Tag Archives: animals

4- Freedom from Fear and Distress

This week we will be discussing the fourth of the Five Freedoms: the freedom from fear and distress. This freedom is about providing animals with conditions and treatment that do not cause them to suffer mentally or physically. Read the following blog with your students to learn more!

Have you ever heard strange noises at home that frightened you? When you heard the noises its likely that your breathing quickened, your heart started pounding, and your muscles stiffened. You might even have felt like hiding or running away from the noises. However, a few seconds later you probably relaxed as you realized the noises were just the furnace turning on.

That feeling you experienced was fear. We experience fear in response to any real or perceived threats. In the case of the noises from the furnace, it was just a perceived threat. But, if those noises turned out to be someone in your house, that would be a real threat! Either way, in both situations our body undergoes physical and behavioral changes to prepare itself for potential danger.

fear distress 1

Just like humans, animals are also able to experience fear. Fear is not only unpleasant, but it can also have an impact on an animal’s health. An animal that is constantly exposed to conditions that make them fearful will experience poor mental and physical health. Mentally, the animal will become very alert and will regularly feel overwhelmed and worried. Physically, the animal may experience digestion issues, heart problems, and difficulty sleeping and eating. It’s important that we treat animals well and provide them with conditions that prevent them from feeling fear.

So, how do we provide our animals with a stress-free environment? First, we learn about what animals are afraid of. Different species have different fears, so it is important to find out exactly what you should and shouldn’t be introducing into your animal’s environment. For example, cows are afraid of many harmless things such as shadows, flags, painted lines, loose chains, and plastic bags. Therefore, it is important to try and eliminate as many of these things as possible from their environment. At the same time, you can change different things about the environment to make it more stress-free for animals. For instance, cow operations can adopt non-slip flooring, rounded runways, and solid fences (rather than slotted) to ensure a less stressful experience for their cows. Farmers can also reduce stress by actively cleaning up any garbage, misplaced clothing, or puddles that are in a cow’s environment.

How we treat our animals can also have an effect on their stress levels. When we are training and disciplining our animals it is important that we use humane techniques. Using positive reinforcement – such as giving your dog a treat, a pet or a toy when they are learning – is the best way to ensure you are not distressing them while training. On the other hand, techniques that use physical punishment, such as hitting are unacceptable as they can cause fear, anxiety and distress. Research has shown that dogs trained using positive reinforcement performed new tasks better, are more playful, interact more positively with strangers and had a better relationship with their handlers.

Distress is a term that can be used to describe both mental suffering such as fear, loneliness, and anxiety or physical suffering such hunger, illness or pain for an injury. An animal may be in distress if their Five Freedoms are not met adequately. Look back on the past blogs to see else may cause distress. Once we are aware of what causes distress we are more able to prevent it!

That’s the end of our discussion on fear and distress! Its not always possible to prevent your animal from feeling fear, as many factors are beyond our control. In order to avoid distress, it’s important to try your best to care for our animals by meeting their five freedoms to the best of our abilities.

Be sure to tune in next week where we will talk about the last of the Five Freedoms: the freedom to express normal behavior!

Discussion Questions:

1.What are situations when you feel fear?

2.What situations do you know of that pets my feel fear?

Different species of animals have different fears, especially if they are typically prey animals like rabbits. Some answer would include thunder, other loud noises, strangers, other animals, etc.

3.How could you help to reduce their fear?

4. What can cause distress?

Look back at past blogs! Hunger, thirst, illness, injury, disease, discomfort (no shelter, suitable resting area), etc.  

Classroom Activities:

1.Vocabulary explosion: With some of the vocabulary and concepts used in this blog, have students look up the definition and then use a thesaurus to find synonyms. Students can create word explosions to display in the classroom. Discuss the nuances of the synonyms with your students.

Example vocabulary: content, fear, safe, distress, comfort, positive, etc.

word explosion


2.Part of our provincial legislation says that it is unlawful to cause or permit an animal to be in distress. What does distress mean according to Alberta’s Animal Protection Act? Do you think its important to have laws to protect animals? Do you think this is a good law? Why or why not.

3.Clicker training is a positive way to train animals (dogs, cats, chickens, horses can all be trained with a clicker). Research how people use clickers to train animals and why it works.

Thanks to Kelsey Neill for her work on this blog series! Learn more about Kelsey here. 

3- Freedom from Pain, Injury, and Disease

Welcome back to our Five Freedom series! This week we will be covering the third of the Five Freedoms: The Freedom from Pain, Injury, and Disease. This freedom is all about preventing health issues in domestic animals, and rapidly diagnosing and treating them when they do occur. Read the following blog with your students to…Continue Reading

2 – Freedom from Discomfort

This week we will be discussing the second of the Five Freedoms: The Freedom from Discomfort! This freedom is all about ensuring we provide domestic animals comfort which is achieved in different ways. Read the following blog with your students to learn more. At the end of a long day, where do you want to…Continue Reading

1 – Freedom from Thirst and Hunger

As mentioned in last week’s blog, we are doing a weekly blog series for the next month about the Five Freedoms! This week we will be discussing the first of the Five Freedoms: the Freedom from Thirst and Hunger. This Freedom is all about ensuring animals are provided with ready access to fresh water and…Continue Reading

Exploring the Five Freedoms

Developing a sense of responsibility is a critical component of character and citizenship education. We will be exploring this theme through addressing our obligation to be responsible for animals in our care. The more we learn about animals, what they need to be healthy, how they feel safe, what they like or dislike, etc., the…Continue Reading

Alberta’s New Curriculum – an opportunity for leadership in humane values

The current review of provincial curriculum – being conducted by Alberta Education in partnership with the Alberta Teachers’ Association – provides a unique opportunity to incorporate positive, effective changes in our schools to help students’ character development through humane education. Indeed, we can become the first province to explicitly include humane education in the provincial…Continue Reading

Responding to Disaster: The Fort McMurray Fire

A disaster can happen when we least expect it. But when people step up, get involved and work together, difficult situations can be overcome and the Fort McMurray fire is a great example of this. From the start, the fires moved quickly, intensely and unpredictably. People were forced to evacuate with little warning – this…Continue Reading

Marks of Kindness

Students and teachers across the province have done some wonderful things to make a difference for animals, people and the environment! This short video highlights just some of the things they were up to this past school year. Enjoy! For more examples of students making a difference, visit our Kindness Map!Continue Reading

It’s spring – get outside and… learn!

As the days get longer and temperatures return to the plus side of zero, Albertans naturally start spending more time outdoors. Along with the newly budding leaves and flowers, field trips and environmental activities seem to flourish in spring. Our Kindness Calendar lists many events with educational components – often global in perspective but with…Continue Reading

Blog posts represent the opinion of the author and not necessarily the opinion of the Alberta SPCA.