Updated: Apr 2, 2022
"Nothing Taught By Force Stays In The Soul" - Plato
If you work with, or are interested in dog training, the quote above will either make you smile, or wince. The world of dog training is often greatly divided on the use of force and regularly it brings people to heated argument which commonly ends up in ridicule and unrefined arguments.
There is an extremism on both sides of this argument that not only polarises the dog training world, but it makes the world of dog training look bad. I was once told online by a self proclaimed trainer that I must be too physically small and weak if I don't use force on dogs.
The reality of my situation is that I have worked with dogs for many years. As a young boy I was working on a farm with herding dogs and learning from the farmer, then gun dogs with the beaters and handlers, and as I got older my first dog training course and working with security dogs. All of this was done with the "traditional" training style of force and dominance. I am no stranger to these techniques, I have simply changed my mindset through the experience of owning and working with many, many dogs, and extensive study.
I will never be able to go back to the way I used to train, despite the tendency to get faster results. And, if I could I would apologise to anyone I worked with before this mind shift for how I approached training. Simply because now I know, ‘nothing taught by force stays in the soul’, or to take another quote from Plato, "Do not train to learn by force or harshness, but direct them to what amusing their mind". This quote best suits what we do with conceptual training and effective B.A.T. exercises. Dogs are forgiving and observant creatures. They have evolved alongside us for over 30 thousand years, they read our body cues more accurately than we read each others. They can smell changes in our hormones, and thus our emotions. (We use these animals to smell COVID and Cancer, of course they can smell changes in our hormone levels) In addition to this, a UK study has shown that dogs faces become more expressive when people are looking at them. So, it is easy for us as humans to misunderstand how dogs are feeling to think that using fear and force is ok.
The joke I always remember which jests at this is; "If you want to know who loves you more, lock your dog and your wife in the car for an hour. See who is more happy to see you when you return." As dark as this can seem, it does highlight the fact that dogs will forgive despite what you do to them. As such, it should be obvious that a dog being happy to see you doesn't mean you are doing what is best for them. The issue is that punishment like this works, people see force (positive punishment), as working, because it gets the dog to stop the unwanted behaviour. But, it simple suppresses the unwanted behaviour, it does not solve the root cause of the issue at hand. Although it works fast and it stops the unwanted behaviour, it generally is replaced another behaviour. It is a very strong reinforcer to control a dog, for example, you use a bark e-collar - ‘zap’ and the behaviour decreases, the dog stops barking. But, what is a reinforcement for us is an unpleasant punishment for the dog, which we tend to overlook. But, the behaviour has been suppressed, it has to be replaced by something and when we have not taught this to the dog, they do this themselves, sometimes this may not be inconvenient for the owner, other times it can be disastrous, such as your sofa is being destroyed in replacement of barking Using force with dogs, be that yelling, harming through the use of pain or restraint is basically the same as a game of Whack a Mole, you hit the unwanted behaviour down, but another unwanted one pops up elsewhere, hit it again and it emerges somewhere else. Because life is like that, suppression doesn’t work.
So it isn't simply a case of being nice, or woke with dog training, it is a case of what is more effective.
In addition to the effectiveness, we also have to take into account our relationship with our dogs. Fear in any relationship is not good. If we define a good relationship, it certainly won't be described as fearful or needing to suppress our behaviour through intimidation of the other party. If we take the example of a working relationship with a supervisor or boss, if you feel threatened and fearful of them, you will do the basic minimum work needed to ensure you do not get fired. However, if your boss is supportive, respectful, firm yet fair, you will work hard and go over and above for them. The same applies with our dogs, it may take longer to set the contra-freeloading (foundation leadership value) but in the long term, we can get a lot more done with them.