How do you think under pressure? Or more to the point how does a 3-year-old child think under pressure. Appearances suggest not at all. Right?
I mention this to make a very clear point. Current research indicates that the average adult dog is at the developmental level of a 3-year-old child. This theory is not for debate here, but I have no trouble accepting it since human brains and dog brains are startlingly similar in structure, and function.
Consider how 3-year-old children learn new skills and ideas best. I remember when I was looking for a pre-school for my child, wanting an environment that taught through play and self- discovery. So, when I came upon a new training style for dogs based solely on games, I felt like I was finally professionally home.
I think a lot about training with punishment, shaming, or worse tools like e-collars and choke style collars (either with or without the spikes). Often when I walk into a family’s home experiencing any number of doggie dilemmas, someone, embarrassed, shows me the new e-collar they purchased at a big box store. They don’t know how to use it to solve the problem with their dog. Ironically, they have unknowingly hired a force-free dog trainer, but I’m guessing they are prepared for a tongue lashing. They are usually pleasantly surprised to learn that my belief in gently educating dogs applies to people as well.
I typically start by explaining that punishment is an ineffective method of teaching new skills. I try to throw in a joke about using a cattle prod on little Davey when he doesn’t quickly grasp his 2nd grade math facts. After a little chuckle, however, I know that I’ve got their attention. I go on to compare the shock collar to yelling, and using a shameful “mom” voice. Pressure comes in an array of strengths, none of which end the problem behavior but instead teach the dog not to get CAUGHT doing it. Did you hear that last part? It’s really important because this method leaves the dog completely reliant on your presence in order to behave differently which in no way shifts the dogs personality toward making good choices habitually whether observed or not.
Dogs trained with punishment become “pressure sensitive.” These dogs, have been shocked, yelled at, and had their collars grabbed in an attempt to “control” the problem behavior. Sadly, these dogs often become behavioral cases because they have resorted to biting the humans they live with. They quickly learn that the humans back off when teeth come out. The sad result can be teaching a dog to hurt us when he or she senses pressure.
So, if you want your dog to learn, and grow, pressure is not the way to do it. Instead seek out a games-based dog trainer in your area. We are getting to be more popular in recent years, and for the first time in my life, I’m in the popular crowd!