Common (Dog) Sense

The punishment dilemma

The punishment dilemma

Conditioning a dog to avoid a behaviour is not punishment, as we would punish a child for example. Punishment of an animal tends to come from a place of anger and/or frustration. When we punish a dog in anger or out of frustration, we are conditioning the dog to avoid the anger, frustration or person, and not the behaviour we actually want the dog to avoid. Remember, if we are angry at a person for doing something wrong, we can verbally communicate that anger to explain to the person why we are angry, even if its days after the fact. When a dog experiences a negative consequence, the dog is conditioned to instinctively avoid that immediate behaviour or situation in one of 3 ways, fight, flight or simply shut down. So if for example a dogs owner rushes towards a dog in anger and strikes out, the dog reacts in one of the 3 instinctive ways. Whatever is the stronger instinct will be the first response by the dog.

I have found one of the most difficult concepts for those indoctrinated in to the positive-only or force-free extremist ideologies, is understanding the concept of conditioning avoidance in a dog. These individuals tend to have been brainwashed, with emotive rhetoric, that any form of negative reinforcement is an act of punishment carried out in anger, and is therefore an act of abuse.

If a dog runs into a rose bush and pricks himself, and therefore avoids going back there, is the rose bush acting out of anger? Of course not. If a skunk releases its scent on to a dog that is invading its space, is the skunk acting out of anger? No!

Those that punish dogs in anger, are in my opinion carrying out an abusive act, and in most cases have no or little understanding of the correct use of negative reinforcement, such as what is termed 'positive punishment'.

I have come across many, many instances over the years of dog owners trying to faithfully follow the positive-only or force-free methodology with their dog, because it has been drummed in to them that its the only humane and gentlest way to train their dog, actually reinforce their own belief that punishment is indeed cruel. When the positive-only or force-free method is not working, and the dog keeps falling back in to the unwanted behaviours, many using these methods end up getting frustrated and angry at their dog, feeling the dog is just being stubborn and naughty, so emotions tend to take over. Eventually in many cases the dogs owner ends up lashing out in anger or frustration at their dog.. What happens next is  the owner then feels guilty for punishing their dog, and as such has just reinforced their own belief that negative reinforcement that is used by balanced trainers is abusive, and they should try to control their emotions better. Not understanding that this form of punishment is not what balanced trainers teach, and what they just did with their dog, balanced trainers are 100% against this form of treatment towards dogs. Eventually the dogs owner gives up, not wanting to be cruel to their dog anymore, and ends up at a Vet Behaviourist to medicate their dog, as its brain must be wired wrong, or their dog has a brain disease that needs medicating, and hence this medicating is more humane than getting angry at their dog, or putting up with the unwanted behaviours.

I have also found that many of the extremist element that push their philosophy of no negative reinforcement, actually have little control of their own emotions when it comes to their dog, but will when in public or posting on social media preach to others that they must adhere to this humane way of training. I have come across positive-only trainers being abusive to dog owners, or focusing personal attacks on those that do not fully support their philosophy, using anger based emotions they preach should not be used when training dogs. Now I am not suggesting that all positive-only and force-free trainers act in such a manner, however I do come across this attitude a lot, especially within the extremist element of their fraternity.

I am one that fully supports any method that is humane, and affective. That allows the dog to learn quickly and with minimal stress. I feel a method should be not only affective at modifying behaviours humanely, but should also offer results as quickly and as effectively as possible, so that the process is less stressful on both the dog, and the dogs owner.

Education is the key, and not by listening to and believing emotive rhetoric, that really has no basis in fact. Look at consistent results, and the strong bond the dog has with his owner, that follows a more balanced approach to raising and training their dog. Look at the bond all working dogs around the world have with their owners and handlers, from police dogs to dogs working cattle on farms. All these dogs are trained utilising and understanding the principles of a more balanced approach to training. We need to get past all of the emotive rhetoric, that is pushed by societies addiction to political correctness, that for one is creating more division in society than anything else.



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