Chocolate English Working CockerHow strange. My very next appointment after having written my Paws for Thought on Citronella anti-bark collars was a dog who had been trained not to bark using one.

The two-year-old English Working Cocker Spaniel (isn’t he beautiful) lives with his young lady in a flat and when he was a puppy there were complaints about his noise. It’s hard when someone has to go out to know best solution when the choice could be either lose your dog or lose your flat.

What is certain is that although unable to bark, he will feel just as anxious inside, probably more so if rendered helpless, and will need to find other ways to express this.

At home Henry won’t bark now even without the collar, but I have seen the pattern before. Maybe now the empty collar will be sufficient to remind him, but in time he will surely bark at something and find there is no spray. Then the citronella will need to be added again. He may well learn to tolerate the spray and bark through it which then renders it useless too, and solving the emotion which drives the barking will be a lot harder now. It’s nearly always the same with quick-fix ‘punishment’ methods. There will be fallout somewhere. ‘Punishment’ being the administering of something unpleasant in order to stop the dog from doing something you don’t want him to do, rather than showing him what it is you do want him to do.

The fallout is because whatever he is feeling that is the cause of the barking is simply stifled and will be erupting elsewhere.

Cocker Spaniel looking up at his ownerThe young lady, like so many, is an avid watcher of a TV trainer who advocates ‘correction’ with constant interrupters like ‘Tch Tch’  – sounds that say ‘no no’ –  in order to control the dog. Because of so much exposure, many people take this as the accepted way to behave towards their dogs.

Modern, enlightened behaviourists and trainers, however, do things very differently. People who were not up to date with modern practice are surprised at how biddable and obedient a positively trained dog can be, and there is an important extra ingredient – simply the dog’s joy at working for and with their person.

The reason I have started this story with my thoughts about dominance methods and punishment is because it’s relevant to the main issue I was called out for. Henry, so friendly in every other way, doesn’t like children. It’s almost certain that in the first few months of his life he won’t have come across kids. When they come running up to him when they are out he will growl in warning which is fair enough. He is trying to say that he feels uncomfortable and wants more space. Unfortunately the young lady, not wanting to seem rude, will then scold or correct him – ‘Tch Tch’.

The biggest alarm was the other day when a friend brought a six-month-old baby to visit. All was well until they all went to sit on a bench in the garden. The owner sat beside the friend who had the baby on her lap. She remembers that Henry came and stood, quiet and still, between her friend with the baby and herself. Nobody took any notice of him while they probably talked to the baby in the way one does.

The baby waved his arms about and towards Henry – who snapped the air.

Oh dear. There was big drama afterwards. If Henry was unsure of the infant before, he certainly was now. Whatever he was feeling about the baby (anxiety? jealousy?) will have been compounded by what will, to him, have been a totally irrational and scary reaction from the humans.

This is a case of desensitising Henry to children and babies. Next time when the friend visits with her baby, Henry’s owner won’t sit next to them but a little way away. Henry will be on a loose lead. All the time he’s around the baby he will be fed or dropped little bits of food. There will be absolutely no ‘Uh-Uh’ or ‘leave’. If the lady is worried at any stage, she can kindly call Henry to her – ‘Come’ – followed by food. This way she can begin to wipe out the previous bad association with possibly the first baby Henry had ever met.

Henry needs lots of positive associations with children. When out the young lady can start desensitising him at a comfortable distance around the local school playground at playtime, where no child can actually get to him nor him to them. She can then work on him in the park, but be ready to increase distance and to be firm if children run up to him. It’s not a time to be polite – we have to look out for our dog and keep children safe. We need to be our dogs’ advocate and not care what others think (easier for me at my age – just one of the very few advantages of getting old!).

Later, when he’s ready, children can invite him to them so he has a choice, then they can drop food or throw his ball – he would probably like that. With the patience, time and effort the young lady has always given him but now using positive methods, she will get there I’m sure.

She has worked extremely hard with her beautiful dog to good effect. It’s not that correction and punishment don’t work at all. They do. However, for permanent success and relaxed and happy dogs, a little more time and effort using force-free methods pays off big time long-term. It’s far better for our relationship of trust with our dog.

The young lady will be surprised at how much more she can achieve by just using rewards and encouragement.

NB. For the sake of the story this isn’t a complete ‘report’, but I choose an angle. Also, the precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Henry. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good, particularly ones that involve punishment. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).