Over the past 16 years or so, 2 words have had their meanings totally changed within the dog training world, by those that have an agenda to push, based on political correctness and pushed by emotive rhetoric, to enforce a new ideology that has no basis in reality. These 2 words are dominance and punishment. Both are now understood to mean abuse, in that the act of dominating or punishing a dog is now an abusive act. This belief is pushed by the positive-only and force-free extremist element, the fanatics.
Abuse has its own meaning, and to now attach it to dominance and punishment is taking its meaning to the ridiculous.
- rule; control; authority; ascendancy
- the condition of being dominant.
- Psychology. the disposition of an individual to assert control in dealing with others.
- Animal Behavior. high status in a social group, usually acquired as the result of aggression, that involves the tendency to take priority in access to limited resources, as food, mates, or space.
- the act of punishing.
- the fact of being punished, as for an offense or fault.
- a penalty inflicted for an offense, fault, etc.
- severe handling or treatment.
I cannot find in any dictionary where dominance or punishment is considered an abusive act, other than in positive-only and force-free literature.
An abusive act is an abusive act, no matter what form it takes.
When these what I call extremist groups publish information on dominance or punishment, they will include imagery such as this (on the left) to push their emotive ideology on to uneducated and unsuspecting dog owners. Sadly many fall for this rhetoric, after all who wants to be abusive to their dog. What you see portrayed in this image, is an abusive act, and should never be compared with the act of dominating a dog, or punishing a dog using positive punishment (+P).
When we use the term +P, we are using it in the context of conditioning a dog to avoid a behaviour or situation. We are not punishing or dominating a dog out of anger. Anger has only one real objective, to condition a fear response in the dog, and releasing our own frustrations.
An example of an abusive act:
We see our dog chewing on the furniture, so we rush over in an angry state and hit our dog, yelling at it. Now this form of punishment (which in reality is not punishment) has redirected the dogs attention on to our emotional state, and the consequences of that emotional state. We are in affect teaching the dog to avoid that emotional state out of fear, and not to actually avoid chewing on the furniture. This would be considered abuse, in that we are creating fear and avoidance of the owner, and placing the dog in a fearful emotional state. Positive-only fanatics would like you to believe that this is the form of punishment balanced and traditional trainers use, for no other reason than to push their emotive agenda. Or they more than likely have no concept or understanding of the true act of +P, and how or why it is effective and works on the dogs own natural instinct to avoid.
An example of natural positive punishment
You throw a ball for your dog. The ball ends up going in to a prickly bush. Your dog chases the ball and runs into the prickly bush, and is pricked by a few prickles, causing an unpleasant consequence. The dog moves away from the bush, leaving the ball there. You go get the ball. Now you again throw the ball, and it ends up in the bush again. The dog runs to chase the ball, but stops at the bush. The dog is not fearful of the bush, but instinctively understands, to avoid going back in there. Now the act of getting pricked by the bush is +P. The bush is not carrying out an abusive act on the dog. The dog also does not look at you in fear and therefore avoid you because you threw the ball back in to the bush.
Now however, if as the dog ran in to the bush the first time, and we ran to our dog angry and yelling, just before the dog enters the bush, and then the dog gets pricked, it is possible the dog now associates our anger with getting pricked by the bush, and not only now avoids the bush, but also avoids us out of fear, due to our emotional state and actions. Our emotional response from the dogs perspective caused the unpleasant consequence from the bush.
Now let us look at +P when for example we want to quickly stop our dog pulling on the leash.
If for example we have a correction chain on our dog, and it is hanging loose around the dogs neck, and as the dog moves out in front, and before the chain tightens, we offer a quick instant correction at the level of discomfort for the dog, and we stay emotionally neutral, we are by this action conditioning the dog to avoid the correction, by not moving out in front. As long as we don't become emotionally involved during the correction, by getting angry, the dog will only pair the correction with its current behaviour, and hence not move out in front. Now I am not suggesting this is the only way to train a dog not to pull on a lead, its used as an example on how +P works when carried out correctly. Now if we became angry and frustrated and therefore overly emotional during the correction, we instantly switch the dog in to avoiding us out of fear, as the dogs focus of attention is now on our emotional energy and reactions and the unpleasant consequence. We can now see how this compares with the above prickly bush analogy above.
Anger and frustration have no place in dog training or behaviour modification. Once we become overly emotional and act upon our current emotional state towards our dog, we have turned punishment in to an abusive act. Its not the act of punishment itself that is abusive, it's how we intend to use it. Even just standing there and yelling at your dog in anger, is an abusive reaction, as the dog has no concept of why you are directing that negative energy towards it.
We can use a stick to teach a dog to fetch, just as easily as we can use a stick to teach a dog to avoid us. The sick is not the abusive element, just as punishment is no more abusive than a stick. You choose how to use both.
Dominance theory, fact or a myth?
I can answer this question fairly quickly based on logic. Whenever you enforce rules, whether that be to a child, employee, or a dog, you are dominating the situation and in effect that person or animal, if the other person or animal complies with your demands. Every social animal on the planet has varying levels of genetic dominant characteristics. Please don't believe the rubbish that somehow dogs are the only social animal on the planet that somehow lost these traits. No social group could survive without dominance having a strong influence on the dynamics within the social group. Social groups would instantly collapse into chaos, and cease to exist as a cohesive unit without dominance. Even families would end up in chaos without enforcing rules and boundaries. Some do unfortunately. All you have to do is watch a mother with its pups, or dogs simply playing, to see dominant characteristics come to the surface. A dog that is controlling personal space or a resource, is dominating the situation and other dog in that moment. The strength of dominant characteristics is dependent on genetics, and then enforced by learnt behaviours that work for the dog.
Positive-only and force-free fanatics would have you believe that dominance theory is indeed a myth, and has no place in raising our dogs. That dominating your dog is based on abuse, and does nothing but instill fear, and will make your dog aggressive. This is hogwash. Yes an abusive act has the potential to put your dog in to a state of fear, and therefore to become aggressive to protect itself, however dominance in its true form is not an abusive act.
Does dominating a situation or enforcing rules and boundaries constitute abuse? Of course not, unless we choose to turn it in to an abusive act.
Please don't listen to all the emotive rhetoric pushed by these fanatics. None of it is based in fact or reality. Their ideology is nothing but emotive based, and they will say or do whatever it takes to push their views, even if that means not being honest with dog owners.