Living in Victoria is wonderful in so many ways and interaction with wildlife is certainly one of them, however wildlife and pets often do not mix well and this poses special challenges for pet owners.
Prey drive can be a powerful force in some dogs. It can cause them to be reactive and on occasion, uncontrollable, and it puts wildlife, other animals and your dog at risk. Dogs, especially larger ones, are easily capable of harming or killing animals like deer, but dogs are also at risk of being injured or killed themselves. Not only from wildlife defending themselves, but also from car traffic while in the pursuit of an animal.
If your dog has a high prey drive you should take preventative steps to ensure you have control of your dog at all times. Work on your dogs basic obedience, in particular recall, to ensure you have control over your dog even in the presence of high level triggers such as deer. Work with a trainer to desensitize your dog to motion triggers and reduce predatory drift, and keep your dog leashed if you are not completely confident in your ability to control your dog off leash.
The discussion of positive reinforcement vs. correction training is a common topic for many dog owners. People usually fall into one camp or the other and often the two methods are viewed as opposing theories when in reality they are both components of operant conditioning. Simply put, operant conditioning is the process of adding consequences to behavior. When you get your dog to sit (behavior) to receive a reward (consequence), you are using positive reinforcement operant conditioning. When you speed (behavior) and receive a speeding ticket (consequence) you are experiencing positive punishment operant conditioning.
People often think that the term positive means good, when it really means the addition of something. From a behavior modification standpoint positive reinforcement is the act of adding something (positive) that will increase the frequency of a behavior (reinforcement). Corrections fall into the category of positive punishment. In this case you add something (positive) that reduces the frequency of a behavior (punishment). Positive punishment encompasses a large range of corrections from using the word “no”; to leash corrections; to prong and e-collars; to extreme aversive corrections or punishments.
While both can be effective in changing behavior, an important thing to consider is the side effects of the methods used. The behaviors our dogs exhibit are often symptoms of larger issues. If we only address the visible symptom and not the underlying issue, can we really say we have solved the problem? If your dog is reactive due to fear and you address their reactivity and not the fear, can you say that your dog is better?
It is my belief that while positive punishments can show a reduction in the symptomatic behavior, they run the risk of merely suppressing a behavior rather than curing it. To use the fearful dog example again, if you eliminate your dog’s reactivity but still expose your dog to fear inducing stimulus and they are still afraid, what environment have you created? You have a dog that has lost its only coping mechanism, but is still going through the same emotional turmoil that caused the reactivity to begin with but now they have no outlet for it. In my mind this is a recipe for disaster. It can result in the behavior being suppressed until the threat of punishment is removed and then the dog becomes reactive again. It could also result in the behavior being suppressed until the dog can no longer cope, and then the dog responds with an explosive episode or attack. Or, perhaps worst of all, it could result in the behavior being suppressed permanently while the dog is still being exposed to fear inducing stimulus and suffering silently, afraid to protest and receive a correction.
Another potential downfall of positive punishment is that dogs can miss the causal connection between their own behavior and the correction. This can happen if the timing of the correction is off, or if the correction is overly harsh. The dog can mistakenly associate the correction with the presence of the trigger, creating further negative associations, or even with the handler which can erode the dog – handler relationship or even cause the dog to redirect aggression towards the handler.
The Journal of Applied Animal Science published results from a study conducted by Meghan Herron from the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania which chronicled what percentage of dogs responded with aggression when corrected with positive punishment techniques. As you can see from the results below, as more confrontation or force is used, the odds of an aggressive response increases. For the most extreme punishments tested 43% of the dogs responded with aggression, however this does not mean that that correction was effective on the remaining 57% of the dogs. We can assume that as aggressive reactions increase, all other negative side effects increase as well. With that in mind it quickly becomes clear how ineffective and damaging some of these positive punishments would be when addressing unwanted behavior in dogs.
For anyone considering positive punishments as part of their dog’s behavior modifications, I think a few points must be considered.
Is the behavior you are trying to address fear based?
Is positive reinforcement a component of your modification plan and will it be used in conjunction with positive punishment?
Are you using positive punishment because it is the only tool in your toolbox?
Are you redirecting your dog to the correct behavior or only punishing the wrong behavior?
Is the level of punishment reasonable and appropriate?
Are you addressing behavior or just suppressing behavior?
Is your dog showing increased signs of fear?
Is your dog responding with signs of aggression?
Does the behavior reappear when the threat of punishment is removed?
How many corrections are required to maintain control of the dog? 1, 5, 20? While the punishment itself may not be excessive if used once, using the same punishment repeatedly could easily be an excessive amount overall.
Is the dog checking in with the handler as a result of the positive punishment or checking out altogether?
Is your relationship with your dog being enhanced through training sessions, or being eroded?
Is your dog’s quality of life being improved, or are you simply making your own life easier by removing the visible symptoms?
I believe that any modification plan must do more than just make the owners life easier. It must lead the dog to a more stable, calm and rewarding way of life. This is our responsibility as dog owners, regardless of how long or difficult the process. This is where positive reinforcement methods shine. While they often take a higher level of skill and commitment, they have very few negative side effects, and certainly enhance your dog’s quality of life in the process of correcting behavior. Being less reactive because you are no longer afraid is obviously better than being less reactive because you believe you will be punished if you show your fear.
While there are certainly times that positive punishment can be effective, it must be appropriate to the situation and the dog, must be an appropriate level of correction, and must be constantly weighed against any possible negative effect to the dog.
By Jeff Reid, IACT-CDT
Rescue Me Canine Training
Available for Adoption - Duke
Meet Duke, a 5 1/2 month old pit bull who was found as a stray in California before he was rescued and brought to Victoria. He is working on his socialization and communication skills with other dogs, but after a few hours with Starbuck and Marley he is doing great. He will need owners that can keep up with his socialization and ensure he makes lots of dog friends.
Emma is a very friendly Pitbull cross and is extremely obedient.
Her previous owners have obviously done some solid work with her obedience training and it certainly shows. She has gotten into the bad habit of jumping up, but given her focus and desire to please this should be easy to correct.
Here she is working on her down/stay alongside Marley. Emma is going to make a wonderful addition to someones family.
For more information on Emma please contact Flirting with Fido or view their Facebook page to see all the dogs they have available for adoption.
Roxy is a super sweet girl, really affectionate and fun. I am amazed no one has snapped her up yet.
Here she is working with Starbuck, learning how to properly greet a new dog, however she is waaayy more interested in getting her picture taken which seems about right for her personality.
If you are interested in meeting Roxy, or any of the other dogs currently available for adoption, you can contact Tara or Whitney at Flirting With Fido, or check out their Facebook Page.
Good news! Some lucky people gave this guy a great home!
This is Atticus, a wonderful 2 year old Bernese Mix. He is very friendly, and as you can see is a bit of an attention hound. He weighs in at 150lbs so he needs someone that isn’t intimidated by his size. If you think that Atticus could be your forever dog, he is available for viewing at the CRD Pound in Saanich. To help Atticus and his new family get the right start, Rescue Me Canine Training will donate 2 free training sessions to his future owners.
By Jeff Reid