Punishment and Deprivation v. Reward and Enrichment

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 Punishment isn't gong to make Blade like humans any betterbehaviour 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.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Banjo and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where aggression is concerned. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

What Function Does Growling Serve?

It was no start in life for a puppy.

Rose growling? It was hard to believe!

Lurcher Rose, now four, came over from Ireland as a seven-week old puppy, already separated from mother and siblings and having been in one or even two shelters.

What function does growling serve her

Rose

She lives with Molly an elderly Collie mix, an older Chocolate Labrador called Bryn and an excitable Jack Russell called Mouse. All are rescues. The couple have done wonders with these dogs – particularly with Bryn who was totally shut down when they first took him in a few years ago.

Lurcher Rose’s behaviour is what has been causing them concern for a while.

From the start she might growl when people approached. This developed into growling at the other dogs also. She will growl at them if they enter a room after herself, if they enter a room with her particularly if they try to go in ahead of her, and she may growl even if she is lying down and one of them gets up to do something.

The intimidation is affecting the lives of Molly, Bryn and Mouse.

The couple have successfully cured the growling at people by, every time someone entered her presence, that person giving her a treat.

Bryn and Mouse

Bryn and Mouse

They had been using same idea when she growled at the other dogs – feeding her while she growled. Unfortunately I think this may have backfired. What probably has happened is reinforcement for growling.

I believe food is still the answer, but the timing was wrong.

More recently they have reverted to telling her off.

What function does growling serve for Rose?

Starting so early in her life, its roots are surely either genetic or behaviour the little puppy learnt for her own survival in the first few weeks of her life – or both.

Molly

Molly

It will undoubtedly also, after all this time and with so much rehearsal, be a learned behaviour, a habit.

We looked at what function the growling can possibly serve for Rose – what’s in it for her.

During the day when people are busy all seems to be fine. The dogs can all be closely together with no trouble at all though Rose does prefer to take herself out of the way much of the time. The others are together, she is apart.

The intimidating, growling behaviour starts in the evening when humans and dogs all go into the sitting room together for a quiet evening.

She directs her growling at all the dogs – she doesn’t have one particular ‘victim’. This doesn’t seem to be a girl thing as she includes Bryn.

She (most likely) only does it when people are nearby. She possibly is worse when additional people are there; she also may guard a new person from the other dogs by growling. She never now growls at people.

In one respect growling is good in that it is a warning, which in this case the other dogs fortunately take heed of. If extinguished rather than being understood and resolved the dog may feel forced to take things further.

So what function can growling at the other dogs possibly serve for Rose?

One function it successfully serves is to keep the dogs out of her own personal space or directs them away from herself and possibly away from a particular person. She also is in control of where they are and what they do. It worries them, poor Molly in particular.

Another function is that growling gets reinforcement by way of attention of some sort from the humans. This is something they can work on.

A third function is that it may simply make her feel better and this another thing they can do something about. They can make not growling feel better still.

All the time that I was there Rose lay spread out on a sofa as Lurchers do, beside the man. Typically she showed me none of her usual behaviour towards the other dogs until the end when I got up to go. They did plan her entry well, though. First Mouse was with us, then the other dogs joined us and were settled before the friendly and inquisitive Rose came in. She ignored the other dogs, jumped up on the sofa, stretched out on her back and stayed like that all the time I was there!

I shan’t go into detail here because our plan is very specific to this particular case, but in general they will be working on their own relationship with the dogs. They can take ‘responsibility’ away from Rose by showing her that they make decisions. This involves treating all the dogs as individuals rather than a gang, getting and holding attention, cutting out free food etc. so that it can be used for working on her growling issue.

It’s the humans’ job to control the other dogs should control be needed and not Rose’s job.

We need to deal with Rose’s emotions that are driving her to behave like this, pairing negative feelings with good things. Teaching her to cope.

They need to do their very best to prevent further rehearsal of the behaviour as I am sure that, in addition to any actual function growling serves, it’s now a habit. Something she simply automatically does now.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Rose and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where aggression issues of any kind are concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

 

Family Dog, Consistency is Key

The importance of consistency.

I sat with the family – parents with late-teens son and daughter – and their dear little Tibetan Terrier, Archie.

Tibetan Terrier in need of consistency

My first question was, as always, ‘What would you like to achieve from my help?’  The answer was for Archie to be more relaxed around other dogs and to be trusted to come back when called.

Exactly the same aim as so many people I go to.

This sounds simple and straightforward but it isn’t. It’s unlikely to be just a question of going out on a few walks with someone. For a dog to be relaxed around other dogs he must feel safe and this has a lot to do with his relationship with his humans.

Poor Archie was attacked by two dogs a couple of months which has not only upset Archie but it’s really shaken the lady who had him at the time.

In order to feel safe the dog should not feel trapped and helpless on the end of a tight lead, particularly one attached uncomfortably to a collar, held by someone he may not completely trust to keep him safe (in his mind). In order not to feel trapped he should learn to walk in a more relaxed fashion on a loose lead. In order to walk on a loose lead he should no longer expect to make progress when the lead is tight; in order to walk on a loose lead he shouldn’t be too excited before starting out. In order to trust his humans when out, they themselves need to be confident; they need to show him who protects him and motivates him back at home.

In order for him to come when called when off lead, he must take notice of them at home and reliably come when called around the house and in from the garden etc. etc. Each family member must be consistent.

It’s anything but simple.

It’s great to go to a family where all four members pull together with a walking rota. Archie gets two walks a day.

For a plan to work, each walker must have the same walking system. Each needs to wait for calm before leaving. Each needs to use the same technique for teaching loose lead walking. Each needs to react in exactly the same way when Archie sees a dog – he alerts, he may pull and then he drops down flat. It’s vital none of them use force.

Each should carry food on walks.

Each should give Archie their full attention for that twenty minutes and not be occupied with something else like a phone.

 

A ‘walk’ now mean something different.

Walks will occupy the same amount of time as before but no longer go from A to B. It will be about the journey, not the destination. So what if the dog wants to sniff for five minutes? Whose walk is it? A dog that is pulling with a walker who is in a rush is bound to be reactive to things. A dog having a relaxed sniff walk on a loose lead with someone who is relaxed is much more likely to walk past other dogs without a reaction.

It was fun to see the family begin to see why Archie actually does things – what functions his actions have for him. Why does he jump up? It gets him the attention he wants. Why does he run off with a sock? It starts a game. Why does he pull on lead? It gets him somewhere. Why does he bark at people who walk past? It chases them away. Why does he keep scratching at the door? It makes someone get up.

He can learn that something they prefer will give him the same result. Sitting and not jumping will get attention. Stealing a sock gets ignored but a toy may start a game. Pulling on lead will get him nowhere, but a loose lead will. Scratching the door doesn’t get him let out, but sitting politely may and so on.

Why does Archie sometimes get cross when made to go out at night? Because gentle force is used and there is nothing in it for him. He will happily do as asked when they work on his ‘coming when called’ routine at home, using food.

Getting him to earn some of some of his food (and that doesn’t mean commercial rubbish treats or anything large that fills him up, but tiny bits of real food) is a recipe for a motivated and happy dog.

This brings us back to his mild reactivity to some dogs when out on walks. Whatever he is doing, whether it is dropping down, pulling to the dog or barking at it, he does it because it has a function for him, probably that of keeping the dog at a greater distance – or giving himself some control at the very least, particularly if he’s being held close on a tight lead.

What if he was given something more acceptable to do that provided the same function? Turning to look at the handler for instance? Or perhaps standing still and not lying down? Or looking away from the other dog and down at the ground to forage for food? The handler should be sufficiently on the ball to sense the distance t which Archie has clocked the dog but isn’t yet reacting.

Archie would learn that the alternative behaviour would be grant him his wish, that of increasing distance, whilst associating the other dog with something positive and nice.

Another reason they should be alert is that sometimes Archie, depending upon his mood and upon the dog, may ignore it and walk past. Other times he may want to play. The response has to be appropriate to the occasion and well-timed, and this takes practice.

I would err on the safe side in favour of too much distance rather than too little.

Sadly, when your dog has been attacked and injured by another dog that has just appeared, off-lead, out of the blue, walks may never be quite so enjoyable again.