Doing better by dogs
To successfully understand and interact with dogs, we must understand that dogs ask questions. Sometimes they do this by offering
a series of behaviors and then waiting for the change in human response, by vocalizing, by pawing at us or by sitting quietly
and looking at us. This last behavior is the one that gives us the time and space to exchange information with our dogs.
Interacting with a dog is not about having dominion over the dog. It's about signaling clearly to the dog and being reliable
so that the dog learns to take its clues about the appropriateness of its behaviors from you.
By understanding the evolutionary history of domestic dogs and our shared, interdependent, cooperative relationship with them,
we can create a more effective strategy for managing canine behavioral concerns.
1. We should strive to avoid all circumstances known to be provocative to a dog. Our goal must be to avoid inadvertently reinforcing
an inappropriate behavior or threatening the dog.
2. We should humanely interrupt problematic behaviors—without rewarding them—as early in the inappropriate sequence as possible.
3. We should watch carefully and reward dogs quickly for a wholly appropriate and freely offered behavior. By doing this, we
inform the dog which of its behaviors are desired. It's utterly unfair to the dog to have it try to guess what it is that
will stop the yelling and start the loving. Also, we could tell someone a million times what not to do, but unless we tell
them what we want them to do, they will still make mistakes.
This simple pattern, based on the knowledge that dogs are cognitive and ask questions, allows learning and recovery to occur
and dogs to improve in the absence of violence.
By refusing to be dumbed down by dominance, we can also change our perception of punishment. Physical punishment is often
recommended for changing canine behavior and may include using leash or collar correction with choke or prong collars, using
electronic shock correction, hitting the dog, walking the dog into a tree or pole so it will pay attention and tying a dog
so it cannot move. All of these techniques are rooted in the concept of dominating the dog as a means of control. Some of
these techniques involve outright abuse, and others are easy to use abusively. None of them is recommended.
The true definition of punishment doesn't require pain; it requires a stimulus sufficiently powerful that the undesirable
behavior is abandoned by the dog with the subsequent result that the probability of the dog exhibiting the behavior in the future is lowered. The emphasized parts of this sentence are important because unless these conditions are met, the dog is not being
punished; it is being injured mentally or physically.