Say NO to punishments

By Sindhoor Pangal, Bangalore Mirror Bureau | Jan 11, 2016, 09.24 PM IST

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 Dog training is a relatively young profession. The upside is that there are many trainers springing up. The downside is that there aren’t any regulatory bodies or certification organisations for trainers. Research in the area is picked up a lot of momentum in the last decade. The upside is that we know more about dogs now than we ever did. The downside is that many professionals are outdated in their knowledge. There is no one mandating continuing education in the field. While we wait for that to happen, the best you can do as a pet parent is to be smart about it all.

One of the outdated theories that are still making the rounds is one on dominance in dogs. Dogs are thought to fit into linear dominance hierarchies that include you, the human. So trainers coax you to show the dog his place in this structure. The means to achieving this is often, intimidation. Even when not labelled as intimidation, many training techniques in effect are intimidation. Though today, few people actually recommend beating a dog, other intimidation techniques like pulling on the leash, using a stern voice to discipline your dog, threatening with rolled-up newspapers etc. are still frequently recommended. In all honesty, it’s very difficult to ignore professional advice. So when we are told it’s not intimidation and it’s necessary, we believe it.

It’s a bit like saying you don’t beat people, but you still yell at them to get your way. In effect that’s intimidation. And it works. We have all used this tactic successfully with people some time or the other. Think about using intimidation with grown adults who we are around a lot. A sibling perhaps. They love us, so they will perhaps tolerate it for a while. They will yield. They learn to love us despite it. But one day, they snap. If they have the luxury to distance from us they do. But with someone without that luxury – like our spouse — it can turn into a very unhealthy relationship.

Our dogs love us despite of our eccentricities. But it does not mean that our intimidation does not bother them. They are adults of their species react like that.

Intimidation eats at the relationship among adults. If the dog decides to intimidate in return, then it becomes a fairly turbulent relationship and people bring such dogs to me, calling it aggression. But if the dog decides to internalise it, then, sadly it can go unnoticed.

I once saw a dog that came to me with a couple. The man unknowingly used intimidation. But even before I heard that from them, the dog showed it to me. The dog’s demeanour changed around the man. She was a happy dog with a great personality. But around him, she just lost that joie de vivre. The couple had incorrectly concluded that she was more obedient around him. On the contrary, she was nervous around him. None of us want that in our relationship with our dog. When I pointed that out to them, he cried.

Don’t let this happen to you. Intimidation of any kind, while successful in the short run, is very caustic in the long run. Let it not be a way of life. Don’t let an ill-informed trainer tell you otherwise. Go with your gut and be as soft with your dog as possible, because dogs are soft-hearted creatures that love to please you. If that’s not your experience, there is something wrong. Get a gentle trainer to help you. Say no to intimidation.

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2 thoughts on “Say NO to punishments

  1. So what is the solution? There is a lot of “don’ts” but no “dos”. Not correcting a dog or letting him/her know something is not okay is extremely important. Else the dog and the human will suffer. i’m against beating a doggie, but i’ve seen pet owners who dont correct their dogs resulting in aggressive/ uncontrolable behaviour in public and when others come to their homes. Confusing dogs with humans and trying to treat them like one is also not healthy, from what i’ve read.

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    • If you feel that you have reached a point where you are unable to do anything but punish, then you need to seek the help of a qualified behaviour counselor to help you out.

      There are many ways to teach a dog that something he is doing is not appreciated. Punishments is only one of the ways and one of the least effective ways. There is an entire philosophy based on teaching a dog what is okay, instead of focusing on what is not okay. Ex: if he is destroying things, instead of telling him that’s not okay, teach him it’s okay to chew on his things. Teaching alternate behaviours is one approach. Understanding his communication and aptly responding to him is another behaviour. There are thousands of trainers around the world who are successfully using alternatives to punishments to handle the toughest of cases.

      Aggression is NEVER a result of lack of punishment. In fact, in many cases, punishment leads to aggression. There are many reasons for aggression and one really needs to work with qualified people to address that. Punishing, far from solving aggression, will only make it worse.

      Respecting a dog’s cognitive process is not treating him as human. It is just treating him as a sentient being. It is well known today, with all the advancement in behavioural studies and brain studies that the dogs mind has a remarkable cognitive process. Acknowledging this and working with this leads to maximum success in training and builds the strongest bonds with our dogs.

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