From pet owners, dog sport enthusiasts, people who have working dogs, to many trainers, groomers, and veterinarians, punishment-based teaching is still common. But do you understand the fallout these methods can have? Here is the story of a dog who is special to me. 

As a pup, this girl was the first to race outside. Once out the door, she would pounce on the other dogs in the house. She was trying to play. The pup was yelled at to stop. After a short improvement, the behaviors returned. This meant the punishment increased. A vet told them to spray the pup with a squirt bottle. The pup was labelled dominant, self-willed, trouble, a handful. Yelling, water sprays and such were failing. The pup was now close to young adulthood. Her assaults were occurring sooner. As soon as the call to go out was heard, she would target the dogs as they approached the door. The punishment increased. The dog was now called aggressive.

Punishment does not teach better behaviors. It may stop a behavior short term but at what risk? Punishment as it is often used suppresses behaviors. Punishment is confusing. It may lead to more undesired behaviors starting or an escalation of the current situation. Finally, when I was visiting for the holidays, I was asked to help.

I spent several days teaching management to prevent the behaviors from occurring.  Then I addressed how to change the emotional response of the younger dog to the triggers for her behaviors. Next, I taught desired behaviors that were incompatible with what she was doing. Sit and wait at the door until cued to go out. Finally, I addressed the other aspects in the lives of all the dogs that lead to other issues.  However, as many will, her owners returned to their old ways. The behaviors returned. My parents decided she would be better in another home. Yes, my parents, this dog is my Splash.  

I am what is called a crossover trainer.  Decades ago, I was taught the same methods my parents were. Dog training was physically punitive and even painful for the dog. I saw a lot of fallout as I grew in my skills. Sadly, as many of us learned the science behind training, many people stay in the dark ages. Dogs are not out to dominate us. They are trying to learn to survive with us. Splash was doing what she needed to do to stop what scared her. She was not trying to show the other dogs she was alpha or anything. Splash was reacting to her environment. 

Here, Splash lives with dogs and cats. She has worked with me at school career days and dog safety programs. My daughter had handled Splash to a Canine Good Citizen, Canine Good Citizen Advanced, Herding Instinct certificate, United Kennel Club Championship.  Splash has a Novice Trick Dog title pending and we are working on an intermediate title. It took time to resolve the issues Splash had regarding dogs exiting doors. But, we did it. Splash will never be perfect, but she is a sociable girl who is not hard to live with. She is a fun dog.

Over the next months I will address various aspects of animal work and why we need to change how we do things. It is time for the old ways to go away. Splash is a good example of why dog work needs to evolve. It is better for the dog and you.

Karen Peak is the developer of The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project and owner/operator of West Wind Dog Training in Prince William County.

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