legislation that allowed animals to be used for research purposes. And at the time, the common most animal used was a fish. Most of the experimentation was occurring on fish. And I believe part of the reason why that was occurring was there was a generally held belief that fish had a different nervous system than human beings did and could not feel pain in the same way. And I remember even as a kid taking the hook out of the [00:35:00] fish’s mouth and the fish squiggling away to get away from that hook/ I knew enough as an eight year old to know that that fish, even if it didn’t feel pain, didn’t like it very much. And so whether or not they can feel “pain” the same way, they move away from adverse circumstances and will move towards food and light and the things that are not adverse that are beneficial or good for them, generally speaking in a healthy animal, right? So I’m gonna suggest that that may be one way that you can tell with those other kinds of animals too, from a non-scientific perspective, but Eddie maybe has some thoughts about that from a less philosophical perspective.

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez: Yeah. So the pain issue has certainly come up and it’s part of one of the Five Freedoms, right? So the freedom from pain, freedom from injury, and also freedom from fear or distress. So at least covered by a couple of those freedoms. But it’s a very difficult metric to use [00:36:00] itself. What we know is that many, many, many living things can feel pain. But how does that relate to– well, now we can get into the really existential stuff? We can talk about– It’s not just whether they can feel pain, but what their awareness of pain actually is, which certainly becomes much more difficult to then assess. And we have very little– there are few theories. There’s no mirror test, there’s very little theory of mind relevant components when it comes to pain in part because it would probably be unethical to do so.

When I joked about the mirror test, the mirror test is a common theory of mind for animals, right? Yeah. Put the dot on on the animal, give them a mirror, see the dot, are they trying to touch the dot in the mirror or touch the dot on themselves? Can they recognize? So it’s meant to be a [00:37:00] test of self-awareness. That would be very– are you going to make an animal feel pain? And then see if they’re aware of that pain? And anyway, I don’t want to go down that rabbit hole.

Hannah Branigan: Well, and pain is such a complicated thing anyways, because even our own experience of pain is so variable and context dependent. There’s the actual tissue damage, the injury itself, the nociception, the nervous system and what you make of it. And then all of that depends on your context. I think we’ve all had the experience of discovering a bruise on yourself the next morning and you’ve no idea how it happened, but you clearly did some significant damage to your body. And then having a headache and nobody can see it, but it’s excruciating. So you get an injury in the middle of something very exciting and you don’t notice [00:38:00] until it’s over. And when you have pain, but you ignore it all day long, you don’t really think about it, and then when you’re trying to fall asleep at night, all of a sudden you’re very aware of it.

So there’s a lot of layers there. That’s really hard.

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez: You brought this up from a neuro level too, because now we’re getting into effective and affective neurons and where that’s even– I mean the communication at the level of interneurons for pain and the fact that we respond pain even before we’re aware of it, right? Because of the fact that much of the way that most– I can’t speak much beyond the chordates, the vertebrates. But at least at the level of most of us that have a backbone, and by us I mean that very broadly, right? Not being just human-centric here. So most animals that have a backbone, a lot of the response to pain is happening at the level [00:39:00] of the spinal cord. So that’s the initial response. It’s communication between sensory interneurons and motor neurons. And there’s information that gets relayed up to the brain, but not the initial response stuff. All of this is to say, this gets far more complicated when we talk about pain.

Now if we’re going down this rabbit hole a little more. What I will say is, from a quantitative perspective, from a welfare science perspective, fortunately we don’t have to rely on pain, not at least directly. There are some other ways and some of the ways that welfare scientists– typically you see three– So people like David Fraser up at University of British Columbia, up at UBC, who’s a welfare scientist, and other people have talked about three different [00:40:00] ways that we typically assess welfare.

And that’s obviously the biological needs. The nutritional needs, some of the basics, right? So that has to be a cornerstone. So as Tom was earlier mentioning about how some of this ties into Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and we could even talk broader about the humanistic perspective that was a common approach by people like Carl Rogers and whatnot. But we won’t go down that rabbit hole, at least I won’t at present. But certainly we could talk about those basic needs, but that’s an important component of welfare.

And then we can talk about natural living. So that’s another common one that we hear, species typical stuff. So is a dog being able to be a dog from an evolutionary perspective? That goes beyond just health and biological needs. Now we’re talking about, does the dog get to smell all the things that dogs have evolved to be able to do and whether that’s relevant. And you hear debates about how much, where– So there are many, [00:41:00] many welfare studies, and lots of my welfare research that almost the entire basis of it is just on whether the animal is getting to do what they would normally be able to do if they were in any other of their setting. So if they were in the wild.

And a third perspective, as Fraser and others point out, is this affective state perspective. So how does the animal feel? Now what I would argue is that almost all, if not all, of the ways that we assess affective states is through overt behavior. Part of that is the behavioral perspective I have, but it’s also very difficult to come up with examples. And this is true, by the way, for affective neuroscience as well, that we use overt measures. All of science to understand affective states, we’re using some overt measure. And that overt measure is usually an [00:42:00] observable behavioral response. So if somebody– I used to jokingly say that if people asked my mom, “Oh, what do your sons do?” My brother up in New York is easy, he’s a real estate lawyer. And then somebody says, “Oh, what does your other son do?” And she says something like, “I don’t know. He makes penguins happy.” That’s my terrible Cuban mom accent there. He tickles penguins. He makes penguins happy. Right? And it’s not necessarily not true. How are we defining happy, because we have an affective state– also, not through tickling, Hannah.

Hannah Branigan: I was wondering what your penguin Yelp reviews look like.

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez: We should be clear too that I work with a lot more things than just penguins. In fact, I haven’t even worked with penguins in [00:43:00] about a decade. So right now I’m primarily working with domestic cats and some some marine mammals, quite a number of marine mammals, several different species, three different pinniped species to be exact. But anyway, nonetheless, there’s an aside.

Right. But what do we mean by an animal being happy? And that’s usually we can– as you were talking about– and this is where I think a lot of your listeners would be interested, about “Well, what do I say when somebody asks is my dog happy?” And you say, “Well, what is your dog doing? And what do you think your dog needs to do to be happy?” That’s what we– what are the affective states and how are we determining those affective states in terms of what the dog does and how does that relate to what a dog normally does? Those are both incredibly important for defining [00:44:00] any, including our, happiness. 

Dr. Thomas Harrison: And then don’t forget that you’re talking about a dog in its natural state. But dogs have been domesticated for 30,000 years. And so a lot of their behaviors have been basically genetically modified. A wolf doesn’t bark in the wild, but a dog barks, right? So a lot of behaviors may have been specifically molded and shaped to not be them in their natural state, but to be instead evolutionarily complementary to human behavior.

Which brings up another way of looking at happiness, which is the relationship you’re having with the dog, right? From an ethic of care. And that’s how you think the dog is valuing the relationship, if the dog thinks about it or not. But like most people– many people, I won’t say most because I don’t know that, but our dogs sleep in our bed with us, right? We have this, they are our members of the family. They are so close to us that we treat them very differently [00:45:00] than we would cows or even the horses that we have here at the farm. But to some extent, to the extent that the dog appears to be – and this is a scientific measure, you can measure it – thriving, it may depend upon how functional that relationship is with the dog, you know? So if there’s aggression and biting and adverse behaviors, maybe that is potentially an example of the relationship not working.

Hannah Branigan: I have a lot of thoughts around this. One of the things that I talk about a lot as a trainer and a dog training instructor I think a lot about, “my client isn’t the dog and my client isn’t the person (although the person is the one who has a credit card), but it’s the diad, is its own organism. And that’s really who my client is: the human animal relationship. Which is [00:46:00] complicated, but also straightforward in some ways, certainly with something like aggression. If we have aggressive behavior, that may be very normal and natural from a canine behavioral expression perspective, but it’s gonna lose the dog the home and it will usually result in worsening welfare by every other measure that I’m aware of.

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez: So David Mellor and others, people talking about, Five Domains have started to bring up this area of what’s often called human animal interactions. And for me, who does a lot of work with zoos and I spend a lot of time doing research on what’s called animal visitor interactions.

There are more than just animal visitor interactions in a zoo, because there’s animal caretaker interactions, so animal zookeepers, animal vets, et cetera. I won’t make mention of this beside the fact that there’s the start of [00:47:00] a book happening about human animal interactions in zoos. So since I’m one of the people that does a lot of research in this area and another person that does a lot of research in this area, we’re collaborating on some stuff.

But that is incredibly important for welfare, from a welfare perspective, is the interactions that happen between animals and people. There has to be, right? So David Mellor certainly talks a bit about how we incorporate human animal interactions into our assessment of the Five Domains. Tom you brought up a really important point. Not to divert a little bit from this, but I wanna incorporate it at least a little bit into this idea of the interactions.

One of the things that makes it incredibly difficult for both assessing, certainly for dogs, [00:48:00] probably for people too, when we start getting into species typical and Tom as you brought up, we’ve been domesticating dogs, et cetera. Well, those artificial selection pressures make understanding what natural behavior is a lot more difficult for sure. They certainly can. And that goes for people too. So we try to think about what is our species typical behavior. The one that I often point out to people, which we’ve seen over the past two plus years, about the effects of that, is our social nature. We are social animals. That’s our big thing. We are social animals. So we saw how that really got affected during this global pandemic and some of the weird things we had to do to be able to deal with the fact that we are such social animals. But [00:49:00] we could still account for– artificial selection pressures still allow us to account for things that are relevant for species typical or natural behavior. I think we do that. We do plenty of that.

But now we’ve gone down the interaction and the natural/species typical rabbit holes a little bit. I feel like we’re getting a little bit away from the ethics, that perspective. 

Hannah Branigan: Well, I mean “yes,” but also, “yes, and.” A lot of the things that I run into on a day to day basis are trying to make decisions where I’m having to weigh the needs of a human and the needs of an animal as I can perceive them, and it’s not always easy. Again, especially like to return to normal expression of natural canine behavior can often be problematic in a human setting.

Which if we could just temporarily shelve the [00:50:00] question of is having dogs in our homes at all in the first place ethical? But like, let’s say that we’re gonna do that, because I am, and it’s gonna be real hard to talk me out of it right now. So let’s say I am gonna have my dog in my house and they do sleep in my bed. Like, how do we draw that line? How do we make the trade-offs? What do we need to think about when we’re looking at– like I also have a job. I can think of a lot of examples. Right now, I work from home, but a lot of my adult life I didn’t and I was away from home. And so I did the best that I could to try to meet my dog’s needs, but I know that the lifestyle that I was able to provide for my dogs was considered unethical or inhumane by other people, mainly on the internet, who’ve never actually met me.

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez: They don’t exist.

Hannah Branigan: But I think other people are in the same situation! I have heard things like [00:51:00] “I would never place a puppy in a home with someone who works eight hours a day.” Well, that’s how I can afford to have a puppy and pay for all of their vet care. I have to have a job because I continue to not have inherited a great deal of money from some family member that I wasn’t aware of. And on the other hand, I agree. I think that it probably is better if I could be home and didn’t have other commitments and was able to just make the dogs my very top priority. I’ve not run into that life stage yet. Maybe soon. I don’t know. How do we even begin to think about that? Ideally I would love a black-and-white answer with a checkbox.

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez: Well, the only black-and-white answer I can provide is that when you got concern about people from the internet responding to you, I was just gonna say, “But you know, the internet isn’t real anyway. It doesn’t exist. So nobody exists on the internet.” No, no. Well, none of us. I was going for a smaller, [00:52:00] smaller level conspiracy. You know, your computer just comes programmed with the internet and, and you’re not really interacting with anybody. Right? Okay. So that was what I was gonna jokingly say, but nonetheless. Although that would make this whole conversation difficult. So. I know, I know.

Hannah Branigan: It’s all part of the simulation!

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez: So, jokes aside–

Hannah Branigan: Maybe Tom has a real answer. 

Dr. Thomas Harrison: Well, I do have a different perspective, but I don’t disagree with what you’re saying.

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez: Of course you can’t. Tom, you’re part of my simulation! All right. But seriously, jokes aside, I don’t know. Tom, did you have something that you were gonna…?

Dr. Thomas Harrison: What’s the alternative? I mean, I look at it from a social perspective. We’ve been involved in animal rescue movements. Toronto cat rescue up here in Ontario. [00:53:00] And several dogs– every animal we have. We have 27 animals of farm. Every single one of the animals is rescued right now. We have a beautiful farm with lots of land, but we have lived in the city and worked jobs too. And we were involved in rescue at that point. I mean, what was the alternative?

If you look at the number of animals that are feral cats and animals that are being sold for research because there’s no other purpose for them, or in some cases just out-and-out euthanized or being abandoned by shelters. Compare that to someone who maybe works eight hours a day and walks their dogs twice, but they’re in good welfare, basically. I think you have to put it in a little bit of perspective in terms of that. From my point of view, you’re a great dog mom. Your dog is snoozing quite happily away behind you there I can see, right?

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez: The one thing I can add to this, and I think this is incredibly important, and I know I’ve talked a little bit about this, because I think that what we see happen in the training community– I [00:54:00] know this is probably only my experience, I know you’ve never seen this, Hannah– but we see people be overly-critical, aversive even, about how other people handle their animals, right? Including training. So we see that with training a lot. Where we see somebody say, “You shouldn’t train that way, you shouldn’t do this, you shouldn’t do that,” et cetera, et cetera. And I’m often very cautious about that, not only because of some of the ironic hypocrisy involved, when you see something like a force-free trainer being very aversive to other people about their use, incorrect use of aversives or the like in how they might be handling some situation training- or management-wise with an animal, but also because I’m empathetic to this, because I grew up in a pretty old-school, traditional, Cuban immigrant household. Our dogs [00:55:00] were outside only. I was well into middle school when we had a dog that was allowed to come inside. That was the first dog that we had. So I grew up and not until I was into my teenage years did I even know that it was okay for a dog to be able to come inside. They were chained in the backyard. They were fed table scraps. This is what I grew up with. So does that make me a bad person? I’m asking you, Hannah. Obviously! Thank you.

Hannah Branigan: That is not what makes you a bad person.

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez: I’m not a bad person for that, but I am a bad person.

Hannah Branigan: We’re all going to The Bad Place. 

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez: It doesn’t matter. Which also isn’t real, like the internet.

But we need to have some level of empathy when we talk about even what we’re incorporating into our [00:56:00] understanding of ethics and how different people approach ethics. Because the only way to change the way that people– or the only effective way, probably the best way to really start improving the lives of animals is by improving the lives of the people that take care of those animals as well. We have to take that into consideration and part of the way that we improve the lives the people that take care of the animals that we want to improve their lives, is by not being jerks to them.

So that’s one part, as well as I would say there’s a lot more infrastructure necessary as well. But we certainly have to take those different cultural perspectives. And it’s been a concern I’ve had for a long time about things like the force-free community is how often privileged it comes across.[00:57:00] 

Hannah Branigan: I agree, and I’ve certainly seen and experienced that. And also I believe and know that it’s a different skill set. The verbal behavior of applying positive reinforcement principles to another human is a very different skill set than the skills that are involved with applying those principles within an animal training context. So it’s not– I agree with you that we need to do better. And also I think that it’s unfair to criticize the criticizers. I don’t want 

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez: Absolutely! I don’t want to guilt anyone into the change, because that would be like now we’re just adding to the layers of hypocrisy. Right? 

Hannah Branigan: Shame doesn’t work. I do scientific experiments on this by self-criticism. When I screw up, I then criticize myself and then I criticize myself for criticizing myself. And then I develop a nice shame spiral and not once – which is how I add layers to this – has that ever improved my situation or my behavior. [00:58:00] I can only assume that it applies to others as well.

Which actually, that brings up the other question. We’re still talking about making some assumptions when we’re trying to have empathy for the people and empathy for the animals. As the subject of our empathy gets further and further from our own lived experience, there’s a big gap of guessing what that person or animal wants their needs.

An example from my personal life that I learned a lot from and think about frequently: When I had my first dog as, as an adult on my own, Sam, who was a little hound mix rescue (not “little,” he was big). I was trying to do everything right and I got him a crate because I was in graduate school and so I had a graduate school schedule and a graduate student apartment on a graduate stipend. So I had a crate for him and I wanted him to be comfortable in the crate. So I got a bunch of bedding and I put in the crate because I felt like that would be more [00:59:00] comfortable. And every single day he would go in the back of the crate and he would dig out all of the bedding and lay on the plastic bottom.

And I would be like, “Well, I want him to be comfortable.” So I’d stuff the bedding back in there and he would dig it back out and he would lay on the plastic and I would stuff it back in there. “Damn it. You need to be comfortable and I’m gonna make you be comfortable.” And then after a while, it occurred to me that he was more comfortable laying on the plastic, because I also noticed that at night he would go and lay on the bathroom floor on the tile and he never really chose– he was never a bed dog. He would get up in the bed for petting and snuggles, and then when I would go to sleep, he would get back down and he would usually lay on the air conditioning vent or on the tile floor. Later when I had an actual house, he loved the porch. I was trying to make him comfortable by my standards, and I think I made his welfare temporarily in those moments worse.

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez: Did you consider that maybe he was a penguin? Okay.

Hannah Branigan: That did not cross my mind.

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez: [01:00:00] Yeah. No, this is tough. This is tough because it’s there’s a level of evaluation I think, that we need of our own behavior in all of this, and understanding not to be– If we’re being concerned about other individuals, we equally have to stop being so critical of our own selves and so aversive to ourselves in the process. That it’s okay for others to be human, but not ourselves, right? You can make mistakes, but I can’t.

Dr. Thomas Harrison: I was a social worker for a bunch of years and what you just described was exactly the dilemma that every social worker always faces. How do we know we’re actually helping anybody? But it also occurs to me that the exact example you use was the absolutely typical challenge that every parent has ever faced in trying to make their lives of their children better.

Hannah Branigan: [01:01:00] Yes. Oh, that’s so true. There’s also legal implications. Because that’s really minor and people might judge me whether my dog has bedding– Actually, people do judge me if my dog has bedding or not bedding. But in some countries crates are illegal or their usage in that way is, and if a law was passed in my state that required bedding for dogs, I would be forced to have forced bedding, forced “comfort,” for that dog. And I do wonder– you know, it’s been gaining a little bit steam that the dog training industry in the US is not regulated, but there’s legislature out in different states that are looking at moving in that direction. And just like other government and legislative moves, those laws are [01:02:00] not being made by dog trainers. They’re being made by politicians. And I was wondering, Tom, from a legal perspective, like I’m trying to make this into a real question that you can actually answer, but feel free to rescue me at any time here. What goes into that and how do we know? Like, I know in some countries prong collars are illegal and here they’re not. There’s a lot of differences between laws. What makes the difference between something being kind of “best practices,” which seems to be such a moving target anyways, versus a legal issue where you can go to jail?

Dr. Thomas Harrison: It depends to some extent on the legal regime that’s in place. So before we started, we were talking about animals in captivity and whether dolphins and whales should– We just passed a law here in Canada that bans [01:03:00] the captivity of whales, dolphins and cetaceans in captivity. And that’s been applied in our criminal code, so it’s a national law. But for the most part, our animal laws, because of the federal nature of our country, they’re very local. And so they end up often being towns and cities, which maybe have a little less policy capacity to engage in the kind of expert consultation that would better inform laws like you’ve described. 


Hannah Branigan: This episode is sponsored by On Cue training treats from Karen Pryor Clicker Training. I’m always on the lookout for a shelf-stable treat to keep in my training bag in my car over the weekend that occupies that magical slice of the Venn diagram between treats that my dogs will work for and treats that are easy for me to handle and treats that are healthy enough that I don’t feel bad feeding my dogs mass quantities of them. I do train a lot with food, so particularly with a small dog like Rugby, the treats he consumes in training can end up making up a really big proportion of his total [01:04:00] daily calories. So I wanna make sure that those treats are made from stuff that I feel good about. Obviously I have higher nutritional standards for my dogs than I do for myself. So I was really curious to try out the On Cue treats after I read the ingredients and see how they measured on those other two variables too.

So my dogs, even the border collie, were definitely fans. So you’ve got a check there.

And from my perspective, what I really liked about the handleability of these treats was the weight and the shape of them. They’re flattish, not round like a ping pong ball, but they’re also thick enough and heavy enough so that they have really decent throwability and for the most part, stay where they land without bouncing all over or crumbling into a million pieces. I throw a lot of food, so those are really important factors to me. And yes, I did do my personal litmus test of leaving them in my treat pouch in my car over the weekend, totally on purpose. And the results were very boring, which is exactly what I want. You can check them out yourself, go to, or you can follow the link in the show notes.

[Episode resumes]

Dr. Thomas Harrison: Now, it might [01:05:00] be that in some places it would be possible to pass a national law that would permit something to happen. And you know, when they do that here they have plenty of opportunities to have experts come in and they start committees and they consult sometimes for years before they pass the law.

I think what you’re talking about now is not as much necessarily a legal process, although that is one option. What you’re actually talking about is policy development, right? And in some cases, the option is to pass a law that says this, but in other cases it might be to develop a set of best practices that would be implemented by organizations or maybe the organizations themselves develop a best practice and you can get licensed by them, right? Maybe the government doesn’t do it directly. Maybe they turn it to the professionals or experts who are in the field to self-regulate in some way.

So to a large extent, it depends on who’s [01:06:00] responsible for what in the jurisdiction you’re in. It is a bit hit and miss, but you’d have to get more specific about a particular jurisdiction, just be able to say what might work in a particular spot.So that’s the typical lawyer answer that I just gave you was, “it depends,” and that’s why.

Hannah Branigan: Yeah, that’s really unsatisfying. [laughter] And I guess that’s kind of the problem here is we keep running into “it depends” with all of these ethical questions to some degree. I know we’ve talked about some measurables or data that we can take to support it. 

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez: Well, we can take a particular example, which is Queensland. So one of the states in Australia just outlawed prong collars. I think that that’s a good move. [01:07:00] I think that there are many people that would complain about this, probably people that use prong collars. So while I don’t wanna be necessarily critical, I understand why somebody might use a tool like that, I think that the tool does more damage than it does good. So I think it is a tool that that should be outlawed. That’s part of how we start to change the usage of that tool, right?

Hannah Branigan: But do we have evidence that outlawing specific tools– I’m trying to expand this to beyond tools. I’m thinking about things like anti-tethering laws. We can make it illegal to tie out your dog, but that doesn’t make you give the dog a better [01:08:00] life, right?

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez: There’s two parts to that, which is: Does making something illegal decrease its behavior? And a second part of that is: What does the welfare science have to say about the use of something like a prong collar?

So to the first part, what I can say is there is that a lot we don’t know for prong collars. I should say “I don’t.” I don’t know of any data. But there is tons– And I’m sure, Tom, that you can talk a little bit more about this as well. There is tons and tons and tons of examples of where making something illegal has an effect, a serious effect on reducing the behavior of that thing that is no longer legal, right? So there are many, many, many examples. So there’s no reason to suspect that in Queensland, all of a sudden there’s just gonna be this [01:09:00] rampant increase in the use of prong collars in reaction to the restriction of it.

But that doesn’t answer the question of welfare. What does the welfare science have to say about the effects of using prong collar on dogs? So this is something that has been debated plenty, plenty of times and there are people that are gonna say, “But the science!” and this and that. And actually the science is pretty limited in what it says about the use of various traditional balanced or what I would call aversive of training tools. It’s pretty limited. There’s a few studies and they all tend to, if we’re grouping them all together– So I don’t know of any prong collar study that examined any aspect of welfare science, but there’s certainly some shock collar, e-collar, whatever we wanna call them, studies that [01:10:00] show that there are some negative effects of the use of those training tools, as well as showing that the tools themselves do not benefit training advancement itself. So that’s one of the common claims is that, “Well, you’re not gonna be able to train the animal to the level that I can train without a shock collar.” So a few studies I can just mention along those lines, there’s Casey et al 2021 has looked at some of the different aversive tools or different aversive methods and finding some problems with reliance on using aversive training methods in general. And Cooper et al 2014, China et al 2020, have done comparisons of working dogs trained with shock collars versus not trained with shock collars and found no real difference.

So those are at least a few studies that we can talk about [01:11:00] with respect to that and I’m sure we could find more. Those are three that I can say that are stored in my brain for examples of this. And I’m sure we could, if we wanted to do a more thorough lit review, we could find more examples.

But there’s still surprisingly not that much research.

Now that said, again, if we’re going to the broader, generalizing– Even when we start moving outside of dogs, we start to see where relying on aversive tools for training methods is problematic for the welfare of animals. So when we get into stuff with cats, and even– and I shouldn’t say just “aversive training tools,” but reliance on aversive training methods in general. O’Handley et al 2021 found this with domestic cats. So there are other examples that we can see.

But there’s still a lot to ask about this. There’s still a lot of welfare related questions.[01:12:00] 

And Paul McGreevey has a number of studies even looking at this within horse training and the horse industry in general.

So here’s the broadest statement I can say: What limited research there is on this topic shows that in general – and I don’t think this is too surprising – in general, it is detrimental to the welfare of the animal to have aversive training methods primarily used for their management.

Dr. Thomas Harrison: And let me just add one little add-on here. We’re talking about how do you tell the animals? Well, through the history of animal research, animals have been used to make conclusions with respect to human welfare and health. And I’m gonna suggest that you could do the same thing the other way.

And there is [01:13:00] plenty of data that shows psychologically and physically the adverse effects of these kinds of motivators on– and most probably appropriately with respect to shock things are the Milgram shock experiments, which showed both physically and mentally how challenging that is for people to deal with. There’s a suggestion that that’s probably also the case for at least–

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez: Yeah, yeah. There’s certainly some relevance from Stanley Milgram and the studies he did, and the effects they had on people from the perspective of just thinking they were delivering these shocks is an interesting perspective.

Hannah Branigan: Well, I think part of my question is, when you outlaw a thing, you’re removing it and leaving a vacuum, and you’re not– I’m certainly not going to argue that training with aversive methods is– [01:14:00] But removing the prong collar doesn’t teach me to do positive training, right? I guess that’s part of my question is, do we measure that?

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez: I mean there’s some empirical questions that are really important here, but I am certainly in favor of– And I refer to them as “aversive training tools.” So I refer to choke chains, pinch collars and shock collars, e-collars, I refer to them as “aversive training tools.” So I’ve had this discussion with other people where people say, “Yeah, but it’s the method, not the tool.” But in all three of those cases, can you use a prong collar without delivering aversives? Yes. I’m sure you can just have a dog walking around wearing a prong collar and it never feels the pinches, but the [01:15:00] tool is built to deliver aversives, right? So that’s why I call them “aversive training tools,” is because the tool is built to deliver aversives.

And the other argument that you will hear people make is, “Yeah, but the dog rarely feels the pinch.” But how often does it feel the threat of the pinch? The same thing. Shock collar is a prime example where people say, “Yeah, but the shocks are rarely delivered.” Yeah. But a bully rarely punches a kid, it doesn’t mean they don’t give the threat of the punch on a regular basis. And that’s how most aversive training tools are used, is the threat. So it’s the conditioned aversives that are far more common.

Now all of this said, we’re going back to something that I brought up earlier, which is I’m being both objective and critical about these tools and what I’m calling aversive training tools. I’m [01:16:00] saying, “Yeah, I think it’s a good thing to outlaw them. I think they are problematic for the welfare. I think the limited research we do have on them shows that they are not more effective and problematic for the welfare.”

But at the same time, I think one of the worst things we can do is to shame the people that use them. And we need to stop that. That’s the part that I don’t– I can still say that we shouldn’t be doing these things, but at the same time, not walking up to somebody who’s doing them and saying, “And you are bad for doing it.” I’m saying, “Here’s what the evidence is about that tool.” If I am talking with somebody who is a prong collar user, a shock collar user, a choke collar user– And I know people, I have friends and colleagues that use these tools. So there are people that would say that I’m not supposed to somehow interact with these people. Of course I do, and I don’t shame them. Would I like them to [01:17:00] not use that tool? Yes.

Dr. Thomas Harrison: Quite aside from the question of moral guilt, I’m gonna say the question really depends upon an understanding of the animal that sees it as an object and property. And so if it’s rooted in that ethical perspective, there are some people who would say, whether it’s shameful or not, it’s probably not something you would do to your child, for example. And that there might not be– The inherent value of the animal means that you probably shouldn’t treat it as a piece of property or a thing.

Hannah Branigan: Let me try my question one more time and then I’ll give up. What I’m wondering is, if we’re coming in with the goal of improving welfare and we agree that reducing the use of aversives in training and management improves welfare, what is the most effective way to reach that goal? Can it be done legislatively and is [01:18:00] outlawing specific tools the path to that goal? 

Dr. Thomas Harrison: I think outlawing some specific tools might be a path for some jurisdictions. They may feel that that’s what’s needed. You mentioned Queensland. Up here in Canada, one of our provinces, it isn’t shock collars, but they’ve outlawed the cosmetic alterations on pets.That was regarded as a legislative tool that was necessary in that jurisdiction. Now, there may be other places where they say, “We don’t wanna do that. We have a different practice here in our part of the country” or whatever. So there are ways that you can use–

But it’s part of what I would say, again, you’ve said “legislatively.” I’m gonna say that legislation is part of a policymaker’s toolbox of which laws are one tool in the box. Maybe you use different methods in different circumstances where they’re more effective. So in some cases, maybe you have the American Kennel Club come up [01:19:00] with a policy that says, “We endorse this as the best practice and we encourage all of the training facilities that we accredit to use it.” Maybe that would be more effective. And maybe in Australia, the municipality that has more power. I don’t know about Australian law, but maybe they can come up with something that would necessarily have a tool that would be amenable to legislative community.

So again, not withstanding your dislike of the idea that “it depends,” both law and ethics are very situational. That’s the very nature of ethics. The question you’re asking is–

Hannah Branigan: Yes. I hate it very much. [laughing]

Dr. Thomas Harrison: And human beings hate uncertainty. This is why we hate this and why people make fun of lawyers because they never give us a straight answer, because they can’t. Because it depends, right? It’s the same with that, the question you’re asking me at least

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez: Well I was just gonna add to that just to say that– I think an important point in all of this [01:20:00] is that these are empirical questions that we can answer in some way. And I think that’s particularly what we need.

I’ve been critical of when I hear – again, whatever we’re gonna call it, reward based, force-free trainers – when they say, “Oh, well, I do science based.” I’m critical of that. Aside from the fact that it suggests that somehow training that is not doing what that person is doing or that group or the force-free is, is not science based. And there is quite a lot of science when it comes to things like punishment. So it also gives the wrong impression. It suggests that somehow we have– As I’ve already pointed out, there is not a ton of data in a lot of these things. And that’s why I am hesitant to often give definitive answers and I can’t answer something to the extent of, [01:21:00] is the legislation going to be effective? Even that, I wanna say, “Effective along what lines do you mean?” Because being effective in reducing people using prong collars doesn’t mean it’s effective for reducing people using aversive methods or effective in, as you mentioned, getting people to then use some form of reward based training methods.

So we don’t– These are all empirical questions. We need more data. 

Dr. Thomas Harrison: Right. And you really have to be careful of that shift because especially when you’re using laws. We had a situation here in the province Ontario where about 15 years ago, a little more, they banned pit bulls, basically because they were viewed as dangerous dogs and they were worried about dog bites. And so we’ve now had 15 or more years of experience where these dogs have been banned. In fact, the the old ones were grandfathered in. So they have passed along by now. But the number of dog bites in the province has actually increased. [01:22:00] So what happened? Right? People resorted to other kinds of dogs and the amount of dog bites continued at or above the same levels.

Right? And so it’s whether you’re using a prong collar or hitting the dog, it’s not gonna change anything. Right? So the one thing we know about laws is the best laws are actually the ones that people will actually follow without generally seeking to enforce it. It’s like that bully that threatens. If the law is threatening too much, people will not follow the law. It’s Prohibition. People stopped following the law and they started drinking cause they didn’t wanna follow the law in the first place.

So it is amenable to legislation, but in every circumstance you’re gonna have to judge based on the culture of the time and the place, whether or not it’s appropriate. And maybe you’re not gonna use the legislative tool, maybe you’re gonna use education or a best practice or some other tool–

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez: Yeah. Tom, I was gonna say as an [01:23:00] example, along those lines too– Where some hard lessons were learned was within the conservation sciences, what’s now acknowledged is this colonialist perspective towards conservation where people would go in and just try to change laws without promoting any of the proper contingencies involved. So we’re just gonna say, “You can’t harvest pangolins. You can’t go out and hunt them, you can’t do this, you can’t do that, but we’re not gonna do anything to make your life easier in the absence of harvesting those animals.” So that’s really, really ineffective. And it’s also that level of privilege, that part that I keep emphasizing, that part that I think is incredibly important, which is: you gotta go in and understand the cultural perspective here. You’ve gotta step away from your privilege at that level.

And as I’ve mentioned often with our quote unquote [01:24:00] reward-based or force-free training community, I’ve said it is very privileged in the sense that it is particularly white and we don’t even have the data on that. I know of one study that is looked at gender, or at least talked about gender differences. One published paper that has looked at– Gabrielson 2016 ish that has talked about, in Norway and in the Scandinavia in Scandinavian countries, some of the differences in gender and traditional or balanced training versus force-free or reward-based training methods. So there’s so limited data on this, but it is still very clear that our community has this level of privilege and we need to understand that if we want to make these changes. We gotta stop being jerks about it.

Hannah Branigan: So to jump off from that and the discussion around punishment and [01:25:00] aversives, I know for example, I’ve had recent conversations about this in the parenting communities that I am sometimes in. There are parents who believe that not spanking my child is unkind to my child and that they are doing their children a kindness.

And I know that it also comes up in dog training communities and there are different arguments. And I do believe that they love their dogs for the most part. And [love] dogs [in general], and think that what they are doing is kind and ethical and humane, and that the choices that I might make are not.

Is there ever a place to use pain, punishment, aversives if it’s for the greater good? So for example, snake aversion [01:26:00] training or recall training. 

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez: So first off, let me start off with, you got at something where there is actually a lot of data, and that’s in the issue of spanking and hitting kids. And we now have decades and decades of research within psychological research on this topic. And the overwhelming amount of evidence is that there are no benefits at all to hitting kids. I can’t even think of a study that shows any level of benefit to anything. Whether we’re talking at the level of corporal punishment, any of that, all of it and above, it is problematic. It is, it is traumatic. It is detrimental to the behavior and welfare of kids and their later adulthood. It’s overwhelming the research on that topic. So we know some of the problems there.

Now, at the same time, I will say this: This [01:27:00] idea that you can stop from using aversives altogether or you can stop from using punishment is also not true. So we need to stop saying things like, “I’m against the use of punishment” or “I’m against the use of aversives.” Because if that’s what you really believe, then you need to stop allowing yourself to use the bathroom or get out of the sun or use alarm clocks or any of that. All of these are the removal of aversives, which is a natural part of what– so there’s a difference. I’m being facetious at some level here because I think people have misunderstood the difference between saying, “I am against this coercive use of these particular methods.I’m against contrived coercive use, traditional training, excessive use of aversives,” et cetera, [01:28:00] and equating that with somehow being able to stop from using operantly-defined punishment and negative reinforcement.

Those are two different topics and they’re two different things. These are principles that exist. So I’m going a bit beyond what you asked there, but I think it’s relevant because we need to be clear about what we’re arguing against. So we are arguing against particular types of aversive training methods, aversive training, the excessive use of of aversives itself, the contrived use, so the general use of coercion. We’re not arguing against whether punishment exists because you can’t stop– Differential Reinforcement of Other (DRO) is a procedure that is punishment-based. That is a punishment procedure. So that’s how it works. And it’s a differential reinforcement procedure that is used to reduce [01:29:00] behavior. Timeouts, including non-exclusionary timeouts, are a form of negative punishment.

I’m just pointing out that we are still so changing the– So before anybody gets really upset about what I’m saying here, even changing the level– Because that’s what Differential Reinforcement of Other (DRO) does. We’re changing the level at which rewards occur. So even doing that, moving from the rate of rewards from a high to lower level can be punishing.

So that’s what I mean by saying that we should not be arguing that you cannot use this. It just exists. It exists. It’s part of what happens.

So that said, I understand some of the– That’s why I say we need to move away from that “science based” argument. But I can understand when people say, “But punishment naturally occurs.” Yes, actually it does. And aversives naturally exist and people [01:30:00] use them. You’re right. But that’s not what we’re talking about. When you strap on a shock collar, a choke collar, a pinch collar, that is not something– you cannot compare that to using a non-exclusionary timeout from saying, “I’m not going to reward you for several seconds” from using extinction, which often can be paired with punishment, from some of the procedures that we are implementing to look at effective ways to reduce behavior that we do not wanna see.

So we’re arguing about different types of methods. And that’s why I say that often the argument about aversives is really about the type, intensity and frequency of the aversives used, not an argument against the use of aversives itself.

And by the way, these are similar points to Skinner, Sidman, other people that have talked [01:31:00] about the use of coercion. This is, this falls in line with how they have defined coercion itself too. They’re not saying you just plan on a life where no punishment exists.

So,t hat is purely a pragmatic– All of what I’ve mentioned there still doesn’t get at what you’re talking about, which is– Okay. Now say somebody wants to snake proof and they want to strap on a shock collar to snake proof their their animal and they’re arguing that they are somehow benefiting the welfare of the dog.

So just like your example of spanking a child, somehow by them spanking the child, they’re teaching the child a lesson that will improve their welfare later on. That’s the argument. Right? And by snake proofing their animal or using shock collars in general, that they are improving– “I’m teaching the animal obedience [01:32:00] and it improves the overall welfare of the animal.”

So what I would say to that argument is, first off, with the spanking, as I’ve already mentioned, there is no empirical evidence to support that argument. There’s tons of evidence to show it is not effective, that it’s detrimental to the welfare. There’s at least empirical evidence that shows that you can still train without the use of shock collars train. That there’s no effective– there’s no added effect that benefits the animal. I’ve mentioned already a couple studies that show that it doesn’t benefit a working dog, for instance, at least for things like herding.

But we can still turn these into empirical questions. So we can say, [01:33:00] “Okay, in the least you have no evidence to support that argument, that somehow a dog is benefiting, that the animal’s benefiting from that.”

Dr. Thomas Harrison: I have nothing scientific to add. I mentioned earlier that I’d been a child and youth worker, and so when I hear you say “I hear parents–”

My experience has been that, quite aside from the question of appropriate or inappropriate use of force against an animal, which I take no position on that. More often than not, when I saw animals and people being abused in those circumstances, it was people who were using those kinds of arguments, that “It’s for their own good.” So I take a slightly different position I think to Eddie. I’m not in favor of the coercive use of force in this fashion, notwithstanding the fact that if people [01:34:00] are doing it appropriately, maybe okay. I personally shy away. 

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez: No, no. I’m a hundred percent in agreement with you.I’m making a purely from a theoretical perspective, the point that I brought up about punishment and aversives is just that it’s not possible to say that one does not use them, because of the ways that they are defined, operationally defined, but from an ethical– 

Hannah Branigan: No, I know, I know what you’re saying.

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez: Part of the reason I bring this up also is because what I point out, even in mentioning that there are empirical questions here, is that a lot of what we’re basing this on, it’s an ethical debate itself– And my ethics on this are that I have made a life out of trying to minimize the use of aversives as much as possible towards any other organism, towards anyone, human, non-human.[01:35:00] and I’ve failed at it miserably many, many times, especially earlier in my life. And it’s something that– But it’s still a core part of my philosophy. I’m getting at that point too, the philosophy, the ethics of that. 

Hannah Branigan: Right. And I understand Eddie, what you’re saying and I agree. There’s a – particularly on an ethical standpoint, for me – a big difference between me existing in a world where I run into door frames and stub my toe and get sunburns and put on a sweater when I feel cold and things like that– that compared to me deliberately introducing an aversive, whether positive punishment, negative reinforcement, or negative punishment actually to modify behavior.

Certainly for my purposes, I guess my question is– What I’m hearing a lot is, and help me out if I’m not hearing this correctly: Part of when we’re [01:36:00] making an ethics-based decision is doing like a risk/benefit analysis. And I guess what I’m wondering is kind of going back to the beginning. Earlier, we were talking about it doesn’t matter if there’s some benefit to other people, if there’s damage to the subject of the experiment. And I’m wondering about how we calculate that on a day-to-day basis for things like if–

I have a hot wire on the fence for my horses. That is definitely painful. The reason that I use a hot wire is I believe that it is less painful than running into a T post. A fence they won’t touch is safer than a fence that they will run into and I do have a horse that will test fences. And I have early experiences with serious [01:37:00] injuries that horses sustained on non-electrified fences. So that’s in my learning history. And that goes into my reasoning for why I use a hot wire. And yesterday I touched that same hot wire because I was too lazy to go unplug it when I went to go clean the pasture and I know what exactly what it feels like, and I’m gonna do it again in three months, and I’m gonna do it again–

But it is definitely punishing. How can I tell if my calculations are like– What should I measure that against? 

Dr. Thomas Harrison: Well, can I just object about one thing? Because I know we’re talking about quantitative measures and we’re talking about empirical evidence, right? So I understand why you’re using calculation and risk benefit. But you are harbored in a very narrow ethical perspective when you’re doing that, right? Like, that is a very utilitarian perspective that you have. And there are half a dozen other perspectives that you could look at this from. So you can continue to think about it that way, but you [01:38:00] don’t have to do that.

So I will let Eddie answer the ethical calculation.

Hannah Branigan: Well no! I’m totally happy to– Like, what are the other ways we could think about it too? 

Dr. Thomas Harrison: Well, I think we’d have to go through them, right? How does that affect the relationship that you have with your horse? Maybe that’s the question, not from a positive/negative. Maybe on a relational basis, it’s better in your interest and in the horse’s interest to have that thing or not have that thing. I mean, we’d have to go through the ethical perspectives. I’m just gonna say we– The ethical calculus that you’re talking about is something that is very deeply embedded in most people’s– It’s the same as a welfare perspective, right? Which it’s separate from, I would say, but they do overlap. But people naturally tend to think about that risk/benefit.  Which doesn’t mean that that’s the only way you can think about it. That’s the only point I’m trying to make. It still can work, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that there isn’t another way to [01:39:00] think about the approach to any particular specific issue.

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez: Absolutely, that’s why I even mentioned there– From my perspective, I often think about this issue from a non-quantitative standpoint. I’m not just looking at it from this quantitative– Which is probably weird to hear, especially me as this welfare scientist talking about thinking about something from a non-quantitative perspective.

But that’s why I say this. There are certainly components. We’re talking about this from the ethical, philosophical perspective of, I just don’t wanna be a jerk.  I’m trying to minimize how much I’m being a jerk. And that’s a big part, right?

Hannah Branigan: Believe it or not, folks! [laughter]

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez:  Thank you. To me that’s such a critical component of how I define my life, is minimizing how much of– So the point that I was making [01:40:00] before about the– To me that’s important: identifying that how we define punishment, how we define negative reinforcement, how those procedures are used and how they can even be used in non-coercive ways, is to understand that small segment of the science of that, to understand how operant conditioning works, which is that the common use of the way that we have operationally defined punishment means that you’re not gonna stop from using it. So we need to stop making that argument that we are somehow anti-punishment. Right? So it’s just a simple throwaway point along those lines.

But now let’s talk about the– You are talking more specifically about– You have hot wire up for animals. So you are actively acknowledging how– You’re introducing it in a contrived form in the environment and it’s shock. So it’s an [01:41:00] intense delivery of an aversive that you’ve brought in and contrived into their environment. And how is that different than the– And the safety! You cannot go to a zoo where you do not see hot wire. Maybe there is, there might be, I can’t say, but I’ve never experienced a zoo where there isn’t hot wire used, right? Because it has to. I mean, do you want to let the bear or the tiger out of that enclosure? And what is the cost/benefit? But again, we’re getting to this point of talking about cost/benefit now. 

Hannah Branigan: And I do wanna hear more about what Tom was saying as well, because it makes sense to me and I think it’s– Of course there’s a lot of ways to look at it. And also, as I’m making decisions for my own animals in the moment, one, I don’t have [01:42:00] data specific to their situation and two, there’s time—

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez: So I’ll add this part. This is the part that I think is really– And part of it gets at something that Tom has talked about, which is the “it depends” component, the context dependent component, which is relevant, but the other is the function itself. And I think that that’s relevant as well. So that’s often what we use. We use context and function to define the ethics of our procedures in many cases, rather than just simply, “but that’s this.” Like “Oh, but that’s negative reinforcement and that’s why it’s wrong.” This is the kind of thing that Joe Lang is talking about when he talks about when positive reinforcement is coercive and punishment is not. He’s getting at the fact that we can still– either of those, depending on its context and function is relevant.

So I’ll give you one weird example and then I want to [01:43:00] throw this back to Tom because I want to get out of the quantitative realm of just talking about this since I’ve already opened the door as well to the fact that I think about this from an ethical perspective. But I’ll give you this one weird point, and this gets at the thing I’ve said with respect to negative reinforcement.

So if you were to show up to a friend’s house and you said, “Hey where’s your bathroom at? I just had a long drive. I need to use your bathroom,” and their response was, “Oh, now we don’t believe in negative reinforcement in this house. Sorry, you can’t use the bathroom. I’ll tell you what I’m gonna do instead: I’m gonna give you some candy. So here you go. Just give you candy every couple seconds. Don’t worry about using the bathroom.” That doesn’t get rid of the condition that you’re in right there. It doesn’t change the fact that the function of your behavior, the function of needing to use that bathroom is to relieve some aversive. And you’re not going– [01:44:00] Superimposing some positive reinforcement delivery on top of what’s already existing isn’t going to stop you from needing to use the bathroom.

So this is why behaviorists have talked about the problem of superimposition, of superimposing positive reinforcement under–

So you go into a classroom and this kid’s acting up or this is happening. Or we go into a household and we say that the dog is behaving, the dog’s barking under these conditions, et cetera. Boom. And we just say, “Okay, well, all we have to do is superimpose some reward system on top of that.” But are we treating the function of the behavior? And if the function of the behavior is to escape some condition, if there’s a negative reinforcement function, it means we still have to identify that function. We still have to let the person use the bathroom in some way. Right? So that’s my [01:45:00] weird analogy along these lines. But the point being is that function and context are still incredibly important, especially from an ethical perspective, because it’s what allows us to define some of these ethics.

Dr. Thomas Harrison: And in the context of T-posts, I think that there’s a lot of context there, right? I have 10 horses on the farm here. Every single one of the horses is a rescue horse. Four of them were rescued off meat lots; the alternative was for them to be dog food. Notwithstanding that if I had them on t-bars and had five of them in a hundred foot by a hundred square foot pen, that probably would not be very kind. It might even be cruel, right? A lot of it depends on the circumstances.

I would say to you, the bigger question is: What is the social context that permits us to do certain things like that with certain animals [01:46:00] that permits us to have where I live thousands of animals that are being sent to slaughter because nobody wants them, basically– and not dogs and cats, although that’s for them too, but horses as well. And so what’s the alternative? I’m presuming because you’re a good person, Hannah, that you’re treating those horses pretty well. So the alternative there in the context is probably not as good as it would otherwise. And that’s quite apart from any calculus, right? There’s a larger thing.

And the other thing I’m gonna say to you is– I’m gonna make an accusation here. You are attempting to impose a moral viewpoint on an ethical situation, which is you are looking for a Right or Wrong, black and white answer, to an ethical question, which is, by its very definition, gray.

Hannah Branigan: I mean, yes.

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez: [01:47:00] This is part of why I was gonna frame this in the– we’re not gonna answer that question you’ve brought up Hannah, about “Well, but this person still believes that they are doing the greater good by using a shock collar.” If we’re framing that from an ethical perspective, we can at least apply some empirical questions and some empirical evidence, and what I can say is there is no evidence to support that argument, right? Just like in the sense of there is tons of evidence against the use of hitting, of spanking, having any real benefits for children.

So there are parts of it we can frame [01:48:00] empirically. And those are the ones, as a welfare scientist– not the hitting kids stuff because I don’t deal with kids, so who cares about the welfare of kids, Hannah, that’s what I’m saying. [laughter] But from an animal welfare scientist perspective, I wanna look for the things that I can frame– that I can ask empirical questions about, and provide answers for like what you’re asking. But I still, I cannot at the level of– If somebody says, “But for the greater good, this is why I’m doing this.” I don’t know that ultimately we can– You can find a way to frame that in a way that provides no empirical evidence, nor has the possibility of providing empirical evidence. [01:49:00] 

Hannah Branigan: Okay. But, so if something theoretically could be moral or immoral or I guess amoral, like I go to The Good Place or I go to The Bad Place–

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez: Um, gotta remember The Neutral Place too. Come on. You’re talking to a somebody grew up in a Latin Catholic household. There’s a lot of Neutral Place in there. Purgatory. Purgatory’s important. 

Hannah Branigan: Yeah, yeah. Gotta get your way outta there. So what about ethical versus unethical? 

Dr. Thomas Harrison: Well, your ethical or unethical has to be in the context of some framework for what those ethics are important in the context, right? So when I talk to my law students, there’s a code of ethics, right? A professional responsibility. And so we determine what is ethical in reference to that. And so, whereas the greater good is an aspirational value that’s really more moral, I think, than ethical, ethical is very context specific and it’s very difficult [01:50:00] to, from instance to instance, to say that this is what you should do, because it’s gonna depend on a lot of different factors, including the time and the place.

Hannah Branigan: Okay. So potentially there we can make an ethical argument that I use a hot wire. It allows me to have much larger fenced-in area than I could afford if I had to use other materials. It does prevent injuries or certainly prevents worse injury, well hopefully. And I can move their grazing areas around so they have access to better nutrition, better for the environment because I can rotational graze to support the soil. So we have lots of these good tradeoffs for this risk of a negative experience. Am I getting quantitative again? HAH! That’s where I live.

Dr. Thomas Harrison: Yes, [01:51:00] you’re listening all the the “buts.” No, you can do that. There’s nothing wrong with that. And they usually overlap because they’re not mutually exclusive, right. So there’s a welfare perspective, there’s an ethic of care, there’s a virtue perspective, there’s the utilitarian. You can do that, but you just wanna be careful because there, there could be other things. And there’s always the context of the larger perspective too, not just the specific circumstance that you’re in. So you might wanna consider that. You said one of them was the environment, so that might be one of them, right? And you might also– And some people, like as Eddie said, Peter Singer might say, “Well, maybe we should be questioning about whether we have animals in this way at all.”

Hannah Branigan: I ask myself that question on a daily basis. Yes. For other reasons, but yeah.

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez: This is what I tend to do, which is why I get even hung up on specific components of operational definitions for different [01:52:00] functional contingencies and why I say things like, “you can’t avoid, pun intended, using punishment and negative reinforcement.” I’m talking about that from a purely functional perspective. So I don’t wanna– Hopefully the soundbite out of that is not people going “Well, Eddie says it’s okay to go and smack penguins.” See how many times– That was a goal today, by the way, to see if I could actually beat out how many times I’ve said “penguins” in one podcast, and I think I’ve done it, so.

But yeah, I don’t wanna– As somebody whose career is quantifying welfare, I’m certainly all for coming up with the different ways that we can measure this. I’m certainly in favor of that. But there [01:53:00] are still– We need to at least acknowledge as Tom’s brought up and it’s an important point that there are many of these aspects that we’re just not– that it’s gonna be in that ethical gray area and that we can’t frame from an empirical perspective. There are components of that, ethically, that just rely on assumptions rather than empirical questions. That’s how philosophy works. In fact, there is no scientist who can say– At some point, every scientist has to rely on some foundational assumptions. One of those often being “Science is a good way of looking at the world.” You can’t test that directly.

Dr. Thomas Harrison: No, I would just say I agree and I would point out that the philosophers determined the existence of the atom 2000 years before modern science did. So there there are ways of knowing things, the truth. And science is one. Yep. Science is one. Literature, history, law are others.

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez: I’m all in [01:54:00] on the science and knowing the world thing. I’m all in on that. So it’s not like just getting me to talk in ways where I acknowledge the need to understand things in a non-quantitative way is already not exactly the easiest task, but it’s important to acknowledge that part of ethics.

Dr. Thomas Harrison: When I talk to my students about this and animals, what I usually say – and I didn’t read this in a book anywhere, this is just based on my experience – but I usually say the numbers don’t tell the whole story. If you’re using metrics and quantitative data, you need to be able to put it in a context that explains it. And so you need a mix. The best solution is a mix of quantitative and qualitative data that puts together something that is probably in a narrative form, although maybe not because narrative is potentially also biased. But you know, that’s the structure that we tend to use to tell stories. [01:55:00] 

Hannah Branigan: I think my– just kind of find a place to wrap this up. My concern when I’m trying to make decisions for my animals and in zooming out in my goals to make the world a better place, is that I don’t want my biases to blind me to context that I should be accounting for, I guess. And I’m wondering– So for example, my therapist tells me that just by going to therapy to ask your therapist if you might be a narcissist automatically excludes you from being a narcissist because they don’t go to therapy. Like, I guess what we could do from this is, if we’re having the conversations about wondering “Are we taking context into account, are we looking at all of these different variables and considering these lenses,” is that the best we can do to try to conduct our lives with animals and our [01:56:00] training in a way that is consistent with an ethical viewpoint?

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez: By the way, if you want to get a narcissist to go to therapy? You can tell ’em that. [laughter] I’m on to your therapist scheme here. 

Hannah Branigan: Yes, that’s exactly what a narcissist would say. I also said that, and then she says, “Do you think I’m not very good at my job?” And then I felt bad that I made her feel bad–

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez: Which is definitely not what a narcissist would say.

Hannah Branigan: And now we’re back around to reassuring me–

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez: Although did you have that feeling just to be able to convince yourself that you’re not a narcissist?

Hannah Branigan: [laughing] I’m to find a place to wrap up, Eddie! So is it by having these conversations and trying to be deliberate about looking for context, is that the path to virtue? [01:57:00] 

Dr. Thomas Harrison: So if you take a virtue ethics point of view, that might be. I’m not sure virtues are necessarily the way to go, but that could be one way. You know, these are questions– I said 2000 years ago they discovered the atom, but the scientists took til the last century to do that, right? These are not questions that have just come up in the last decade or the last generation. These are questions that you’re touching on that are the very heart of human existence and in terms of our existence and relationship with the natural world. And it’s been at least 30,000 years that we’ve had companion animals, dogs and cats and other animals, at least 17 other species. So whether it’s the natural world or these companion animals, the domestic animals that we share our lives with or with each other, all we can try to do from generation to generation is do our best to understand them in a way that is practical and useful for us in our times. And [01:58:00] so that’s my best answer to your question. It isn’t very satisfying, I’m sure, but there it is.

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez: I would just add that I do think, as much as we started out early on talking about the way that science can move ethics forward and as ethics can move science forward, and I do think that’s an incredibly important point. Otherwise, I would not be an animal welfare scientist. So that in and of itself. That’s basically what an animal welfare scientist is, is somebody that’s trying to use science to move ethics forward and ethics to move their science forward, just applied to animals. So I think that’s not a terrible operational definition for what animal welfare science is.

But that said, I wanna rely on the quantitative data as much as possible and I want more data on these topics. And that’s what I think we really, really absolutely need. We need to start finding out [01:59:00] more things about, “Okay, well what do these prong collar laws, what do these choke collar laws, what effect do they have?” And knowing that from different perspectives, not just one dependent variable, not just– That’s what I said early on. That’s a really easy answer. Making things illegal tends to make the use of those things go down. There’s tons and tons of examples of that, but is that really what we’re trying to answer?

But that’s just one example. I think there’s lots and lots of other examples. And I really, really wanna see more than anything, which is one of my life goals, is to see practitioners more reliant on the data that scientists, particularly animal welfare scientists, produce. So what I mean by that is just [02:00:00] not cherry-picking what supports, not using confirmation bias to support what we already believe and choosing to ignore the stuff we don’t.

So I’m really hesitant to mention this at the end of your podcast, but I’m gonna say it. So we saw a great example of this on this recent– and it’s worth mentioning just because it’s such an– it’s published in Science, which is one of the top two journals out there. But we see a paper published on breed and their reliability, or lack thereof, for predicting behavior, individual behaviors some people have focused on, but it’s really just talking about predicting behavior.

So we see that and we see how quick people were to say, “I like science, but not when it doesn’t support what I want it to say.” Well, that’s not science, that’s dogma. [02:01:00] So we need to be– That’s one of my life goals is in getting practitioners to spend more time attending to and also using data in their lives for practical purposes.

So that’s where I think the moving forward with ethics and welfare science is: The more that people are able to acknowledge the importance of that interconnection between ethics and science and using both of them to really help push that forward.

Dr. Thomas Harrison: Eddie, your comment reminded me of the joke that people will go along with what science says, as long as your karma doesn’t run my dogma.

Hannah Branigan: Well thank you both so much. 

Dr. Eduardo J. Fernandez: This has been awesome. And then I forgot to take count, but I might as well just say “penguin” one more time just so we can make sure that it’s up there.[02:02:00] 

Dr. Thomas Harrison: Yeah, this was wonderful. Thanks everybody, nice to meet you.

Hannah Branigan: Nothing Andrea says about you is true. [laughter] I’m just kidding, I’m just kidding. Thank you so much. I really learned a lot and I now have reading to do. Really appreciate it. 


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