Correct Them or Kill Them
I’ve been a pretty outspoken advocate for shelter dogs, and all dogs in general for the last several years. I’ve also spent most of my time training and competing with dogs. To be clear, I deal with all types of dogs, not just the ones I choose, but also the ones that are chosen for me.
Dog’s come in two classes;
- Those that want to please you and
- Those that don’t. In the latter category, there are two sub-categories as well; a. Those that we can coerce with food, reward and positive interaction and
- Those that we can’t.
Not much really matters until it comes time to choose between killing them and saving them for dangerous and unwanted behaviors. This is a position that I take very seriously. Although there are a few dogs that I would sign off on (to put down), they are always the very smallest percentage. The reason for this is because I don’t believe in stopping when one method of training or behavior modification doesn’t work. I’ve been criticized for this on numerous occasions and only hope that more people will question me so that I may explain my point.
I believe that training a dog should be positive and reward based. All of my training with dogs involves positive based methods and I use treats even when the method involves blocking or correcting unwanted behaviors.
Countless times I am faced with people who will criticize the methods I (and other balanced trainers) use and offer their opinion, which usually goes something like this: “ Dogs should never be corrected, they can learn anything with purely positive based methods.” The problem with this opinion is that it is usually spewed from people who either have no idea how to deal with serious aggression / behaviors or those that are lying to both you and themselves.
Sadly, thousands of dogs are facing death in shelters across the US because positive only trainers are trying to convince people that corrections are cruel and unnecessary. The pitfall is that the dogs suffer. People are convinced that the ONLY way to train or counter condition a dog is with positive only methods, then, when that doesn’t work, they think their dog is broken and they dump the dog and try again. I see these dogs; I work with these dogs and I watch these dogs die when someone doesn’t step outside of their comfort zone, but more often, I save these dogs with training methods that do work!
Dogs are dogs; they lack the ability to communicate with words. They are complex creatures that need and deserve more than a myopic approach to their behavior / personalities. If a dog needs to be corrected or blocked on a behavior, and that will save their lives, I wish they would get it from either a balanced trainer or their owners.
When people (positive only people) see the results of balanced training and see that the dog is behaving properly they immediately respond with one of two prepared responses:
- The dog is in shut down mode, i.e. learned helplessness.
- The dog will revert back to his aggression, any dog trained with corrections always does.
They are wrong on both counts.
First off, if the dog is in their so called, “shut down mode” after behaving aggressively and being corrected, then good, they are avoiding the aggressive behaviors which got them punished in the first place. This will then allow them to move to a place where they will receive reward and affection afterwards. At that point the “learned behavior” will be compliance and good manners. Sort of like a little child sulking because he can’t have cake before dinner. If he finishes his dinner, he gets cake.
Secondly, dogs trained through balanced training (yes, that might involve a correction) are far less likely to revert back to aggression than dogs trained through positive only training. This has been my experience in the hundreds of dogs (real world and shelter dogs) that I’ve worked with. This includes severely aggressive dogs, out of control pets, sport competition dogs, shelter dogs, and personal protection dogs.
Dogs are balanced creatures who need balance in their lives and in their training. This must come from their human. Never correcting a dog is like never telling a child no. It makes for irresponsible parenting and poor pet ownership.
Please don’t believe the hype of the positive only people and give your dog more respect than that. Trainers that are abusive are not balanced trainers (and there are plenty of those). I am talking about trainers who have the best interest of the dog at heart. Trainers that understand one simple concept:
Dogs should be rewarded for doing the right thing, and when they do the wrong thing, they should be taught what they need to do to get rewarded.