Punishment

Hello everyone, it’s so nice to have been asked to blog for Victoria’s site. I have watched her show often and thoroughly approve of her training methods.  Positive training is the right way to go and, as you can see on the show, allows you to train a dog to do practically anything without resorting to chain jerking or psychological dominance.  Ethologist Konrad Lorenz said, regarding training a dog to do a task such as retrieving, “punishment here is not only incongruous but even harmful, since it is calculated to disgust the dog with this special activity, and to make him useless for it.” I say, it’s far better to have a dog do what is asked because he wants to please his owner than because he is afraid of the consequences if he does not.

Maybe the Army needs dogs of war to respond like automatons but pet dog owners do not need that level of compliance and most prefer to have a good relationship with their dog based on clear communication, mutual understanding, and trust. One thing to remember when training dogs is that the opposite of reward is not punishment, it is no reward.  I don’t mind a little “uh-uh-uh” (said in a growly voice) when a dog is not listening to help guide the correct response. It is helpful to have yin and yang, praise and chastisement, approach to expedite learning.  But the yang should be “uh-uh-uh” not snapping a choke collar or striking the dog with a hand or rolled up newspaper.

Think of dog training as similar to training a child. Children should be trained with patience and guidance, and by using physical compulsion. Spare the rod and spoil the child went out with Dr. Spock. Physical punishment of children under five years old is now illegal in many places. Personally I believe it should be illegal in children over five as well and also in dogs. It has recently been discovered that children who are physically punished as a method of disciplining them have an I.Q. five points lower (on average) than unpunished peers. Dogs fare worse when trained using methods involving physical punishment, too and physical punishment is not even necessary.

Let’s consider things from the dog’s point of view for a moment. (After all, it’s not all about us and our wants/needs).  If you want to pet your dog and ask him to sit to be petted (a very reasonable approach), if he does sit, all is well.  But he doesn’t want to be petted, doesn’t sit and wanders off, that’s fine too.  You are now having a conversation.  In effect you are asking, “Do you want to be petted?” (by asking him to sit) and he can reply “Yes” (by sitting) or “Not right now” (by wandering off).  You really don’t need to be like a sergeant major who must be obeyed; and your dog should not have to respond to all your utterances like a good little soldier. Fair enough, there may be times when a reliable response is needed for reasons of safety. For example, “Come (here)” requires an immediate response when a dog is running toward a busy road.  A few necessary commands like “Come” - not overused and spoken with authority - should well honed by positive training, not through physical punishment. Lorenz got it right again when he said (re. training dogs) “Art and science aren’t enough, patience is the basic stuff.” Although physical punishment can have immediate effects, e.g. whipping a prong collar to stop and dog from jumping and, to the uninitiated with short attention spans, makes good TV, the results of such punishment-based methods are transient and rely on continued punishment in order for them to be maintained. It is accurately stated about punishment that it teaches a dog nothing except how to avoid punishment.

That just about says it all. So, dog owners take heed: Watch and learn from Victoria. That way you will engineer a better relationship with your dog and any annoying problem behaviors will fade away.  As long as you are using the right methods and heading in the right direction, you will get where you are going (which is where you want to be).  Make sense?

Dr. Nicholas Dodman is a professor at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, where he is Director of the Animal Behavior Clinic. Please visit his website ThePetDocs.Com listing his books and forthcoming public appearances.


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Positively Expert: Nicholas Dodman

Dr. Dodman is one of the world's most noted and celebrated veterinary behaviorists, an acclaimed author of four books, and a regular lecturer. Dr. Dodman has written 5 highly acclaimed books and has authored two textbooks and more than 150 scientific articles and book chapters. He appears regularly on radio and television.


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  • Cecily

    I too love Victoria's methods with positive reinforcement. My boyfriend and I adopted a scottish terrier puppy two and a half years ago and have faithfully watched "It's me or the dog" and have found her methods very successful.
    A problem, however, is that we often find ourselves without recourse when she is naughty. Once, she bit my niece when she was trying to pick her up. Naturally, we explained to the young lady not to pick her up and in Bonni's (the scottie) defense, she was trying to get away. The problem was letting Bonni know it is NEVER okay to bite. We didn't know what to do. Then, we found that if my boyfriend gets up to leave in the morning while I'm in bed, or if I leave when he's in bed, we cannot tell the other person goodbye unless they get up. Bonni bit my boyfriend in the face for trying to kiss me goodbye. She also "defends" other owners from their own dogs at the dog park if they are sitting down. She is possessive of a "prone" person?? We are having trouble with her greeting other dogs, because something will startle her and then she will only try to snap after that.
    This morning, I kissed my boyfriend goodbye and noticed Bonni was upset. I felt guilty, so I made "I"m so sorry my baby" noises and tried to kiss her. I now have three tooth holes in my nose and two under my top lip. I bled quite a bit. She didn't growl, back up, or give me any indication of what she was going to do, but she didn't bite more than once or try to hang on or tear my nose off either. Again, I just stood there and said, "No, no, Bonni! Ow!" and cleaned myself up. How do I make my dog less aggressive and how do I give her a serious "bad girl" response without being harsh or harming her confidence?
    Today I was so upset I brainstormed how to work on this issue, because my boyfriend will not let us keep her if she continues to bite us in the face and draw blood. I decided she needed more exercise at the dog park. I had the worst experience ever. For some reason, she started snapping at every dog and making the gargle-y stressed out growling noise at everything. I walked her out of the park for a while and we went home. Help!

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