Punishment and deprivation? Is this the way to get compliance?
It’s hard picking up the pieces when a conscientious and well-meaning dog owner has been following old-fashioned, dominance-based advice using punishment and intimidation through ignorance, believing someone who sets himself up as an authority saying it’s the way to do things.
It’s also extremely upsetting for the owner when their eyes are opened. Fortunately, things can only get better now.
A short while ago German Shepherd Banjo returned from a £2,000 four weeks at a board-and-train establishment.
He returned obedient – and cowed.
Bit by bit he’s returning to his former ways and their punitive methods, necessarily intensified for ongoing effectiveness, are now ceasing to work as he grows immune to them.
The young lady took on a painfully thin one-year-old a couple of years ago, his third home.
For the first few weeks things went well. He would walk past people, dogs and traffic as though they weren’t there.
Bit by bit he became more reactive.
The history of the next couple of years after this is complicated and Banjo’s behaviour to people he didn’t know in particular worsened. The lady then had to move house.
To save Banjo from the upheaval of the move whilst also doing something about his aggression to people and other difficult behaviours, he was sent to to the board and train establishment.
What a great idea, one might think.
The lady brought Banjo home with a list of instructions.
All toys must be removed.
He must be given no chews of bones.
When walking he should not be allowed to stop and sniff.
Any stepping out of line had to result in punishment.
She must use a slip lead and yank him back if he stepped in front of her.
She should spray him with water and shout if he barked at anything.
He no longer could have breakfast – one meal a day only.
He must not be be given food rewards. No extras apart from this one meal.
She may not play with him.
Within a couple of weeks, having yanked him with the slip lead to the point where he nearly passed out, the lady ditched it and got a harness. She started to allow him to sniff once more on walks. Walks being Banjo’s only ‘allowed’ activity, she takes him out as much as she can despite the problems.
Any reactive encounter with a dog or a person would however still result in punishment by means of water being sprayed in his face.
She has been following advice, believing it to be the only way to help him. She cares for him deeply.
The level of punishment is no longer sufficient.
Because they couldn’t stop his barking at people passing the window, the response of the trainer when contacted was to get a Pet Corrector can of compressed air – ‘that would fix him’.
It did to begin with. Then it stopped working. It made him worse. Is that surprising?
It’s so distressing to see conscientious, responsible dog owners being led to believe by a so-called ‘expert’, totally ignorant of behavioural science, that this is the thing to do. The lady thought she had researched the best help possible.
Banjo operates on ‘bite first, think later’. He charged into the room, muzzled, and launched himself at my arm. Had I not been prepared I would have received multiple serious bites.
Working at a distance from the lady who had the muzzled Banjo on lead and by her feeding him through the muzzle each time he looked at me from across the room, Banjo was soon lying down relaxing which was a big surprise to them.
In behaviour work we look at what ‘function’ a behaviour serves the dog. Why does it work for him? The function served here is obvious. Lunging to bite drives the person away. They will recoil. That’s just what he wants.
He doesn’t have good associations with people he doesn’t know. This will doubtless have started when he was a tiny puppy, under-socialised or else not socialised kindly.
Add to this the sort of experience and punishment to ‘train’ him that he will have suffered at the hands of this trainer, it’s little wonder he simply wants to get people out of his space asap.
Off with the old and on with the new.
To make any real difference we need to get Banjo to feel differently about people. Punishment for reacting can only make it worse.
When he’s at his most upset, the very humans he should be able to trust for some reason turn on him.
They will now reverse everything that trainer imposed, ditching punishment, water bottles, compressed air cans and slip leads, and adding plenty of positive stuff.
They will use food in training. Why should I use food in training?
Now they will either give Banjo two meals a day or use some of his food for brain work and reward – making him work for it.
Instead of trying to intimidate him when he barks at people walking past, rehearsing his aggressive reactions to them, they will address the root cause.
They will bring out all his toys again. When he’s shut away they will give him things to chew and do like stuffed Kongs. They will play ‘find it’ games and he can forage for some of his dry food. They will find ways of enriching his life.
He will now have a comfortable harness and a longer lead to experience some freedom.
Muzzled for everyone’s safety, all encounters with people will be dealt with in an encouraging and positive fashion at a comfortable distance. He will get help with his reactivity to traffic, not punishment.
Now Banjo’s owners can relax and treat the beautiful, intelligent, affectionate three-year-old German Shepherd as a family member with the right to make some of his own choices in a life which offers some enrichment, not as a slave.
Punishment and deprivation are ways of forcing slaves to comply.
Three weeks later: Doing really well. Both dog and owners are a lot happier.