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Whatever Works? Why You Never Need Pain, Force, or Fear to Train Your Dog

 Whatever Works? Why You Never Need Pain, Force, or Fear to Train Your Dog

train your dog to be a service dog

Everyone wants their dog training to work. But is this the only factor to consider when deciding how to train your dog? When you’re a dog owner it can be hard to know where and how to start training your dog, or looking for a professional trainer–especially with outdated techniques being kept alive thanks in large part to some T.V. shows, that unfortunately are not based in modern science. But how is a person to know better?

Some of these shows, and the “trainers” who use similar techniques, will tell you things that seem to make a lot of sense! For example, “balanced” trainers will tell you you have to teach the dog what is “right” and what is “wrong” by “correcting” “wrong” behavior, and rewarding good behavior. Sounds good, right? Well, the catch is that these “corrections” involve physical pain, force or intimidation, which means the behavior is suppressed via fear. Again, it works, but only because the dog fears your correction. Not because the underlying emotion or association causing the symptom has been addressed, or because the dog has practiced and mastered what TO do.

Lets use a human analogy. Lets say you were in school and learning your multiplication tables. You go up to the front of the class to solve a problem on the board, and you get it wrong. Which of the following consequences do you think would best help you get it right next time?

A) Your teacher presses a button that sends an electrical shock through your body as a “correction” to your wrong answer.

B) You practice your multiplications via homework and maybe some flash cards or even real-life, hands-on problems.

When it comes down to it, either of these would likely work! But which one will give you the best results in the long run, with the least amount of trauma? Clearly, B. Are humans the same as dogs? Of course not! That’s why we don’t clicker train people. The scientific laws of behavior psychology and learning still adhere, we just have to modify the way we apply them to fit the species.

Let’s take a scenario that sadly, is very common. A dog with fear-based aggression towards other dogs barks, lunges, and snarls at other dogs he sees, to keep them away. A “trainer” puts a shock collar on the dog, and shocks the dog whenever he reacts to other dogs. This stops the reaction, but does nothing to change the underlying emotional cause.

Luckily for us, and especially for dogs, we now know that pain, force, and intimidation are unnecessary to train and modify behavior. When qualified professionals train a dog properly, there are no “corrections” needed because we know if the dog isn’t “doing it right” it is usually because:

1) We asked the dog to do something when they were past threshold, ie: in too distracting or scary an environment, one we haven’t practiced working up to yet.
2) We are not communicating clearly enough to the dog what to do.
3) We are not properly reinforcing the dog for performing the desired behavior.

Modern trainers use counter conditioning and desensitization to change dog’s emotions about whatever was previously causing their reaction. At the same time, we teach the dog exactly what TO do, instead of punishing a fearful dog for doing the wrong thing until it shuts down, or reaches the point of learned helplessness (which is commonly mistakenly referred to as “calm-submissive”).

At the end of the day, everyone just wants their dog to be an enjoyable canine companion. My question to everyone is this: if you don’t have to use pain, force or fear to train or modify behavior, why would you? After all, if we can train wild animals without force or punishment, we can surely train our dogs!