“Dog training is confusing.”
This is a common statement I hear when I first meet with a new client. I hear this too:
- “I was told to never play tug with my dog.”
- “I read I am never supposed to say NO to my dog.”
- “My friend told me to never let my dog sleep on my bed.”
- “I heard you should never punish your dog.”
I always tell my new clients the same thing: From this point forward, ignore everything you read and hear about dog training. Just ask me, I’ll give you the correct answers. I am half kidding with them because it is very confusing for a new dog owner trying to train their dog.
Much of the confusion swirls around the subject of punishment. Right now there is controversy between Victoria Stilwell and Cesar Millan (The Dog Whisperer) over the use of punishment. Victoria and Caesar have popular dog training TV shows.
As your trusted canine behavior advisor, I am going to clear this up for you. From this point forward you’ll know what to do with your dog in every training situation. Ready?
Class is in session:
FIRST: Dog trainers and owners need to forget the labels positive and negative. We need to stop using terms like positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, punishment, and rewards. And the reason we need to stop using these terms is simple. We tend to make emotional connections to the terms. We think positive equals good. We only want to do good things with our dogs. Negative equals bad and we don’t want to do anything bad to our dogs. I understand this train of thought but it needs to be dropped.
Onward...When we use the terms above we start to limit our training which is DANGEROUS to our dogs. Rewards and punishment are neither good or bad. Rewards and punishment, positive and negative consequences are... wait for it... wait for it...
Information your dog needs to learn how to live with us crazy humans. And your dog does think you are crazy. They can’t figure out why we put lids on garbage cans, or why we get so upset when they eat dead squirrels, or roll in goose poop.
The common held belief is there is nothing good to come from negative consequences. When you use a negative consequence you are going to damage the dog. The dog will become aggressive, fearful, or the relationship between owner and dog will be damaged.
This is where dog training goes off the rails and becomes confusing. If you understand and apply a negative consequence correctly, the dog’s life will be much better for it. Think underground containment systems commonly referred to as Invisible Fences. The dog walks up to a certain point and is warned by sound and sight. There are flags planted in the ground to help the dog learn where he should stop. The collar beeps to let the dog know if he continues, there will be a negative consequence. The collar correction INFORMS the dog he should not proceed any further which is a very POSITIVE outcome for the dog.
This is NOT abuse. This is NOT mean. This is NOT going to damage the dog's relationship with the owner. The collar correction is INFORMATION which will save the dog’s life. A negative consequence with a positive outcome.
Are you starting to see why we need to drop the labels and think of it as information? Still not convinced? Let’s put it on human terms.
Have you ever burned yourself while cooking? Most people have. When you were burned it was information. You probably kept right on cooking and used the information to be more careful around hot pans. Good information to have. Made you better at cooking and if you kept getting burned, the information would hopefully convince you to take a class or give up cooking.
Here’s my question for anyone ever burned by a hot pan: Do you cower at the sight of a frying pan? Do you hate frying pans? Do you become aggressive when you see one? Is your relationship with frying pans over? Crazy right? You getting burned by the pan and your dog getting a correction on an Invisible Fence is no different... it is just INFORMATION to HELP you or your dog.
Cooking with hot pans, playing with bees, handling sharp knives - all will provide information you need to keep safe. Negative consequences (punishment) result in keeping you or your dog safe. POSITIVE outcome from a NEGATIVE consequence.
Wrap your head around that.
All right, enough for today. Class dismissed. Go forth and have a GREAT THANKSGIVING WEEKEND!
Remember... if you’re struggling or ever need help with your dog you can get a FREE consult with me. Get your FREE Consult by calling us at 774-319-6351 or fill out the form to the right.