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“But It’s Working…”

“But It’s Working…”

I have found that a lot of dog owners try a lot of different things to get desired behaviors. Let’s face it, we all try to figure things out for ourselves, so we might turn to a friend who’s dog behaves in a manner more like what we had hoped for when we got a dog, or you might turn to the fun exciting world of the internet search. Either way you you will likely find answers that either don’t apply to your dog, or sound good to you, but in reality aren’t actually changing the behavior.

All dogs are different; and even if your good friend’s dog did once bark when guests came in, and he was able to correct this behavior; it does not mean the method used will work for your dog, or even if it does work, it could have negative side effects. You should be very weary of quick fixes and short cuts, as they might end up causing more undesirable behaviors in place of the old one.

It is important to consider that your dog is highly intelligent and if she is behaving in a way that seems unruly, dangerous or even just annoying to you, it is important to think about what result you would like to have if you confront the problem. Are you only looking to stop an unwanted behavior, or do you actually want to confront the reason the problem exists and change your dog’s feelings about it, so that her emotions behind the behavior can also change.

“Suppressed behavior is not changed behavior…” Victoria Stilwell

If your dog barks while you are not home, your goal might only be to make your dog be quiet while you are not home, you might not even consider the deeper anxiety that is causing this barking, and you might go to the pet store and buy a citronella collar, or other anti-bark device. In some cases you might even get the result you were looking for; you put the collar on your dog and go off to work, and you don’t hear any barking, and you don’t come home to any complaints. Unfortunately you have not dealt with the core of the behavior; the anxiety, and you have now added a tool that sprays or punishes your dog while you aren’t home, you are only adding to this anxiety. If you are lucky it might end here, and you might think that anti bark device or collar really works, and now you might become that neighbor or person who freely recommends these tools. But for a lot of people this is not where this will end. Because you are not addressing the issue, the anxiety could lead to far worse things. The two specific examples I see most often will be dogs who become so anxious from this that they simply cannot hold their bowels or bladder, and as soon as you leave they go to the bathroom all over the house, crate and/or safe area. The other example I see a lot will be a dog who looks for items to chew in place of the barking and to help ease the anxiety. These dogs not only cause great damage to household items, moldings and walls, but they are also at great risk to swallow foreign objects and have an obstruction that can end up needing surgery.

If your dog pulls on leash and you go into a pet store and pick up a big strong prong collar and think to yourself; “this will work!” Then you begin to walk your dog on the collar and every time she pulls you jerk that prong collar and like magic she seems to fall right back into place by your side… for a little while, maybe 3 steps before she is out in front again, and you jerk her back and think “this is working!” I encourage you to realize that if that collar were actually training your dog to walk by your side, you should only need to use it for a few days, but if it translates to a lifetime of wearing the prong collar, it is not changing your dog’s behavior and it is basically just harassment.

While training dogs people use one or more of the four quadrants of operant conditioning: Positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive punishment and negative punishment. The first thing to learn is that the positive and negative in these quadrants don’t apply to good and bad, but instead to adding and taking away. Reinforcement is something likely to increase behavior, while the definition of punishment is to lessen behavior. If you are using the prong collar to stop your dog from pulling, you are trying to use the prong as punishment to lessen the behavior of pulling. If everyday you wake up and have to put that collar on that dog and jerk that leash back 5, 10, 15 times while on your walk, every walk; you are not lessening the behavior of pulling. Your punishment is not working, so you should seriously consider a different method. If you want to use punishment based methods with your dog, then at least understand them; understand that if it is working the punisher should be able to be faded and the behavior should cease; otherwise it is not working; plain and simple.

Another thing to consider about punishment is the negative fall out that can come with it. Even if you are still convinced your prong collar jerks are working, you have to be very careful about what those “corrections” might accompany, and how that might change the way your dog feels about certain things. If your dog gets jerked on the prong while a child approaches him on the street, it might only take two or three times before your dog thinks the child approaching is what causes the jerk on the prong collar, and thus she might no longer like children, she might even be afraid of children now if she is afraid of the pain of the prong being accompanied with their presence, and this could result in an aggressive outburst one day. Remember punishment lessens behavior, so if your dog happily runs up to a child and punished by your prong, she will stop happily approaching children.

If your dog is showing undesirable behaviors it is important first go see your vet, and explain the problems you have been seeing. Dogs can have pain, tooth aches, or even hypothyroidism which all can be contributing to their behavior. It isn’t fair to implement any training plan unless the dog is healthy!

It is also important to look at the big picture, if your dog is acting up, don’t just stop the behavior, but get to the core of the reason for the behavior, because if you do you can change the emotions behind the behavior so it doesn’t return or manifest is more difficult ways. If you find yourself using short cuts, or methods you have learned about from a friend of friend, and you think to yourself; “but it’s working…” I encourage you to strongly consider if it is actually working for your dog!

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