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Vancouver, BC, Canada

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  • Richard Chan

Humane punishment is not an oxymoron


Often l would see behaviour from a dog that the owner did not expect. This usually happened during and after the drop off. Usually the dog would be in a much better shape shorty after. A lot of it was heavily related to how the dog perceived the owner. For example, a dog that was used to bite the owner might look really different once he knew he could not react and was not allowed to bite me. This was an indication that the relationship the dog had with the owner was really poor, that there was hardly any trust nor respect, that the dog just did not even have the slightest concept that he was not supposed to do certain things such as biting. So the dog was just shocked when he was disagreed upon. The dog had been allowed to do whatever he felt like - he had never trusted nor believed his owners to defend him, he did not respect his owners so he never tried to ask for direction or permission - he just did the first thing that came to mind. When he arrived, once l started to hold his leash, he all the sudden realized things were different. He started to feel that he was no longer the one running the show. For an anxious and unsecured dog, he will feel much more anxious and insecure once he feels that he is not in complete control. (I.e. The human can stop him from biting him, the human can stop him from planting his feet on the ground like a rock, the human can stop him from barking and lunging...). When this happens, he is being forced to reevaluate - and then he learns. To teach a dog how to respect and trust us is essential. If you want a dog who knows how to make the proper decisions at the right time, you need to teach this dog how things work in our world. Our world consists of black and white, right and wrong. Many owners feel bad about saying “no” to their dogs. They feel bad about correcting their dogs. They think punishment is inhumane. In doing so, they have allowed their dog to become a monster who ruins their life. The dog has become the one who keeps saying no to the owner. You need punishment to stop a behaviour. That is the definition of punishment. If you don’t punish, you are allowing it to continue and get worse. If the person keeps “punishing” the dog but the dog keeps doing the same thing or worse, that is not real punishment. It may be a nag or an abuse, but not a punishment. By definition, a punishment will stop or at least diminish the occurrence of a behaviour. An effective punishment does not have to cause lots of pain, it does not have to be really physical. It can be very calm, soft, quick and unemotional. It is about how you do it, and how the dog looks at you. If you look at my videos, you will see that l deal with lots of aggressive and fearful dogs. You will also see that they respect a mere verbal “no” from me, and they usually become quite a bit calmer and much more engaged shorty after. This is not only because l punish, but because I also take lots of time to teach a dog what the proper behaviour is so they can make the right decision and they know why they should make that decision. But l need to stop the wrong behaviour in order to teach the dog how to make the right decision in a reliable fashion in the real world. It is unethical and irresponsible for me to do otherwise (e.g. return a human aggressive dog to the owner without making sure the dog knows biting human is absolutely forbidden). That is why punishment is essential. If you cannot get past the idea of punishment, and your dog is wrecking havoc in your home, please seek help from a balanced trainer who is competent. If someone tells you you should only use positive reinforcement and it is supposed to take a very long time, please ask to see an example of a dog trained in this way that has really been transformed (e.g. a human aggressive dog has stopped attacking human, a dog aggressive dog has stopped trying to attack other dogs...). Anyone can say anything. But it is the dog that tells the truth with his behaviour. It is not about whether we should do it, but how to properly do it. Some people like to say “if you are a good trainer you will never need to punish your dog!” I say, “If you really know dogs, you should know how and when to reward and punish.” Hope this helps.