I think somewhere along the way it seems as if discipline and punishment became bad words in the dog world, I’m not sure where this all started. Maybe it was a group of like-minded dog trainers who tend to be too emotional, I don’t know and it doesn’t really matter.
Sure, in a perfect world we would automatically have great relationships with our dogs and they would be running around doing whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, eating what they want, and taking what they want. But the reality of life is that we can’t, they can’t, no one can. Life (a dog’s life, a child’s life, a celebrity’s life, all life) has a balance of freedom, rules, privileges, obligations, rights, and consequences.
I’m only a dog trainer, I don’t intend to come off as a great thinker or philosopher who has knowledge or words that will unlock happiness to all. But with all of the overthinking that goes into analyzing our dog’s behavior, maybe a simple minded approach to the situation is a good thing?
Here is what I mean: Dogs don’t stop bad behaviors because you make them watch you eat first. The terms alpha, master, and pack leader have been replaced with fur kids and babies. Finding a higher-value dog treat isn’t always the answer. Training with something called a “gentle leader” doesn’t mean your dog will enjoy it. Knowing which of the four quadrants of reinforcement you are using is pointless. This is the bottom line: dogs do things because they can. Whether it’s us unintentionally marking the wrong state of mind in our dogs, the lack of knowing how to stop it, or just ignoring it – we all allow certain things to happen. This is why a proper balance of affection, discipline, education, punishment, expectations, and rules have to exist.
Discipline is not a result of bad behavior, its establishing a set of rules, boundaries, and expectations to prevent bad behavior. However, from my experience, many dog owners are only looking to discipline their dogs after they have done something wrong. According to common Google searches, my hunch may be correct (see below). Most of the related internet searches to punishment and discipline in dogs relate to what to do after the dog has done something wrong. That’s like getting into a car accident and then immediately putting on your seat belt.
A better option would be to teach your dogs how you want them to behave so that unwanted behaviors are reduced and eliminated before they turn into a major problem. As a important component of discipline, punishment doesn’t have to be scary, and punishment doesn’t ruin a dog.
Punishment can exist in many forms that don’t include violence, pain, or mental scarring. Punishment is simply a penalty as retribution for an offense. Some examples of punishment in dog training are withholding a treat, giving your dog a timeout, saying NO!, withholding attention, putting tension in a leash that is connected to a halti, or a leash and collar correction. I’m not here to make recommendations on the severity, timing, or details of these two elements, but punishment and discipline have to exist somewhere in your training program to produce a well-balanced dog.
Alright, so what’s the point of all of this? Incorporating discipline and punishment into your relationship and training with your dog does not make you a bad dog owner. From my experience, the average dog owner wants a happy, well-trained dog that can be enjoyed by the entire family. This will take time, effort, education, consistency, and discipline. A good dog trainer should be able to outline a program that contains all of these elements to help give the dog owner what they are seeking. My advice to dog owners is to seek out a training program that makes sense to you and your family and approach your decision making with level-headed thinking and save your emotions for when you praise your dog!
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