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I know how to punish a dog.

I know how to apply punishment to reduce or lessen any given behavior. I know how to hit, kick, and yell. We all do, actually. I also know how to use a shock collar, prong collar, and a choke chain. I have 10 years of education that has given me a deep understanding of contingencies, learning theory, and how to analyze the function of behavior. Because I understand the role of timing, I am proficient at delivering consequences. I know the moment one needs to act in order to directly impact how a dog is behaving. It’s science.

There appears to be 2 distinct groups of people who are operating as dog trainers. There are those who will wait for, or even instigate, the behavior of concern and use aversive stimulation as a punisher. They choose tools that deliver pain or discomfort - electrocution, metal prongs, and strangulation. This also includes confrontational training like hitting with a rolled towel. If a trainer relies on these practices and says, "they don’t hurt," they actually do not have a full understanding of how these tools reduce observable behavior.

Going to pause right here as I think this is important for every owner to hear: If the trainer you are interviewing says that they are using shock, prong, or choke collars and reassures you by saying they do not cause pain and discomfort, then they do not understand the role of aversive stimulation as punishment. Very simply put, they do not have the education required to be handling your dog.

The second camp includes the people who find a way preclude the behavior of concern, i.e. managing the dog’s environment, identify an acceptable replacement behavior, and using added (or positive) reinforcement to increase the rate or relative frequency of the new behavior. This process changes the observable behavior of the dog while protecting their emotional health and well being. It is also important to ask any trainer that presents themselves as a positive reinforcement trainer to explain the tools they using and why they are using them.

The community that relies on aversive stimulation as punishment for behavior accuses positive reinforcement trainers of not knowing how to use the tools “correctly.” Reinforcement-based trainers come right back with the same argument - punishment-based trainers do not know how to use positive reinforcement. Let us back away from the mud slinging for a second, step back, and lift our heads.

There are many things that fall under the umbrella of punishment procedures and multiple options that can be used in reinforcement procedures. This is ultimately determined by the dog that is sitting in front of you. If you are hiring someone who can only talk about one procedure, discuss one tool, or who has a single answer for everything, it is likely that person will not be able to assess the dog or analyze their behavior effectively. At the very least, the result will likely be inappropriate solutions for behavior change and a whole lot of frustration for you and your dog. To be very clear, what I am saying is any behavior professional worth your time and money should be able to explain both procedures - without prejudice - and discuss why they are selecting one over another.

As a professional with exposure to research, 10 years of education, and application of that education with over 1000 dogs, I am knowledgeable about all tools at my disposal. I am also fully committed to preserving the emotional health and well-being of dogs - All dogs, in all circumstance, always. Why? Not because I like it or think it’s right. (I mean, I do but that’s not really defensible.) It is because science dictates that I do.

We should all be interested in sustainable behavior change, increasing behavior repertoires, reducing - and even eliminating - stress, anxiety, and frustration. This reduces problem behaviors over all. Using aversive stimulation as punishment is in direct opposition of this outcome. Using techniques that include pain, intimidation, and the removal of options for the dog will immediately suppress the observable behavior while increasing physiological responses tied to negative emotional conditions. These conditions increase aggression, give rise to new maladaptive behaviors designed to avoid and escape, and break down trust vital to the human/canine bond.

For the people reading this who like research, here is the documentation and studies validating the last paragraph:

  1. The effects of using aversive training methods in dogs, A review - Gal Ziv

  2. Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesired behaviors - Meghan E. Herron, Frances S. Shofer, Ilana R. Reisner

  3. Electronic training devices: Discussion on the pros and cons of their use in dogs as a basis for the position statement of the EuropeanSociety of Veterinary Clinical Ethology

  4. Effect of training for dog fear identification on dog owner ratings of fear in familiar and unfamiliar dogs: Hannah E. Flint, Jason B. Coe, David L. Pearl, James A. Serpell, Lee Niel

If you are trainer or an owner and handling dogs with behavior concerns, please feel free to ask questions, require deeper answers, and if you are at all questioning the mentorship or advice you are getting, feel free to reach out. I am here, without cost or obligation, to help. There is no need to hire me. It is important that everyone have access to information so that informed choices can be made on your pet’s behalf.

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