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Punishment or Positive Training – From a Dog’s Perspective

When we argue whether punishment or positive training works it is always from a human ethical or emotional standpoint.  I am always amazed that whether we are defending, or bashing, we never take the animal’s point of view into perspective.

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“Many peoples die at twenty-five and aren’t buried until they are seventy-five.” (Benjamin Franklin)

Often, when we publish a pertinent study, the ones who refuses to evolve, argue. No explanation, no factual documentation; just empty opinion. When we ask for references, the usual response is, “I train horses for 45 years.”  Interestingly, it is always 45 years. Therefore, according to Benjamin Franklin, their thirst for knowledge died at 30 and they spent 45 years repeating the same thing. 

Many horses die mentally at four or five, when they are submitted into performances for which their physique is not properly educated and coordinated. They shut off because there is no meaning in their life and their body survives one or two decades until their physique cans no longer take the abuse. They go through a life of dysfunction, mental blankness and physical pain, because traditional education does not upgrade equitation to actual scientific knowledge.

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The fact is, we shouldn’t be focused on what works. We should be focused on the dog. When we shift our focus to the dog’s needs then the argument takes on new meaning. If you put a prong collar on an over-aroused lab and you get it to walk nicely in 1 week, but it has shut down mentally, then you have failed the dog.

If you put a prong collar on a Doberman, and he is able to focus, learn, and develop a relationship with his owner then we have not failed the dog.

What Is The Best Way To Train A Dog?

First of all, get rid of the words ‘train’ and ‘obedience.’  Both of those imply that the dog’s mental stimulation is not important. The end result is having the dog physically execute a series of movements to achieve what we call obedience. It allows us to ignore the fact that the dog has shut down mentally, is over aroused and/or frustrated, or has lost all interest in life.

This can be achieved by both a) using treats to make it look like the dog has learned, or b) using corrections so you don’t need to waste time teaching the dog. Yes, both positive and punishment dog training methods can cause a dog to lose interest and shut down.

Performance Dogs and Sport Dogs

Are we taking away our dog’s love for life? Have we replaced the dog’s love and joy for over-arousal and hyper-anxiety – just to win ribbons?  I sit at an agility competition and listen to the number of dogs barking their frustration. You cannot be frustrated and happy at the same time.

I have seen so many people invest several hours weekly, or daily, and get titles at 6 months old. Then at 3 years old their dog has retired.  It is common in the dog world to assume that a dog only has a short performance career. But then I see dogs in freestyle dance, or police dogs, SAR dogs, all working well into their 10th year. Are the performance and sport dog people missing something?

Fix The Problem – It’s a Journey not an End Goal

Maybe we need to step back and spend more time giving our dogs interesting things to do. Challenges and puzzles to solve. Maybe we need to stop the cycle of ignoring our dog until it is time to work them. Or maybe play needs to become more intimate – not just a reward for performing.

There is a fine line between teaching a dog and mental abuse. Here are some of my observations of people whose dogs are performing after 3 years old. This is only typically, and doesn’t pertain to every dog.

  • The trainer ‘shaped’ their dog. They didn’t train.
  • There are ‘outings’ that have nothing to do with training, trials, or shows.
  • The dog has boundaries.
  • Obedience and training are a lifestyle – not a ‘task’ to be done for 10 minutes a day, or on Wed at class.
  • Dogs are touched often.
  • Dogs are not constantly fed treats.
  • Dogs are not corrected
  • Owners talk to their dogs more often.
  • Dogs are mentally stimulated

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