Tag Archives: punishment

Let the Dog Decide

Dogs are not machines.  Not even biological machines, though many scientists (without much in the way of scientific proof, mind you) claimed that was the case, right up until a couple of decades ago.  Current studies have proved that dogs have senses, emotions, memory and problem-solving abilities. They are living, feeling, thinking beings with wills of their own.  So, when we expect instant obedience in every and all situations we’re not going to get it! 

It might not even be defiance or deliberate disobedience!  My girl, Kita, gets so excited when treats (even boring stuff like bits of her kibble!) come out that she forgets to LISTEN!  She’ll start throwing behaviors at me, hoping to “hit the jackpot!”  I have to turn my back and ignore her for 10-15 seconds to put her in a frame of mind where she can pay attention to what I’m saying.  This is an excess of willingness to please, not a deficit.

Granted, it’s willingness to please because that will get her a reward, but dogs are practical creatures.  Just like humans, we work hardest for praise and tangible good things.   Dogs are even MORE practical than people in many ways.  They won’t waste much effort on a strategy that isn’t working.  (They WILL spend a lot on a strategy that worked in the past, but that’s another subject…)

As we have learned more about the inner life of dogs, so our training methods have changed.  Back in the days of dogs-as-machines, dog training was of the “yank and spank” variety — lots of yelling, and shoving into position, and quick punishment for every hesitation or mistake.  More modern methods use the carrot (or hot dog) rather than the stick:  positive reinforcement for getting it right!  Most dog trainers agree that this works at least as quickly and creates a much happier, better-bonding experience than punishment-based training.

I like to use positive reinforcement in all aspects of my life with a dog.  I teach the dog that I am the source of all good things, and they can earn them by doing what I ask.  Then, I let the dog decide.  She has a choice:  do what I ask and get the “reward” or decide NOT to and DON’T get the reward.  Rewards can be any resource the dog wants or needs:  food, treats, toys, going inside or outside, getting petted, any attention, lap-time, etc. 

The important thing to remember is that the dog has a CHOICE!  I don’t get upset if she chooses to NOT do what I ask.  I just withhold the resource.  Perhaps I’ll give the dog another chance a few minutes later.  Sometimes, the dog is out of luck for hours.  (Depending on if it’s something that can’t wait — like a trip outside to go potty — or something the dog can easily do without like petting.) 

Like I said, dogs are EXTREMELY practical creatures.  Once they learn that listening and doing some little thing like SITTING will earn them something good, they think that’s an easy choice!  There are times when she’ll get stubborn and not WANT to listen, but that’s OK!  It’s her choice and she can live with the consequences.  Let the dog decide!


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