Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Dog's Point of View

This quote comes directly from the Facebook page of a trainer who uses shock collars, prong collars, corrections and other force methods of training and behavior work as his first choice no matter whether the dog is aggressive, fear aggressive, fearful or even terrified.

"When it comes to punishment, aversives and/ or Rewards in dog training, remember that it's from the dogs point of view, not yours!!"

I've been trying to figure out without asking him what exactly he means by this.  Does he mean that a dog will ask for a shock? That a dog likes punishment?  That a dog would rather his collar be jerked hard when he looks at a duck waddling by instead of a redirection to a great tug game with his owner? Is he reading the dogs mind and knows something the rest of us don't?

Survival in the natural world has to do with avoiding pain (death) and seeking pleasure (food and reproduction).  Why would a creature so very much closer to nature then humankind choose punishment (death) over rewards? Think about what your dog senses as you stand over them.  It matters not what outward appearance you give - taking a deep breath to "calm" yourself or putting on a blank face - the dog knows what you're really thinking, the dog smells it, senses it. 

I have not always been a play trainer.  I have used corrections and punishments and even used a shock collar on 3 different dogs over the years.  Since making the choice to abandon aversive methods of training and behavior work, I have considered the notion of having some aversive trainers come to a class, sit on the ground with a collar and leash on and learn the same way they are training the dogs in their care. I have definitely considered this notion when arguing against electric shock collars. I feel the best way to do this and prove my point about e-collars would be to put an e-collar onto a person (on their neck, just like the dog), don't tell them what you want them to do and shock them everytime they get it wrong. Once they get it right stop shocking them. I figure they wouldn't last even 30 seconds!

If we're considering the dog's point of view, then we need to put ourselves in the dog's world, with his senses, emotions, sensitivites, needs, wants and necessities.  Without actually doing this, or at least attempting it, how could anyone even remotely hint that a dog would prefer that you give him a shock, or jerk his leash instead of giving him a treat for having done what you asked of him?

While humans mostly see the world through their eyes, a dog sees the world mostly through her nose.  The really cheap shock collars smell like ozone and burnt wiring.  The more expensive ones have the same smell, just not in the same concentration.  That smell is part of the picture for a dog when a shock collar is on the dog's neck.  Electricity is constantly moving through the wiring in the device and it produces a smell.  This is one of the main reasons a dog knows when that shock collar is on and when it isn't.  You can't fool the nose.

The same goes for the ears.  A dog's hearing may not be as good as it's nose, nor relied on as heavily, but it's much more accute then a human's.  Shock collars also make noise, and again, the cheaper the louder.  That noise is also part of the picture for a dog who has to endure training with a shock collar.

I've spent a lot of time in dog parks for the last four years.  I've observed all breeds, all ages, all levels of training and all types of humans and their reactions to normal dog behavior.  I've videoed and played in slow motion every signal a dog could possibly give off in a dog park situation trying to figure out what they are saying. 

In these 4 years of observation, it's my conclusion that dogs figure out fast who to stay away from and who is safe to play with.  The bully gets ignored or run away from; the shy dogs stick to their owners, under tables or in a corner; the mostly sane, balanced dogs play and avoid the bullies and aggressive dogs.   No dog that I've ever watched or interacted with chose to be bullied, rolled, bit, punched, body slammed or humped.  Instead, the ones who practiced the listed behaviors were shunned and even occassionally attacked enmass by the other dogs. 

So why would any punishment type trainer imply that any dog would choose to be shocked, jerked, poked, pinched, hung by the collar, or any of the other uncomfortable, painful, non-survival activities of this trainer and many like him?   The only thing I could think of that would cause someone to utter such a statement would be his perception of the final product.  He obviously thinks that his dogs are happy and fullfilled despite the methods he uses.  Believe me, the statements I've seen on dozens of shock collar trainer sites is that the dog is happy and "loves" it's shock collar because it knows good things are going to happen when the collar is put on.

So why would they think this?  Because the dog is wagging it's tail?  Because the dog is jumping all over the place in excitement?  What dog body language tells them that the dog is happy?  I've watched videos and seen images from all those dozens of shock collar and jerk collar trainers and I do not see happy dogs.  I see stressed dogs, dogs who are in a constant state of appeasement toward their handlers, dogs who have no purpose other then to do as directed with no choice in the matter. 

I cannot for the life of me figure out why anyone would think that a dog would prefer punishment and aversives as a method of training or behavior change.  If you're going to look at training from the viewpoint of the dog, do so as a dog, not as a human trying to justify punishment and pain.

From a reader who couldn't post a comment "One thing I'd make clearer is the link between death and pain because some people can't make the connection on their own.

I have to say, Duh! in agreement.

Which is more likely to get some one to work harder and to enjoy their work more?
Being punished by being demoted and getting a pay cut? Or, being rewarded by being promoted and getting a raise? Who would ask for a demotion and a pay cut?? Why would a dog ask for punishment rather than reward? It's not conducive to survival."
To answer the comment about making it clearer between pain and death.  The reason that there is pain is to warn the organism that death is imminent, every species of animal on this planet avoids pain and seeks pleasure, they avoid death and seek life, the purpose of every species is survival, pain means something just happened that was non-survival.

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