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Don't Punish The Behaviour You Want -Reinforce It!!


I was walking today with a couple of friends and our dogs. At one point we saw someone ahead with two very lovely dogs. The younger one was full of energy and enthusiastically came bounding over to say hello to our 4 dogs. He was super friendly and there were no problems at all with the interaction, except that the owner could not get him back, despite calling and blowing a whistle. As she was having a bit of a panic attack (many people unfortunately do when they see 3 Rottweilers) we stopped walking and kept our dogs with us to give her a chance to get him back. He then ran back to her excitedly - at which point she put him on lead and proceeded to bash him around the head repeatedly and scold him.

Now I get that sometimes people panic and act out of emotion and none of us (or our dogs) are perfect, BUT watching this interaction it became very clear why this dog had such a poor recall. While we train our dogs that the sound of the whistle or our calling them = treats and lots of praise (positive reinforcement), for this dog it meant being smacked on the head and an end to all fun. So coming when called resulted in both positive and negative punishment. It is highly likely that he will avoid his owner even more in the future and this avoidance will be positively and negatively reinforced (he will get to keep enjoying whatever he is doing and will avoid physical punishment and an angry owner).

We have to put our emotions aside when training our dogs. We have to consider how every action of ours has a consequence. Our dogs are learning all the time and the way we respond to their behaviour is how we shape their behaviour. There may be times where we get annoyed or feel that they are not responding as quickly as we'd like, but then we need to ask how we can manage them better and what we need to reinforce more to get the behaviour we want. We cannot afford to act out of emotion. When our dogs come back to us, they are not thinking about what they've just done and punishing them for something they did before they returned to us will achieve nothing except a dog that distrusts and avoids us. We need to swallow our pride and annoyance and ALWAYS reinforce the recall - no matter what happened before.


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Kommetjie Canine College

Kommetjie

Cape Town

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