Podcast with Becky Brunton, followed by an article by Rob Alleyne.
In the LWDG POD DOG latest episode, LWDG Founder Jo Perrott interviews Becky Brunton about her journey from despair to dog training success. Becky talks about how she nearly gave up on training her dog Luna after being encouraged to use abusive methods but then found the strength to never give up on her dream of becoming a successful gundog owner and found a better way.
This is an inspiring story that will motivate you to never give up on your dreams, no matter how difficult they may seem at first!
We have paired this podcast, with a wonderful article by Rob Alleyne on ‘Is It Time To Stop Punishing Dogs’ where he looks at the reality of using punishment within dog training and asks us to look at how we wholeheartedly remove the kind of abuse that was suggested to Becky but ask ourselves how far the other way do we go before we cause problems of a different kind.
- These outlooks have been paired by us in this blog to make you truly THINK about what kind of handler/trainer you want to be. It will not be easy to listen to or read and will press you to seriously look at a variety of training choices we have available, and what suits you.
They are not related in their story at all and are only given here together to hopefully help you to think about the whole picture, and help you choose your own training handler process going forward.
Also included below is a link to a masterclass webinar by our amazing Featured Experts Emma Stevens, Claire Denyer, and Samantha Thorneycroft-Taylor as they deliver a live session to a 100 participants on the topic of Correction.
Rob Alleyne is a highly accredited dog trainer within the UK and a member of The Kennel Club. Robert is a signatory to the Registration Council for Dog Training and Behaviour Practitioners (RCDTBP), and he has lectured on canine behaviour on many occasions for different groups and organisations, both nationally and internationally.
For millennia we have used the punishment of those around us for what we each consider to be wrong-doings. We have extended that approach to our children and to other species. But for at least the last forty years, there have been those who have felt that this approach isn’t working and that it is morally wrong to treat others this way.
This theory says that punishing our children is mentally detrimental to them and that it ultimately leads to a deterioration in their general behaviour and long-term damage to their self-esteem. We have been told that science has proven that we should instead ignore their ‘bad’ behaviour whenever possible, and instead reward their good behaviour.
This will boost their self-esteem, make them work harder to be rewarded, and create more well-rounded, confident individuals, who will far better fit into society. We should try whenever humanly possible to support them in whatever it is that they want, and allow them to fully express themselves so that they have a minimal amount of disappointment and frustration.
Children should be supported, nurtured and have nothing but positivity, even when they are behaving badly. And I wholeheartedly agree with all of this – at least in theory. But what seriously concerns me is that science and research aside, how well is this working in reality?
What’s The Reality?
The reality is that although children have never had so many resources and freedom, many are out of control. They have become aggressive, short-tempered, insecure and fragile.
Isn’t it a strange coincidence that in the same period where we’ve been encouraged to ignore bad behaviour in our children and they seem to have lost their minds, our dogs have gone off the rails too?
Like most of the behaviourists and trainers I know, I have never seen so many clients with dogs with aggression and insecurity issues, and it seems to get worse year on year. And of all of the so-called positive-only trainers I know, I don’t know a single one with what I would consider a well-behaved dog – not one.
So Why Doesn’t Positive Only Training Work?
The answer to this is very simple. For a dog to choose to carry out a requested behaviour for an offered reward, it has to accept that reward over any other available option. He has to want it more than the other potential rewards that he can get aside from the one you are offering.
The difficulty for most of my clients, many of whom have already paid one, two, three or even more force-free trainers and behaviourists before contacting me, is that there are so many situations where they don’t have a reward that can compete with the ones the dog can get himself.
Many of them say that their dog will work very well for food treats and/or toys in the house but ignores them completely as soon as he is outside and the lead or long-line is taken off. If you have a dog with a high prey drive, for example, owners quickly find that food as a reward just doesn’t work, unless the owner can quickly produce their own prey animal, to save the dog from running after the wrong one.
However, trying this as a technique isn’t enormously practical, and obviously runs the risk of the dog coming to harm, and prosecution for the owner.
Problems With Force-Free Training
Perhaps the most significant problem with force-free training is that it never actually teaches the dog that he cannot still do the thing that the owner didn’t originally want him to. Owners who have tried using it to stop a dog from jumping up on visitors for example, almost invariably find that the dog resumes jumping up as soon as the treats being used to distract him are put away.
The other problem with this technique is that it requires every visitor to have to take responsibility for training the dog for the owner. The owner is not required to train their own dog – the guest is! Expect to quickly get fewer visitors.
Owners will be told phrases like ‘dog training is a marathon, not a sprint’, and to ‘expect training to take a very long time to show results’, or that ‘there are no quick fixes’ in dog training. What the trainer is really doing is preparing the owner for not seeing any significant improvements for a very long time, if ever.
I suspect that the vast majority of trainers and behaviourists are neither positive-only, or punishment-only, though I often see articles where the two are pitted against each other as training methods, as though they are mutually exclusive.
Most trainers I believe, are reward-based – as am I, but will use some form of non-abusive negative consequence if the dog decides to disregard what the owner wants and the incentive that they are offering, and this approach is by far the most effective and successful.
My Findings and Nature
I have had clients contact me saying that I am the dog’s last hope, as they have already spent fortunes on dog trainers and behaviourists who have taken their money. However, there has been no improvement in the dog’s behaviour, as all the owner was given was management strategies and no actual training.
The owners are often staggered by the improvement in their dog’s behaviour even while I am still with them, and often all I would have done is taught the dog that when the owners tell him to do something that he has already been taught, that compliance isn’t optional, that they actually mean it.
One of the first lessons a bitch will teach her puppies is the consequences of not listening to her, usually at weaning time. We don’t see this as abuse, even though she sounds pretty frightening to her puppies. The puppies are not traumatised, they merely learn a vital life lesson – that no means no.
We don’t see this as cruel, and we allow her to do it, as we understand that it is an important part of their education. If they stayed with their parents, like with most animals who rear their own young and would then live together in a social group, punishment would be part of their education.
This is in order to help them recognise their place within the group, which we still do with our own children. However, we are being led to believe that there is one exception to this rule – people and dogs. I believe that this is a terrible and costly mistake.
What About How The Dog Feels?
Behavioural issues are apparently the number one reason for owners putting their dogs into rescue. If dogs could understand our language, and we could ask the dogs in rescue why they think that they ended up there, a great many would reply that they had no idea.
And if it was explained to them that they were given up on because they wouldn’t stop their unwanted behaviour, how many would reply that they didn’t know that the behaviour was unwanted as no one ever told them?
How tragic. Positively-only, force-free training is failing owners and dogs, and the sooner we accept this, and start FULLY educating them, the less dogs will end up being given up on.
So is it time to stop punishing dogs? No, of course it isn’t. Dogs punish other dogs all the time, and there’s a reason for that. A degree of fear is an important survival tool, necessary to help teach a good choice from a bad one. It is quite literally a lifesaver. Without any fear, a species would quickly die out. EVERY species knows that there are consequences to making the wrong decision, and this helps them to make better ones. Without an awareness of danger, we make very bad choices.
That is why every intelligent species uses punishment on those who make what is perceived as the wrong choice, including us – the most intelligent and yet truly stupid species on the planet.
Aversive or Abusive?
We are told that aversive tools shouldn’t be used because they can be misused. But what is there that we can access that can’t be misused, should that be the intention of the user? I have worked with owners who have used a clicker as a precursor to punishment and created a dog terrified of clickers.
I have seen dogs distressed and confused by the misuse of food and toys. Dogs who resource guard food do so because in their minds, someone has taught them to be fearful of the loss of something that they see as a valuable reward.
I have seen many posts demanding that certain tools should be restricted or banned as they can be misused. And yet many, many dogs have been injured or even killed as a result of toys, leads and collars, and yet there are no calls for the banning of these things.
Why not? Because we hope that the majority of people using them will do so responsibly. Why is it any different for the use of an aversive? If I take a ten week old puppy to a busy railway station and let it hear passing trains, the loudest, scariest noise it has ever heard, or to a busy road and let buses and lorries thunder past, people will say that this is important exposure necessary for the puppies development.
But if that same puppy is biting someone to the point where it is drawing blood, and I rattle a can with some pebbles in it just loudly enough to make it stop, people say I’m cruel, and that I will traumatise the puppy to the point where I will lose its trust and do irreparable damage to it.
Where is the logic in this? Its own mother would admonish it far more loudly than I would ever have shaken a rattle can.
Aversive and abusive are not the same thing, regardless of what we are being told.
If you would like to learn more about correction options, you can view our webinar on Positive Correction and our Evening With Robert Alleyne. Both links are below.
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