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Dog Training: Why hitting or using pain are not the ideal choices

June 1, 2016

Dogs are my world. What can I say, I love canines! It’s no wonder my chosen profession is certified professional dog trainer and behavior consultant. Oftentimes at social events, when someone learns I specialize in dogs, I’m asked about my training philosophy or solicited for advice.
Recently, a journalist asked for my thoughts on “why hitting or using pain doesn’t work” for an article she was writing. Further, she wanted to know what resulting behavior(s) dog owners can expect when using this type of training and what should a dog owner do when they feel frustrated, angry, and are tempted to hit.IMG_0038
I have lots and lots to say on this subject, however, I decided to whittle my thoughts to some key points, which are not in any particular order.
The Inquisitive Canine 9: 
Why Hitting Dogs or Using Pain in Training Doesn’t Work
  1. Using coercion and force-based methods can cause physical harm! Plus, permanent bodily damage can result – to the dog and/or the human.
  2. A dog learns to associate pain, being uncomfortable, or “in trouble” with anything else in their environment, such as other people, animals, situations, and the like. This type of conditioning can lead to fear based reactions such as “I better do what they say otherwise I’ll get in trouble,” “Uh oh every time [insert name] is around I get in trouble or hurt. I don’t like [insert name]. How do I make them go away!” The dog learns to anticipate and begins to panic, as displayed by its body language, behavior, etc. The dog also can become fearful and upset, leading to an increase of undesired behaviors – barking, lunging, growling, and even biting with hopes of making the scary thing go away.
  3. The dog shuts down altogether. This is called “learned helplessness.” Essentially, the dog learns the best way to behave is to not do anything in order to not get in trouble.
  4. In a particularly frustrating and heartbreaking scenario, the dog ends being reinforced for the undesired behavior. Meaning that the behavior increases, which causes the owner to escalate their behavior, increasing the force of the punishment.
  5. Coercion and force-based methods don’t let the dog know what the right behavior is. The owner is focusing solely on the undesired behavior, therefore the dog doesn’t know what to do.
  6. The likelihood of reinforcing or punishing an unintended behavior is high unless the timing is precise, which is fairly difficult.
  7. There is an increased risk of the dog becoming aggressive and retaliating. Some dogs could care less, some freak out and back down (learned helplessness), and others say, “I’m not putting up with this!” and that could lead into snarling, growling, and biting the owner.
  8. A vicious cycle is perpetuated if the intensity of the punishment needs to be so strong to stop the behavior that the owner needs to continue to escalate the intensity, which leads to more harm to the dog and increased frustration of the owner. And so on.
  9. It harms, or breaks, the special bond between dogs and their owners. Dogs who are hit or physically harmed might find it difficult to trust the person(s) who treats them with a heavy hand and virulent heart. Also, a dog will spend so much energy on being afraid, it won’t be able to become the complete wonderful creature it is intended to be.

As mentioned earlier, I have lots and lots to say on this subject. I believe the above reasons are enough to illustrate that using coercion, force-based methods for modifying a dogs behavior is ineffective, unproductive, and downright cruel. They’re also unnecessary, considering all the wonderful alternative choices available!

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