Beating a Dead Zebra – Part 4

Next on our list:  Modeling.  Modeling is seen in humans when children live through abuse.  The often grow up to be abusers.  Thank goodness our dogs are so often capable of living through horrendous torture and still coming out the other side without any apparent signs.  But as a general rule, violence in a relationship begets more violence.

Even without modeling, increased aggression can take place.  According to the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior:

Animals in which the punishment does not immediately suppress the behavior may escalate in their efforts to avoid the punishment to the point where they become aggressive. Those
who already show aggressive behavior may exhibit more intense and injurious aggressive behaviors.

What we humans fail to realize is that, when a dog feels threatened it only has a few options.  The first choice is usually to run, but if that doesn’t work they give us a warning growl.  If that doesn’t work, they raise the lip, lunge, and ultimately bite.  Our use of punishment can cause our dog to feel as if they must defend themselves.  Please don’t put your dog in that position.

Beating a Dead Zebra – Part 3

So, going with our list, avoidance is next.  This one is fairly straightforward.  If you punish your dog the dog is likely to be unaware of your intentions.  Most people (even trainers) don’t have the absolutely precise timing that it would take to allow the dog to associate punishment with the act he’s being punished for.

So what does he associate the punishment with?  YOU!  When you aren’t around, no punishment.  When you are around… So now you have a dog that is afraid of you because you dole out punishment seemingly at random.  Do it enough and your dog may begin to avoid you.

One way trainers see this a lot is when a dog has been punished for soiling in the house.  After a while, a dog will stop wanting to go to the bathroom in front of his owner, regardless of where they are.  The dog learns that “when I go to the bathroom in the presence of my owner I am punished, therefore I will go behind the couch, and NOT get into trouble for it.”

Another fairly obvious time avoidance comes into play is with recall.  If the dog comes to you with appeasement (some people call it guilt, but he’s just trying to make you understand he is just a wee pup and doesn’t want trouble) and you punish him it can effect how successful you are in getting your dog to come when called.  He may have had enough experiences with you where he approaches you only to be faced with something unpleasant, so he stops coming to you at all.  He may even run the other way.  No punishment if you can’t catch him!

So don’t give your dog any reason to not want to be around you.  You need him to enjoy your company if you are going to have a dog that pays attention and listens to you.

Beating a Dead Zebra – Part 2

Okay, so on the list I gave you in my last post the first one is not really applicable to dogs.  Dogs don’t act in a passive aggressive way.  I know some people will argue with me.  I myself had a little dog that would pee under my chair every time I sat at my computer.  And when she did, I stopped computing, and took her outside (which she loved) and then cleaned up the mess.

So why did she do it?  Well, what was the result?  A trip outside!  My attention!  She won the jackpot.  So the next time she saw me engrossed in working on the computer and wanted me to refocus, she did what worked:  Peed on the floor under my chair.

So the lesson here is to pay attention to what you are reinforcing.  In order to do that, you must begin to see reinforcement from your dog’s perspective.  Just because you THINK your dog should like something does not mean he does.  And if he doesn’t like something, it is not reinforcing.

Let’s look at what is important to a dog.  First, and most obvious, sustenance.  Most dogs are highly motivated by food, especially stuff like boiled chicken or freeze dried salmon.  With dogs, the stinkier the food, the more they seem to like it.  Food’s an easy one for us to control.  We can very easily give it when they are doing what we like, and withhold it when they do something we don’t like.  Easy.

Attention is also important to your dog.  Your attention is worth a huge premium.  So be careful where you give it, and how you give it.  Dogs don’t always recognize negative attention as negative.  Especially if that’s all they get.  So carefully use your attention when you see a behavior you like, and withhold it (unless it’s dangerous to dog or human) when he does something you don’t like.  I’m talking about more than just praise.  I am talking about a look, a touch, a word.  Anything that tells your dog you are paying attention.

Toys and games are also reinforcing to most dogs.  Find the ones your dogs like, and use them as tools to increase behaviors.  Any behavior you reinforce will increase.  Behaviors that are not reinforced in any way will very likely go away.  Why would the dog waste precious energy on something that achieved nothing?  Dogs are pretty ingenious that way.  They don’t waste energy on things that don’t pay off.

So, summary:  Reinforce stuff you like.  Don’t reinforce stuff you don’t like.  You will see your dog begin to make better choices in his behavior.

Beating A Dead Zebra

I don’t want to feel like I am wasting my time trying to convince people that they do not need to cause their dog distress in order to get their dog to behave.  It is SO important to me that people understand their dogs and don’t just go with the latest fad because it looks good on TV.  There is so much more to it.  When you hear hoofbeats, it really isn’t smart to think of Zebras, at least not here in the U.S.

So in the days to come I will be addressing some of the most important issues with regard to our relationship with the four legged members of our families.  Let me start by saying this:  You DO NOT HAVE TO USE PUNISHMENT and moreover, you SHOULD NOT use punishment when training your dog!  What constitutes punishment?  Anything that you add to the equation that the dog finds distasteful.

So why do I keep harping on about punishment?  According to the latest and greatest college textbook on general psychology in regards to how we learn there are a number of bad side effects to punishment:

  1. Passive aggressiveness…
  2. Avoidance behavior…
  3. Modeling…
  4. Learned Helplessness…
  5. Temporary Suppression…
  6. Increased Aggression…

Carpenter, Siri (2009-10-12). Visualizing Psychology, 2nd Edition (Page 155). John Wiley & Sons, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Is this the relationship you want to have with your dog?  An adversarial one?  One where, if he behaves, it is because he is afraid of you?  I like to think not.  So in the next few posts I am going to discuss these side effects and how they will damage the relationship you have with your dog.

Greetings and salutations!

I have long been unhappy with the limitations of my current blog on my website, so I decided to go with the pros and set up a blog on wordpress.  I will do my darndest to actually do some regular blogging now that I have a much more friendly platform for it.

I welcome your questions about dog behavior.  It makes my job easier when I know what your questions are!

If you have not, please feel free to visit the old blog at:  Feel free to send questions to

Thank you!
Dawn M. Gardner, ABCDT, CCPT-KA