Mark's Dog Blog

Enforced Discipline

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If you don't subscribe to the theory that behaviours should have predictable consequences (especially unacceptable behaviours), then how can you be sure your dog will make the right choices that ensure a harmonious and well-balanced relationship, or indeed one that is even safe? You can't!

A dog left to itself will always choose behaviours that are 'self-serving' in that moment, and not what's best for the family unit or the current social environment it finds itself in. Your dog could care less if its behaviour affects you negatively if the behaviour itself is self-rewarding for the dog. This is why enforced discipline is so important. It's guiding the dog to make the correct choices that benefit the social group as a whole. Ignoring a behaviour or trying to only teach an alternative behaviour is not enforced discipline. By relying on this methodology all we can hope is that no motivator will trigger the unwanted behaviour once again. Only avoidance of a behaviour will ensure it doesn't raise its ugly head again, no matter the motivation.

We as our dog's guardians need to ensure we offer our dog consistent feedback on what we consider is appropriate or inappropriate behaviour.  No social group in the animal kingdom can survive without enforced discipline. Without enforced discipline, social groups would fall into chaos and cease to exist. They wouldn't be able to breed, hunt, or maintain a social structure within the group. Your social group (family) which includes your dog, is no different. Without enforced discipline, it would fall into chaos.

Young children cannot predict the future consequences of their current behaviour/action, or how it may affect another person, because, just like our dogs, they live in the moment, and will only make choices that are 'self-serving' in that moment, without considering what the consequences are. So as responsible parents, we enforce rules and boundaries to help guide our children to make responsible and safe choices, and not choices that are only self-serving for the child in that moment. With children, we enforce discipline by creating predictable consequences for behaviour, acceptable and unacceptable. This way the child has instant feedback on the consequences of its behaviour/action. Yet how many actually offer their dog the same consideration? If the dog is only operating at an intellectual level no higher than a young child, then how can we expect it to make choices that are beneficial for the entire family, and that are indeed safe? We wouldn't expect this reasoning ability from a young child would we? No of course not. However, a young child of say 7 years of age has one major advantage over a dog... We can explain things to a child. We can explain why its behaviour is not acceptable. We can include punishment that the child doesn't look forward to as a future action, like take away privileges, or deny playing with friends next week. However this type of punishment only works because we can communicate with a child, and therefore we can make a future punishment valid and unpleasant in that moment. We don't need to use physical punishment. A dog we cannot communicate with as we can a child, so the punishment must be carried out in that moment, and must be paired with the unacceptable behaviour, so the dog understands to avoid it in the future.

There are unacceptable behaviours that require our immediate action so that we can inhibit or extinguish the behaviour in the quickest time frame possible, and in a way the dog understands instinctively.  These are behaviours that could be life threatening or dangerous to the health or well-being of the dog or human, or that may negatively affect the well-being or continued survival of the social group (family) as a whole. This can only be achieved through the application of positive punishment, enabling us to quickly condition avoidance of the behaviour next time. Without positive punishment paired with the unacceptable behaviour, the learning process for the dog can be way too slow to be a safe and therefore viable course of action. Only positive punishment conditions avoidance in an animal.

For many unacceptable behaviours, it's not realistic (or even responsible) to use methods that could take months, such as for example biting or indeed aggressive behaviour. This is why positive-only and force-free methods that work on slowly modifying a behaviour through principles such as counter-conditioning, redirecting attention, or avoiding the trigger, are not a viable course of action, as safety and the welfare of the dog or human are our number one priority. They just work way too slow, if at all, because there is no reason for the dog to avoid the behaviour next time.

 The lack of an unpleasant consequence to condition avoidance of an unacceptable behaviour in favour of positive-only methodology (which does not recognise positive-punishment as an acceptable form of training), doesn't allow immediate feedback for the dog, and therefore results in a very long time frame to change or modify a behaviour (if at all), and therefore could be detrimental to the health, safety or well-being of either the dog, person, family or another animal. Positive punishment offers the dog instant feedback that it wants to avoid, and therefore offers extremely fast results.

There is nothing wrong with correcting or punishing a dog for unacceptable behaviour, especially if it is dangerous or life threatening or threatens the stability of the social group (family). However, we need to understand what a correction or punishment is.

  • A correction or punishment is used to condition a dog to avoid an unacceptable behaviour, and for no other reason.
  • A correction or punishment is only applied at the threshold of discomfort for the dog, which means firm enough so that the dog decides to avoid it, but not so firm that the action creates a fear-based reaction.
  • The timing of any correction or punishment is critical. It must be paired directly with the unwanted behaviour.
  • And most importantly it is never carried out in anger or frustration. We do not become emotionally involved with the outcome. Getting angry only triggers a fear response in the dog

To suggest that physically punishing or correcting a dog is cruel is stating that a human created emotive ideology is more important than the dog. Never follow a philosophy that believes or suggests, 'death before discomfort'. The action of correcting or punishing itself is not an abusive act, it's the incorrect application of the action that can make it abusive. And thus we shouldn't avoid using it just because it has the potential to be abusive due to incorrect application. We need to accept that refusing to use it when required, could be highly detrimental to the dog, as in many cases there are no other options but death.

If it's abusive to correct or punish a dog for unacceptable behaviours, why isn't it considered the same when 2 or more social animals instinctively do the same action? Those that condemn physical punishment as being abusive and consider killing a dog a better alternative, should take a good deep look at their philosophy on the sanctity of life.

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