Animal welfare in a military working dogs program: initial proposal for the Brazilian Army

The latest concepts on animal welfare are spread unequally throughout the world, as among the handling practices in several types of animal breeding. Military Working Dogs (MWD) have many particularities in their routine, which certainly influence the animal welfare practices to be adopted. This study aimed to analyze handling, training and military operations practices of the Brazilian Army MWD and propose a manual of good practices on animal welfare for their use. The aspects analyzed were guided by the capacity of the practices to ensure the five freedoms of animal welfare, as well as discussion of specific points of Animal Welfare. Official documents of the Brazilian Army were analyzed and visits in loco in 3 kennels (7% of the total) for the verification of the existing practices. The practices adopted by the Army were considered adequate to guarantee freedom from hunger and thirst, as there is an organized program to acquire and to supply adequate food for the MWD; there are veterinarians responsible for nutritional prescription of these animals and adequate training on handling to guarantee daily supply. The practices on freedom from discomfort were considered partially appropriate, because despite the normative standardization of facilities and materials, some facilities have actually opportunities for space and material improvement. The practices regarding freedom from pain, injury or disease, were considered partially appropriate because despite the existence of structured practices of veterinary medicine, there are animals that have low availability of medical facilities and procedures to guarantee their health. Practices regarding the freedom to express normal behavior were considered appropriate since the animals have time and space for it, despite some controversial issues in the literature such as freedom for the expression of sexual behavior is not fully guaranteed. Practices as freedom from fear and distress were considered partially appropriate, as there is a lack of normative standardization for the training of dog handlers, which could lead to professionals without the minimum knowledge and consequential poor practices in animal welfare. A manual of good practices for animal welfare of military working dogs was produced and proposed, with the aim to be a tool to improve animal welfare in the practices discussed above. A validation for the manual is needed for further improvement of animal welfare in the Brazilian Army MWD. It is also suggested the measurement of animal welfare indicators and its correlation with performance as an auxiliary method to improve animal welfare in the MWD.

Authors: Otávio Augusto B. Soares, Felipe B. Soares, Nívea de M. G. Vieira