Whether training a new puppy or solving simple behaviour problems, the central tenet is the same – reward your dog for getting things right! Adopting a reward-orientated training program means it is not necessary to punish your dog at all.
Training your dog where to eliminate, where to dig, when to bark and how to greet people is really very easy. Certainly, until puppies know the house rules, we have to keep them out of mischief – temporarily confined to a single room or to an outdoor run. But once the dog has been taught the rules of the house and garden, it may be allowed to have full run of the house and garden.
Confinement is a temporary necessity until the dog can be trusted in the house. Confinement is not a permanent solution.
A dog’s a dog
Owners must acknowledge a dog is a dog, and it will need to do doggy things. Chewing, digging, barking, eliminating and greeting owners are all normal, natural and necessary canine behaviours. It is folly to try to prevent a dog from ever acting like a dog. It is unfair, inhumane and quite impossible to stop a dog from barking, chewing, digging and eliminating altogether. This would be as silly as trying to prevent a dog from wagging its tail or burying a bone.
Pitfalls of punishment
Punishment-orientated training methods are relatively inefficient and ineffective, tending to cause more problems than they actually resolve. However, it appears to be human nature in most relationships to ignore all that is good and to moan and groan at the bad. Rather than teaching a dog what we want it to do, we tend to punish the dog for making mistakes, i.e. for breaking rules it didn’t even know existed.
So-called ‘training’ is all but limited to punishing the dog each time it misbehaves. Unfortunately, punishment training is only effective if the dog is punished each and every time it misbehaves. If the dog is allowed to ‘get away with it’ just once, the entire lesson breaks down. Indeed, rather than learning the inappropriateness of its behaviour in the domestic setting, the dog learns it is unwise to behave in that manner when the owner is present. Thus the dog begins to associate punishment with its owner – just one of the many pitfalls of punishment training.
Owner-absent behaviour problems
Since a dog must act like a dog, but it is understandably reticent to risk wanton wrath by ‘misbehaving’ when the owner is present, the dog’s only alternative is to misbehave when the owner is absent, i.e. the owner has created an owner-absent behaviour problem. Many misguided owners like to think that owner-absent problems are the result of separation anxiety. Quite the contrary, the etiology is more like separation fun!
Moreover, since the dog would be stupid to misbehave when the owner is around, it is unlikely that the owner will ever again catch the dog in the act of misbehaving. Now, the effectiveness of the punishment-orientated ‘training’ program is unquestionably reduced to zero. Furthermore, if the owner resorts to punishing the dog upon returning home, the dog now spends its day in uncertain expectancy of its owner’s return. On the one hand, the dog is dying to see its owners, but on the other hand, the dog is dreading the owner’s return. Pavlov had a wonderful term for this – mental collision!
The stressed dog
Now the dog is severely stressed, and of course, the cardinal signs of stress are: increased urination frequency, diarrhoea, and increased general and habitual activity, i.e. the owner’s misguided ‘treatment’ exacerbates the problems. Indeed, the treatment becomes the cause for dogs to run around and frantically chew, dig, bark and soil the house. If the dog should hide or cringe when the owner returns home, it is usually interpreted as a sign of guilt, spite and premeditation. All of which prompt more severe punishment.
Teach the dog the right choice from the outset
Inhibiting dogs from acting like dogs causes training to degenerate into an endless string of reprimands. This hardly augurs well for good dog-human relationships, and is an extremely inefficient way to train a dog. Remember, for all the ways in which a dog may misbehave and ‘get it wrong’, there is only one way to get it right! Punishing the dog for every each and every wrong choice is and infinite task, which would require an eternity. Or we may teach the dog our choice – the right choice from the outset. The latter takes much less time.
Since it is the owners who often consider normal dog behaviour irksome and inappropriate, the onus lies with owners to teach dogs how to appropriately express their basic doggy nature within the domestic setting. Try to:
- Restrict potential problems so that their effects are immediately less bothersome
- Redirect your dog’s natural activities to alternative and acceptable outlets, and
- Reward your dog for behaving in an appropriate manner.
Most importantly, endeavour to strike a workable compromise with your dog and establish a mutually acceptable living situation.
Reward-orientated training program
By adopting a reward-orientated training program, it is not necessary to punish your dog at all. The central tenet of any efficacious training program (whether behaviour, temperament or obedience training) is to reward your dog for getting things right. During early education, manipulate the dog’s living situation, so that it cannot fail to get things right. When presented with a choice: do it your way and get lots of goodies or do it the dog’s way and get nothing, most dogs soon join the team.
By Dr Ian Dunbar
Last updated on 15 November 2019