I recently went to see an old friend of mine who got a new puppy a few months ago. I was excited to meet the dog, and was disappointed when I wasn’t greeted with bouncing energy and a bushy tail. “Where is your dog?” I asked. “She’s in her kennel in the basement”. “Why?” “She’s too much to handle, so that’s where she stays”.
Of course, this immediately tore at my heart. After some visiting and conversation, I asked if the dog could join us outside. With some reluctance, my friend acquiesced and retrieved the dog. Out of the door came this beautiful, fluffy, white Native American Indian Dog German Shepherd mix. She was full of energy and love and was all but beside herself with joy to greet a new person. As I interacted with this beautiful creature, I couldn’t help but fall in love with her soul. She radiated excitement and love. She loved the snow and took her chance to sniff everything in sight and give every person as much love as they would receive.
After a few minutes of romping around, her master called her over and told her to sit. She complied immediately. Then he raised his hand to pet her. This action caused an immediate, visible flinch. “Do you hit your dog?” I asked, trying to use the right tone so I did not immediately offend my friend. “Yes, he does” replied his wife. Now, my first thought was to go off on a huge tangent about why it is not appropriate to hit your dog and how we should love our animals and treat them as family and every other thing that rushed into my brain at lightning speed. I was overcome with a fierce pulling at my heart to save the dog and reform the training techniques of this family. This is not however, the way to go about things. People often shut down when they are reprimanded, especially from one adult to another. It became clear I needed to choose my words, tone, and timing wisely.
At the end of the night, as I was getting ready to leave, my friend and I had a one on one conversation about the training of dogs. This was spurred by the fact that as I tried to leave the house, the dog bolted out the door so fast you’d think she was being chased. She was not being chased. She does have an issue of running out the door. After I caught her, which was no easy task and I literally slipped and slid down a snowy hill to try to catch up with a dog who can only be described as running at the speed of light, I feared what her punishment would be once I left. I told my friend very clearly not to hit the dog or banish her to her kennel for an unknown amount of time. I was immediately uncomfortable.
He told me that he would not hit her, which I wasn’t sure I could totally believe. I asked him, “Does hitting her work? It seems like regardless of your physical punishments, she continues with her naughty behavior”. “That’s how my dad trained our dogs growing up, and they were good dogs. It must work”. A lightbulb flipped on so bright in my head. So many things made sense suddenly. Well of course his childhood dogs seemed like great dogs. He didn’t have to train them! He doesn’t have the memories of all the naughty things those dogs probably did and (hopefully) alternative methods that his dad used to train the dogs beyond hitting them. I didn’t grow up in that house so I can’t say for sure, but it made me realize how many people will, at least initially, follow the same training techniques their parents used.
Here’s the thing about training – it evolves. We have learned more about the psyche of dogs, how our behavior affects our dog’s behavior, and how physical punishment will often promote fear rather than learning. I explained this to my friend in the best way I could. Does a dog understand that pooping on the carpet is wrong because you hit him or because you immediately redirected and took him outside and showed him the appropriate place to relieve himself? Followed by praise when he uses the appropriate place in the future. Dogs understand pain, they understand when their master is mad. They do not always understand why, and that is the issue we must confront.
Just because your parents hit your dog or sprayed him with a hose doesn’t mean that is how you need to treat your dog. And that’s exactly what it is – treatment, not training. I am not a dog trainer and I do not know everything there is to know about dogs. But I know my rescue was abused before I adopted her and hitting her, even if I wanted to, would make no progress. She would not trust me and fear me instead of respect me. Fear and respect are two different things, and I think we should all keep that in mind when we are responsible – literally responsible for the life of another creature.
I hope my friend took my words to heart. His dog will be happier and he will be happier with himself and the results and improved behavior he will see in his dog. He seemed to understand because at the end of our conversation he said “You’re the first person to tell me why hitting my dog doesn’t work. You didn’t just say to not do it, you made it make sense”. I hope it did make a few things click. If you struggle with training your dog or know someone who does, please consider alternative training methods before using physical punishment. My Fairy Dawg Mother has training resources and we are glad to refer anyone who wants to learn modern and effective methods of dog training. Remember, to you it’s a dog, but to your dog you are the world. Work to be worthy of your dog’s love each and every day.