Category Archives: Dog Training

The Problem with Punishment

Punishment comes at a price. Learn more about this by reading this blog by Anna Francesca Bradley. 

Punishment generates negative emotions of frustration, anger, anxiety, fear and causes pain; a far better approach is to work with your dog and not against (c) CanStock Photo/adogslifephoto

Punishment generates negative emotions of frustration, anger, anxiety, fear and causes pain; a far better approach is to work with your dog and not against (c) CanStock Photo/adogslifephoto

Fortunately today, thanks to force free advocating organizations like Pet Professional Guild, there is much more awareness of the detrimental effects of punishment.  Sadly though, in some quarters it still prevails and is even advocated by some and perpetuated by the media.  So what actually is the definition of ‘punishment’?, what constitutes it? What are the alternatives? Let’s take a look.

What Is Punishment?

Speaking scientifically, there are two forms of punishment – positive and negative. Let’s deal with positive punishment first. Positive punishment refers to when something is added into your pet’s world that he/she deems unpleasant.  This ‘something’ will suppress your pet’s behaviour and your pet will work to avoid it.

What Constitutes Positive Punishment?

Obvious examples are electric shock devices, physical corrections such as smacking or hitting the dog and so called ‘alpha dog’ techniques such as ear pinching, nose blowing and rolling etc.  To be effective, if we can call it that, punishment must be gradually increased over time since an animal will gradually habituate to its effects.

Punishment is not always obvious

This is a problem I often encounter. Owners I work with are sometimes horrified when it is gently pointed out that what they are actually doing is construed by the dog as positive punishment.  Nose taps delivered to a mouthing puppy are perhaps a less subtle example, but leash jerking a pulling dog, shouting at a dog for something the owner deems inappropriate, body shaping a dog into position whilst training, yanking a dog whilst pulling towards another dog or whilst jumping etc.

What’s The Problem Here? – Emotional and Physical Levels

The problem we have with punishment is multidimensional. We have the physical aspect of jerking, yanking, shocking, pulling etc. which of courses causes pain in various aspects of the dog’s body.  This may be exacerbated if the dog already has complications such as musculoskeletal disorders or skin complaints for example or is an older individual or growing puppy.  But we must also consider positive punishment at an emotional level.  Consider anthropomorphically, what would your reaction be should you be electrically shocked, hit, yanked, pushed to the floor, jerked away from something you really wanted to look at?  My guess is a mixture of emotions and feelings including anger, frustration, anxiety, fear, a good risk of aggression resulting from these last two emotions and pain.  These are not positive feelings!  This is the crux of the problem with punishment, the animal is left feeling bad to put it very simplistically.  What is very sad is that in many cases, emotional shutdown results – we call this learned helplessness.  The animal simply completely mentally and emotionally shuts down and appears to comply with the human. Most times passive posturing will be observed. Of course, the animal is not at all complying but has just lost all emotional resilience to respond in any other way – the human usually responds with glee that their techniques are working…very sad.  I recall one dog I worked with whose behaviour had progressed so far due to a near lifetime of positive punishment, it was symptomatic of post traumatic stress disorder.

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Local Enhancement and Socially Facilitated Behaviors in Dogs

PPG has posted another outstanding blog by Eileen Anderson!
If you are dog training geek, be sure to give this a read!

Three dogs lying on the grass as seen from above. It is local enhancement, imitation, or just that they agree on the best place for sun baths?

This post started out as one thing and transformed into another as I went along, as many of mine do. I have been familiar for a while with the term local enhancement for a type of social learning in dogs. I had some videos that I felt were good examples. But while researching this post and putting the clips together into a movie, I learned that the concepts and definitions were a lot less cut and dried than I thought.

This topic is up for lots of interpretation and discussion in the literature and I have found it to be underrepresented in discussions about dog behavior. I felt that at least an introduction to the subject would be helpful. I have gone with the most thorough, most recent, and most cited sources.  I am open to additional information and hope for a good discussion.

Terms and Definitions

There are several different types of socially facilitated behaviors and social learning. These are two separate terms since behaviors can be socially facilitated without subsequent learning (Heyes, 1994, p. 214). Also the types of social facilitation overlap, and more than one can be going on at the same time. Among the types are behavioral contagion, local enhancement, stimulus enhancement, observational conditioning, copying, emulation, and imitation.

I got interested in local enhancement since I was pretty sure I saw it happening with my dogs.  Like most of the other types, it involves animals performing similar behaviors as a result of observation or other perception of another animal. But it is not classified as imitation.

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Marshmallow Tests for Dogs

 
By Pam Hogle

A guide dog partner, Deni Elliott, devised a dog version of the marshmallow test for her guide dog. She administered it to her guide Alberta a few years ago. Alberta did well; she actually did many of the things that children who take the marshmallow test do — she looked away, she distracted herself. She didn’t use her toes as a piano or sing a song, but she did distract herself from temptation. In her case, temptation was a bowl full of dog cookies.

We were delighted with her response, and, accepting much of the conventional understanding of the marshmallow test, believed that it indicated strong self-restraint and the ability to delay gratification.

Alberta unfortunately had to retire last year, and Deni got a new guide, Koala. Both girls were raised and trained by Guiding Eyes, in Yorktown Heights, NY; both are bright, funny, smart Labradors.

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Body Language – Your Dog’s Native Tongue

By Susan Claire, CPDT-KA

This very fearful dog is showing that he does not want to be approached via hishunched stance, flat ears and whites of the eyes. Ignore his signals and you may get bitten. Photo: Susan Nilson

This very fearful dog is showing that he does not want to be approached via his hunched position, flat ears, whites of the eyes and very slight curling of the top lip. Ignore his signals and you may get bitten. Photo: Susan Nilson

If you own a dog, then you teach English as a second language. A dog’s native tongue is body language. Yet, dogs adapt and learn our English words with remarkable ability. There are many emotions that we share with our canine friends, and some that we project onto them. It’s in our best interest to learn about how our dogs really think and feel and learn. If you insist your dog learn your language, then it’s only fair you make the effort to learn his. This will facilitate mutual understanding and communication.

The Myths of Spite and Guilt

Humans love to attribute these two motives to dogs. In reality, dogs experience neither guilt nor spite. When returning from a hard day’s work, you might get annoyed walking into a foul-smelling house and finding a cold pile on the floor. Perhaps you yell at the dog and punish him by rubbing his nose in it. Or maybe you’re more evolved than that, and just scowl, sigh, and complain loudly as you clean it up. Either way, your dog knows you are angry and it’s scaring him. He has no idea why, however, because he had that potty accident hours ago. And he did it simply because he had to go and no one was there to let him out. That’s it- no ulterior motive. How very silly to imagine dogs would use their urine and feces to make a point, or “spite” us. Really, what species does that? Oh, that’s right, primates do.. ( ever been to the zoo?) Luckily for us, dogs are not spiteful, as they’d have all day to plan their revenge- and I imagine it would be far worse than a little potty accident on the floor!

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Service Dog Teams and Continuing Education

 

by Pam Hogle

Photo by Nancy Garrett

A few weeks ago, I was part of an amazing experience — the first-ever continuing education weekend seminar for guide dog teams that included trainers and puppy raisers, as well as 80 teams. The weekend was organized by the Guiding Eyes for the Blind graduate council. Actually, it was two members of the council and their partners (including me). It was a lot of work to pull it off, and as the teams started arriving, we all had a moment of panic. But the weekend was an enormous success — and it made clear how much of a need and desire there is for continuing education among these teams.

Eighty grads attended. They traveled from all over the U.S. and Canada. The registration filled up within days, and that was more than a year before the conference. Even with inevitable cancellations, every grad space was filled. There was a waiting list. We limited puppy raisers to one per region (40 total). We could easily have had many more.

The school was generous, offering some funding and lots and lots of staff assistance. More than thirty trainers attended. Every grad team had the chance to work on issues they were having, whether with dogs being too interested in food on the ground or other issues common to working Labrador teams. Most of the teams are Labs; a few are German shepherds.

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