Pain or Intimidation in Dog Training – Beware!

Everyone with any sense knows not to hit their dog. I recently contributed so-called “expert opinion” to an article explaining why.

It ain’t rocket science. Here’s what I wrote.

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Hitting, or causing your dog pain or fear in any other way, is always a bad idea. At best it will simply cause your dog to “shut down”, stopping good behaviors along with bad ones. At worst it can cause your dog to react in kind, escalating to dangerous aggression.

As I see it, animal reactivity can be categorized into four main types:

1. fight
2. flight
3. avoidance
4. peace.

An owner who is aggressive or intimidating can be assured to cause one of the first three: fight (in which your dog escalates in kind), flight (in which your dog runs away), or avoidance (in which your dog simply “checks out”, hoping the entire situation will simply disappear).

Fighting is obviously bad: you or others will get bit. Yet fleeing is just as bad: corner a fearful dog who has run away, and their only recourse will be to fight. Avoidance, finally, although not as dangerous as fight or flight, is similarly undesirable. It is what basically good dogs do in the face of aggression/intimidation: they “shut down”. TheĀ  ones who suffer as a result of this are the dogs themselves. They learn not only to avoid doing the “bad” behavior that got them in trouble, they also simply stop doing many other behaviors as well – including the natural, healthy, and enjoyable ones that make them and others happy.

If you ever find yourself becoming angry or tense with your dog, stop and deep breathe. Anger, tension, anxiety and other such emotions will never help provide a calming, therapeutic energy for your dog to follow. Dogs want to follow a calm, peaceful, confident and benevolent leader – and a leader who is confident in his own effectiveness and leadership will never need to resort to anger, tension, hitting or intimidation.

One thing that I find very helpful to many of my clients is to forbid them to speak during trigger situations. As humans we are very verbal creatures, while dogs aren’t; furthermore we invest our speech with lots of emotion. If you are forced to use non-verbal outlets to communicate your wishes to your dog, there is much less likelihood that they will be invested with frustrated or angry energy.

Additionally, if you’re trying to get your dog to comply with an obedience command but it isn’t working, your best bet is simply to exit the situation, regroup, relax, restart and try again. Anytime you “battle” your dog – e.g. chasing him, grabbing for him, wrestling him, yelling – he’s already “winning” the fight. Because he’s enjoying himself, and you’re proving to him that you are ineffective. Turn your back toward your dog, lead him away on leash, and reset.
In the moment:
1. Stop and deep breathe
2. Turn your back toward your dog
3. Calmly but confidently lead away
4. Reset, regroup, and confidently retry!

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I’d like to hear your thoughts.
Have you had different experiences? Am I leaving anything out?