I went to a lecture yesterday at the North American Veterinary Conference (NAVC) in Orlando titled “The emotions behind training styles,” by a veterinary technician and trainer named Julie Shaw. I didn’t go to this lecture to learn for myself, but instead to see what kind of information was being presented to veterinary staff. The NAVC is to vets what the Association of Pet Dog Trainers Annual Conference is to dog trainers – an opportunity to learn and grow as a professional based on what the most current scientific research is telling us about animal behavior, welfare, medicine, etc. As I looked around the room at technicians from all over the country, arguably all over the world (I met a vet from Nigeria earlier today!), it occurred to me that I did not recognize anyone, which was disappointing.
The presentation was designed not to criticize punishment (traditional) based trainers or their choice of methods but instead give insight as to why individuals, including vets, trainers and pet owners, continue to use such outdated and non scientifically based training methods despite the advances and availability of research related to the effective and humane use of reward based training. What compels dog owners to continue accepting the application of force-based training on their dogs?
For reference, below is the definition of corporal punishment:
Corporal Punishment is a form of physical punishment that involves the deliberate infliction of pain as a retribution for an offence, or for the purpose of disciplining or reforming a wrongdoer, or to deter attitudes or behavior deemed unacceptable.
Naughty dogs are analogous to “wrong doers,” and force based trainers the administrators of the corporal punishment in this analogy. The definition of punishment also includes:
Punishment is any change in an animals surroundings that occurs after a given behavior or response which reduces the likelihood of that behavior occurring again in the future.
Remember that a punishment is not always painful, but in this particular blog post we are talking about corporal punishment and pain. So again, why is it that owners continue to accept such punishments being administered to their dogs? Simply put: someone is telling them to do it. The lecture highlighted that it isn’t just traditional based trainers who are to blame, but veterinarians who continue to refer business to such individuals.
But shouldn’t dog owners be able to trust that their veterinarians — authority figures on animal health – won’t lead them astray when it comes to their dogs physical, emotional and psychological well being. Shouldn’t they? Yet, I know several veterinarians in my community who are using a shock collar or prong collar on their own dogs! I won’t even get into how many of those vets in my community are still providing their clients the outdated model of dominance based dog training. How many vets do you know that recommend punishment based dog trainers and training methods? I’m sure you know at least one. The only thing I can come up with is that those vets have not been continuing their education since they graduated with their DVM! In many cases, that could be more than 20+ years without learning that dominance theory is dead! It’s so yesterday….that the reason I have hardly seen any of the vets in my community who aren’t recommending safe and humane training methods is because they aren’t here at NAVC. They aren’t bad people, they are simply ignorant. They’re ignorant because they haven’t taken the time to be educated. It’s no coincidence that the vets that I have seen my community here at NAVC this year are the ones who are actively promoting science based, positive dog training and behavior modification. A quick shout out to my tech friends at Miami Veterinary Specialists, Dr. Khuly from Sunset Animal Clinic and Dr. Sloanne Robins of South Dade Animal Hospital. Kudos to all of you for being in the know, and for taking your education as seriously as I do mine. Sincerely, THANK YOU.
Going back to the contents of the lecture I attended, the speaker also had other reasons for why those who are into the punishment of dogs continue to use punishment as their preferred and acceptable method of training. Those points included:
- Humans by nature like to punish and control
(I’d like to point out that the way “humans behave” has many influencing factors in my opinion. We can’t generalize human behavior worldwide because things like religion, resources, upbringing and culture all play a huge role in determining behavior. I would have to agree though that there are some societies, including ours, that are more into themselves and maybe have more controlling self centered tendencies)
- Those who use punishment become desensitized to using it
(not to mention that when someone using punishment sees immediate results, they are reinforced by their own poor behavior and are likely to punish again in the future. What they don’t realize is that punishment usually provides only a short term solution and does not address the underlying causes of behavioral problems in dogs).
- Pet owners trust and obey authority figures
(dog owners rely on their vets and trainers to give them the correct information and will not typically stand up to the authority these types of professionals represent)
Here’s the videos of the studies that were highlighted during the lecture I attended:
This is obedience to authority experiment where there is a student, a teacher and an experimenter (the authority figure). The student is restrained and hooked up to electric shock. The teacher is able to communicate over a speaker, and see the student through a monitor. The experimenter is in the same room as the teacher, and is giving instructions to the teacher regarding the experiment. The teacher is told that for every wrong answer the student provides, the teacher must administer an electric shock to the student. With each wrong answer, the voltage of the shock is turned up higher, so the next shock will always be more powerful than the first. As the students continue to get the wrong answers, the study showed that 65% of teachers continued to shock their students despite being uncomfortable with continuing to shock, simply because the experimenter insisted that it must be done because this was just how the experiment was to be conducted. The other 35% of teachers walked out on the experimenter. Rest assured that no students were hurt – because the students were actually actors and there was no real shocking involved. The experiment demonstrated the human tendencies to obey authority, despite one’s discomfort with the situation. Simply put: dog owners are likely to hurt their dogs if an authority figure like a vet or trainer is telling that is what is required to get the job done. At what cost are dog owners getting the job done?!
The question that is left in my mind is: How many vets and or dog trainers are viewed by their clients as the “experimenter.” How many dog owners will be in that 65% that will use punishment based methods (choke, pinch and shock collars) on their dogs because they are following an obedience to authority despite their possible knowledge that using force to train a “student”, a dog, feels (and is ethically) wrong? Based on the calls I’ve received over the years from prospective clients, I’d have to say there’s a lot. Sadly, quite a lot.
Here’s another experiment conducted by Dr. Philip Zimbardo that was outlined in the lecture I attended. This particular experiment, which would never be allowed to be conducted in today’s legal society, shows what is referred to as the Lucifer effect: how good people can so quickly turn evil. Is this what happens when a dog owner hires and works with a compulsion and punishment based trainer? Despite their original possible feelings about the use of corporal punishment in dog training, after several sessions with a punishment based dog trainer they unknowingly fall victim to behaving in an evil way towards their dog? They’re convinced by the authority figure into thinking that what they are doing is ok, and that jerking on a leash, choking or shocking their dog is not going to cause physical injury. Remember that injury and pain are two very separate things. It would agree with the argument that many punishment based trainers never physically injure dogs. Accusing them of such is in my opinion unfair since at the core of all dogs trainers (I would hope) is the well being of the animal. Yet, the tools they use do cause physical pain to dogs. There is no sugar coating that. So why would a dog owner who loves their dog agree to inflict pain on their dog in the name of training?
Dr. Zimbardo points out in his research that despite our desires to resist situational and external pressures it’s a humans desire to be cool, fear rejection, and be a part of a group that determine our behavior relative to our true character. So yes, I’m sure there are owners out there who will not disobey an authority figure even if it means inflicting pain on their dog. And I’m also sure now that there are owners out there who feel extremely guilty about inflicting pain on their dog, but continue to reassure themselves that “it’s not causing any permanent tissue damage,” just like the shocks in the Milgram study. And, overtime, the humans become desensitized to using punishment because that is what they’ve trained themselves to believe about the process. I have in fact, had a veterinarian in my community admit that they use a prong collar on their dogs because it’s the only thing that works but that they feel terrible about having to use it. What I really hear is that vet saying to me “I’m overwhelmed at work and since I don’t have the time required to train my dog properly, I’ve convinced myself that it’s OK to hurt my dog so that I can enjoy my walk around the block after a long hard day of helping everyone else’s pets.”
I also learned something extremely interesting about shock collars while sitting in that lecture: based on the research that has been conducted by Julie Shaw, even the most high tech shock collars have a one second delay between when the remote control button is pushed and the shock is administered. Now knowing that, I ask you to consider how often a dog is corrected using a shock collar and does not understand the connection between what it was shocked for and the shock. In the way an animal processes information, one second is a huge time delay. Forget about the pain element for a second and just consider the effectiveness of a tool that has a delay. That delay could mean the difference between your dog getting shocked for greeting another dog versus getting shocked for pulling on it’s leash. Think about how fast animals move, think and learn, and ask yourself if you would advise using a punishment tool with a delay.
Her lecture also spoke on the occasional use of negative reinforcement and it’s effectiveness at perfecting a behavior, yet negative reinforcement should never be used to teach behavior.
During her lecture she also showed the infamous firework and dog training video. For those of you who haven’t seen it, brace yourself. It can be hard to watch if you truly do love dogs. Click here to see punishment based dog training at it’s finest. More like, dog training at it’s darkest moment. Extremely sad. The guy makes Cesar Milan look like an angel.
And at the end of the lecture, the speaker left this message with the veterinary technicians in attendance:
Now that you’ve been educated, it’s your choice about what kind of trainer you want to be, and what kind of trainer your practice chooses to recommend.
She reminded lecture attendees that to see is to believe, and that no amount of criticism is going to change another trainer’s ways. To be a real teacher, you must be patient, persistent and positive. As positive trainers it’s our job to continue educating, because only education is going to counteract the ignorance that is still so prevalent in our veterinary and dog training communities all over the world.
Need help with your dog or puppy’s behavior in Miami, Florida? Call Applause Your Paws, your expert and positive science-based dog trainers, providing obedience and behavior training for canines and their humans throughout miami dade county. www.applauseyourpaws.com 786-529-RUFF (7833) firstname.lastname@example.org