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Dog Bite Prevention Week

Last week was dog bite prevention week. All throughout the week I saw all sorts of posts telling you to:

  • ALWAYS watch children of any age around your pet,
  • Learn and watch for any body language signs of stress (like last week’s “lip lick” video)
  • Never punish a growl.

That last one really stuck with me. Never punish a growl. It was and is something a lot of folks punish their dog for doing. Their dog may growl at the postman or growl standing over their bone (resource guarding). It’s natural dog language saying: “HEY! Back off. I don’t want to hurt you but I will!”

Along those same lines I read one of the best description of why aversive forms of dog training DO NOT work. An adversive would be anything which cause pain to your dog like shock collars, prongs, choke chains, sprays, etc. The article stated this:

“Aversive methods and equipment suppress aggressive displays but not the underlying cause of the aggression.”

I wish I could LIKE that description a thousand times over. You would not believe the number of times I hear people talk about seeing something on Youtube or TV where some “trainer” used a shock collar and BAM instant transformation. And to an extent you do see a transformation. You’ve paired a painful experience with (hopefully) the thing you don’t want the dog to not do. But this has one major flaw: It doesn’t stop the dog from feeling the same things they were before, it only stops them from showing¬†them. Therefore, sure on the surface, it appears as though the dog’s problem is fixed.

There are two major issues with this:

  1. What happens if your timing is off on the punishment. You dog starts chewing on a shoe and you reach for the shock remote, just as your child, Timmy, walks through the door. The dog looks up at the child and BAM gets hit with the shock punishment. “There,” you think, “he’s stopped chewing on the shoe”. But your dog thinks, “Man, when Timmy walks towards me – it hurts!” You’ve taken a minor problem of chewed loafers and created a dog with aggression (fear) towards children.
  2. The second issue is that you’ve turned your dog into a ticking time bomb. You had a dog who growls whenever people get close. You punished him every time he growls. He stopped growling. Now he goes from standing next to a person -> biting them. He still feels the fear but there’s no warning growl in the middle to prevent the attack. You’ve eliminated it.

To related this to humans, let’s say you are scared of spiders (and who isn’t!!). I bring you into a room filled with spiders, you scream. I punish you. After a few days of practice, spider -> scream -> smack, eventually you’ll stop screaming. The outward¬† display of fear is gone. But how do you feel about spiders? Internally do you think you will ever associate spiders with something that isn’t scary or painful? Probably not.

Now think about you being out and about with friends and family and a GIANT spider falls into your hair. How would you react? Would you be calm and collected now that this spider is on you? I think not (I know I wouldn’t be!!). Same is true when you use adversives on dogs, you aren’t actually changing the dog’s frame of mind towards the thing, you’re just masking the external displays of it. You’ve created a ticking time bomb with no ticks to tell you it’s even armed.

The above quote was taken from 4Paws University’s post on dog bite prevention: I encourage all of you to follow them on Facebook as they put out awesome positive training items throughout the week!