I am one that believes in keeping things simple, and easy to understand. Dog training and behaviour, due to so much scientific research has become so complicated due to so many scientific terms for every single action and reaction. KISS (keep it simple stupid), and explaining it in terms that everyone understands and can picture in their own mind, and relate to in normal life, is the best way to help dog owners understand and quickly take in information. Carrying on with terms like 'conditional reinforces' only tends to complicate matters, and has many dog owners switching off due to training becoming to technical. So lets have a simple explanation of good dog, bad dog, that is easy to relate to and understand, and what the future may possibly hold for dog ownership if we don't understand and adhere to these principles.
Good dog, bad dog
Just as a young baby has no concept of right and wrong, or good and bad, neither does a dog. Dogs only act or react due to consequences, and this goes for any animal or organism. It is only due to the evolution of verbal and written communication that we as humans have the ability to teach children the concept of good and bad, and right and wrong. It is only when children start to understand us that we can then verbalise or express our approval or disapproval, and hand out praise or punishment for any type of desirable or undesirable behaviour. We can even 'threaten' to punish for a behaviour before it has even happened, or even punish for past deeds even years past, or offer to reward future behaviours that we desire at a future time, and all due to our ability to communicate complex information verbally. Dogs do not have this privilege.
Would you expect a 6 month old baby to understand good, bad, right or wrong? No of course not, as we have no way to communicate our views to the baby. I come across it on a weekly basis, dog owners believing that their dog understands when it is being 'a good dog' or 'a bad dog'. Many dog owners are so conditioned to believing that when they say to their dog, "Good boy" that the dog comprehends that it is indeed being a good dog. Well it doesn't, all we are doing is creating a positive marker with that sound if we immediately pair it with a pleasant consequence, such as a treat and/or affection. All we are doing is making the dog feel good. We are therefore doing nothing more than marking the current behaviour with a positive consequence, no different to using the sound of a clicker. However, on a side note, I prefer to use voice and affection instead of a clicker, as we are expressing positive emotional energy as well, which does help create a stronger bond between you and your dog, than when just using a mechanical click and treat. In my personal opinion all this 'click and treat' training is removing a lot of positive emotional bonding from training, and making trainers some distant nuetral object to the dog, whereby the click becomes more important to the dog. More on this in another article though.
If we get angry at our dog, all we are doing is creating an unpleasant consequence in that moment, a consequence the dog of course will instinctively want to avoid, and not having the dog understand its 'naughty or bad'. For example, if we get mad at our dog, and in anger we say "You naughty boy", and then hit our dog, we are creating a negative marker, with not only the sound "naughty boy", but also with our aggressive body language and energy. The dog is not understanding it is a 'naughty dog'. We are doing no more than conditioning the dog to avoid the person when that negative marker is repeated enough times, as that is the dogs current focus of attention each time it is presented with our anger.
Punishment should always be viewed as creating an unpleasant consequence for the behaviour the dog is focusing on in that moment, and not expressing anger or aggression towards the dog. Any form of punishment, such as an aversive, should be carried out as a mechanical response, and not an emotional response as we would a positive marker. Becoming emotionally involved in the punishment only redirects the dogs focus on to us, and therefore the dog needing to avoid us.
Can I get angry at my dog?
Is it ever acceptable to get mad or angry at a dog? No its not. Yes we need to be assertive when punishing a behaviour, however without becoming emotional, which then informs the dog that we are taking control in that moment. For example, say we have a dog that is assertively jumping up for attention, and as the dog jumps we raise our knee connecting with the dogs chest creating an unpleasant consequence, whilst at the same time standing our ground projecting assertive energy and displaying assertive body language. Most dogs will back off for a sec, and then either drop the assertive attitude and come back into our space for attention, or wait to be invited back into our space. If we instead express anger and aggressive energy as we raised our knee, then in all probability the dog would switch into full avoidance and back right away in fear, or possibly even display an aggressive response. Remember, all we want to achieve is for the dog to avoid unacceptable behaviours, not get angry at the dog and then have the dog avoid us out of fear.
Here is a classic example of using positive and negative consequences to condition behaviours we don't want:
- A young dog picks up the TV remote when we are not paying attention. We see the dog with the remote in its mouth. We rush toward the dog saying "Rover, no you naughty boy", the dog rushes off so we give chase... Positive consequence.
- We chase the dog, and finally corner it. We grab the dog by the collar and get extremely angry, saying "you naughty boy, you know you shouldn't take this", as we hit the dog and remove the remote from the dogs mouth..... Unpleasant consequence.
What has the dog learnt from this chain of events? Well in all probability, it hasn't learnt not to pick up the TV remote, in fact the exact opposite... Why should it avoid picking up the remote again, when it created a positive consequence for the dog. The behaviour got your immediate attention, and then a fun chase. However, getting caught didn't result in a pleasant consequence. From the dogs perspective, because we got angry and displayed aggressive behaviour when it got caught, we have just conditioned the dog to avoid us in that particular situation. Don't get caught when being chased, as that only creates an unpleasant consequence. The dog learns to either go somewhere it can't get caught, like hiding under furniture, possibly show aggression when cornered, totally shut-down, or drop the object before it gets caught and display appeasement type behaviour. But it hasn't learnt not to pick up the object in the first place.
From the dogs perspective for the above scenario, picking up an object, and then being caught and punished, are not connected.
Here is another example.
- Dog pulls washing off the line and plays... Positive consequence. Result: Repeat behaviour
- Owner comes home, washing on ground, owner gets angry at dog, punishes the dog... Unpleasant consequence. Result: Avoid owner when washing on the ground.
The dog in the above scenario has no way to connect the 1st behaviour of pulling washing off the line with the final unpleasant consequence applied by the dog's owner.
Consider a 6 month old baby in a room by itself. The baby breaks something of value to you. You go in to that room and see what the baby has done, so you take the baby back to the broken object and get mad at the baby.... Does the baby really comprehend what you are trying to communicate to it, or just picking up on your aggressive energy and body language?
So to have a well balanced relationship with your dog, it is so important that we stop seeing dogs as good or bad. We can no more say that a killer whale is bad, because its throwing a seal around before it eventually kills it to eat. Or a dog that chases a chicken and kills it. These are nothing but natural instincts. No amount of telling or showing your dog it is bad for killing chickens is going to convince a dog it was naughty for doing so. The behaviour either produces fun or pleasant consquences, or it causes a consequence the dog chooses to avoid... No human concept of right or wrong, or good or bad behaviour.
Overly emotional people tend to project their emotional views and feelings on to their dog
A dog is neither good nor bad, and nor does it see itself as such, and nor does it view behaviours as good or bad. Life just produces consequences that the dog learns from, as part of its natural survival instincts. Anyone that informs you that it is cruel to punish (or correct, the term I and many others prefer to use) a behaviour, doesn't fully understand the concept I have outlined above. Those that do consider punishment as abuse are comparing it to someone getting angry, lashing out, and yes being abusive. They have trouble understanding or comprehending that punishment to condition a dog to avoid an unwanted behaviour is no different for the dog than learning to stay away from say a prickle bush, or moving into the shade when its getting too hot. I find that in most cases these type of people that find it difficult to comprehend that punishment is not an abusive act are people that tend to become overly emotional and find it difficult to control their own emotions, so best to inform everyone that because they cannot control their emotions, nobody can. I find most balanced trainers themselves have a more balanced life in regards to their emotions, they tend to be more stable, and tend to not allow emotions to override logic, and therefore have a more balanced outlook on life, where emotions are not taken to extremes. Most PO/FF trainers however tend to be more on the emotional side and have a tendency to go to emotional extremes, highs and lows. You see this a lot when you don't subscribe to the ideology or agenda the extremist element within these groups follow, their emotions become out of control and will aggressively personally attack the 'non-believers'. I have come across this a lot on my own Facebook page. And yet when talking between themselves and with those that follow their ideology, and about dogs in general, tend to be overly emotional to the other end of the spectrum, what I term the 'furbaby/furparent' syndrome. I realise I am generalising here, but what I have said here tends to be closer to the norm than not.
Since political correctness has become so strong within society, emotions are playing an overly critical role in how we can now live within society. This has actually fallen into our governments hands, as it allows them more and more control, and the eroding away of our God given freedoms. Common sense no longer exists, and society is being conditioned that we need governments to decide everything for us. We are being treated no differently than young children that don't yet have the capacity to make responsible decisions. Have you noticed that most of our laws are designed to prop up the revenue of our Governments, and to condition us to the reality of giving up more and more control?
You are probably asking what has all this got to do with our dogs? Well, political correctness is now even conditioning people to project human emotions and reasoning on to our animals, by animal rights activists like PETA, RSPCA, AWL and others that have government backing. Dogs are not allowed to be dogs any more, because suddenly after more than 30,000 years these groups have decided that dogs them self have been getting it all wrong. Suddenly dogs have become very emotional beings that perceive the world the same way those overly emotional humans do. They will have you believe that any form of discomfort is being abusive, but only if the discomfort is being applied by a human. If its applied by another dog, or a dog chooses to avoid something that naturally causes discomfort for the dog, that is totally acceptable. But God forbid, don't let it be a human, as we are evil abusive beings!
I predict, within the next 40 years, if we keep going the way we are, having dogs as family pets will be a long distant memory. By conditioning society to be overly emotional about dogs, and conditioning people to feel evil and guilty for even considering 'punishing' a behaviour, the rates of dog attacks, dog bites, and dogs generally out of control will keep increasing exponentially. Soon dogs will not be allowed in public because they are out of control (this freedom is slowly being taken away now), and therefore end up living their life locked away in backyards. When society gets to this stage then the animal rights activists will have all the ammunition they need to show that keeping dogs as domestic pets is abusive, because it is not allowing dogs any freedom. And it all started because it was believed that we as humans were abusive for using punishment.
We need people like me, that are willing to speak out against these groups that are trying to humanise dogs by expressing overly emotional rhetoric, as little do most of them realise, they are a part of the long term plan to remove dogs as pets. And what better way to do this than by turning people in to overly emotional dog owners and trainers.
What I feel I was alluding to is that we need to get past believing that learning principles such as positive punishment and negative reinforcement are in them self abusive acts, which they aren't. Just as eating is not an abusive act, unless taken to emotional extremes.
Dogs don't have a concept of good and bad, right and wrong. They live and learn purely by what has been ensuring their survival for hundreds of thousands of years, their natural instincts, which includes the principle of avoiding unpleasant consequences.
The attitude now of 'death before discomfort', is not doing our dogs any favours, nor the families that need to manage their dogs not only in public, but also in their homes. And in my opinion this overly emotional conditioning is a danger to our future life and relationship with our beloved dogs.
I realise I went went off on another tangent here from the intended content of the article, however I just went where my mind was taking me and just allowed it to flow and take me along for the ride :)