Friday, June 13, 2014

What we're missing about the seductiveness of punishment training

There's a lot of discussion about the ills of punishment training among modern dog trainers. We know that there are many pitfalls - major emotional and behavioral fallout. So why do people still do it? Why is it so "seductive?" (Kathy Sdao used this word in her recent webinar entitled 'The Seductiveness of Shock'). 

One of the most commonly cited reasons is the temptation of a quick fix - a magic solution that, although ugly, we can turn a blind eye to for a moment and go on to a sunnier future. Since our dogs can't talk, we can apply a swift leash correction and pretend it doesn't really hurt, that a minute later it never really happened, and the result is a happy and harmonious existence of man and his best friend. (Obviously it doesn't just go away, your dog doesn't forget, and the emotional memory cannot but have negative effects - but that's another article entirely).

The other reason punishment continues in dog training is the unbelievable power of authority in human society. If someone of authority says to do something, many people will do it, even if it causes great pain to another living thing. It's this faith that we have in people who presumably have more knowledge than us to look out for the greater good.

But there's something we're missing about the seductiveness of punishment training, and I think it's at the crux of the average dog owner's reluctance to abandon punishment.  People tend to see behavior change more in terms of discipline than choice. Discipline, for the purposes of this post, means preventing yourself from doing something you want to do. That's how we operate, generally. Dieting means not eating that donut and eating a salad instead, even though we really want the donut. Quitting smoking means not smoking. Conditioning, however, means wanting to do something different. We worry that if we don't make a conscious effort to NOT do something, we may still do it. But maybe that's why we smoke, why we have trouble with diets, and why we stay in unhappy relationships when we shouldn't. If discipline is such an effective way of changing behavior, why is it so hard, even if we are getting punished every day for our lack of it? It's because it doesn't work on its own. The absence of a behavior is NOT something that truly registers with us. Being rewarded for NOT eating too many calories is ok, but what if we could instead truly crave non-fattening food just as much as the fried goodness, red meat and cheese? That's what reward-based dog training is all about - creating healthy behavior, not just creating a vacuum. And that's why it works better than punishment training. According to punishment-based trainers, our dogs should see a squirrel, feel that desire to chase it, but just bottle it up and not do it. They should have discipline. But that bottled up energy - it doesn't disappear. Reward-based trainers instead focus on getting the dog to see a squirrel and feel a desire to do something else. Get hungry and want to eat a salad, not a cheeseburger. So much better than wanting that cheeseburger and foaming at the mouth outside of Five Guys. 

1 comment:

  1. This text is worth everyone’s attention. How can I find out more? Really great news!!! this information is well worth looking everyone. Good tips.
    Dog Training in Northern Virginia