Why be positive, or what’s wrong with a “correction”?

3ballsbingley.jpg.w300h225Welcome to A Positive Connection and my first blog post. I hope to be writing each week on a variety of topics, so be sure to check back frequently! And, feel free to email me (julie@apositiveconnection.com) with suggestions of topics you might like to explore.

When my younger daughter was 8, she wanted a dog of her own. Our family Shih Tzu wasn’t making it as a frisbee dog, and she wanted something bigger and more athletic. After she earned/saved $100 we went to the local shelter and brought home Molly, a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever who was about 1 year old.  We tried training her with some of the local groups but Molly’s fear of other dogs, learyness of strangers, and general distrust of the world became increasingly apparent. We decided to enroll her in a board and train program which used traditional methods (choke chains). After 3 1/2 weeks we went to pick her up, and she was obedient, but her aggression to other dogs was worsening. The trainer said to correct her when she started to act up around other dogs. It didn’t help, at all. When we moved to Virginia and Molly bit a boy visiting our house, I called All About Dogs for help.

We started over with Molly, using clicker training and positive reinforcement under the private tutorage of Robin Bennett. Molly began to improve. She was more relaxed with people and dogs, and we even started her in group classes for agility training. However, for whatever reason, though she improved with positive reinforcement, she never fully recovered from whatever happened to her in her first year and the punishment based training we started with. One day she killed our neighbor’s dog and we had to put her down. Unfortunately, this is not as uncommon a tale as I would like it to be, and the facts associated with punishment based training (read correction) show that punishment increases aggression in dogs. In other words, as we learned with Molly, violence begets violence.*

According to Gary Lansberg, DVM, DACVB, a veterinary animal behaviorist who spoke at the 2013 Midwest Veterinary Conference in Columbus OH, recent studies show that dogs that are punished show an increase in aggression, fear, and avoidance of people and dogs. They show more behavior problems and are less playful. Moreover “Hit/kick, alpha roll, dominance down, stare, grab, shake – increase aggression by 25%” And the alpha roll and yelling “NO!”  have the “highest [incidence] for owner aggression.”

Patricia McConnell (animal behaviorist , college professor, and Author of The Other End of the Leash) writes,

The most confrontational, and I would argue aggressive, behaviors on the part of the owners resulted in the highest levels of aggressive responses from the dogs. 43% of the dogs responded with aggression to being hit or kicked, 38% to have an owner grab their mouth and take an object forcefully…

She continues with more statistics, but you get the idea.

So, what’s an owner to do? I contend that finding a trainer whose primary approach to training is positive and uses lure/reward or clicker training as his or her starting point will: 1) help avoid future problems with your dog; 2) help you develop a relationship with your dog based on co-operation and trust; 3) increase the effectiveness of your management of the dog as he learns what is expected of him and; 4) it will more likely allow your dog to be the interactive, curious, creative and loyal friend that you want him to be.  If you start off choking, jerking, swatting, alpha rolling, or yelling, you are, in reality, instilling fear and distrust in your dog and may find that he would rather avoid you than come to you. Behavior problems can and do arise with dogs who are positively trained, but yelling at them is not the solution to the problem, it is more likely to exacerbate the issue. Why not use a method that is designed to work with your dog rather than on him?

*Nota bena: What happened with Molly and the kind and gracious help we received from Robin and all her trainers at All About Dogs is what inspired me to become a trainer. I wanted to support owners of dog with behavior issues and hopefully help them to avoid the pain and heartache we went through.

For more information on this topic see the following:

Companion Animal Psychology: What is Positive Reinforcement in Dog Training?

Why You Should Never Hit Your Dog: http://www.realclearscience.com/blog/2013/07/why-you-should-never-hit-your-dog.html

American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior:  Position Paper on punishment based training: http://avsabonline.org/resources/position-statements

Patricia McConnell’s website (with blog): http://www.patriciamcconnell.com

A great resource for all things dog training featuring my hero Dr. Ian Dunbar: Dog Star Daily: www.dogstardaily.com

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