Why do dog training methods matter when the behaviour that comes out the other end is the same? Read on to see.

The Experiment

We have no choice but to shut two random people in house sized prison cells! We have to make them accept their cell and stop shouting and trying to escape. So we try two different methods, one on each of them.

We will call them Fred and Tom

Each of them wants to get out. They are not close enough to communicate with each other in any way!

The Aim

We want to show Fred and Tom that we would like them to stay calm and relaxed.

The Learning Process

We use a different method to teach each of our subjects.

Method 1:

Fred starts to get rewarded for relaxation. We ignore his attempts to escape but each time he relaxes, something great happens. The more he relaxes, the more rewards he gets. We give him a TV, movies, a top of the range memory foam bed. A gym in the corner, a tasty/healthy diet and lots of books to read. We make him comfortable and happy.

Method 2:

Tom is given nothing of the sort. If he tries to escape, then we electrocute him. Eventually he gives up and relaxes a little bit, we do nothing. He is sad and doesn’t want to eat so we stand over him and force it, or we take it away leaving him hungry. (You must have seen at least one prison movie right? Imagine that – except this prisoner has no crime)

We completely ignore everything that we would like him to repeat yet meet his attempts at regaining control of his own life with brute force. He doesn’t know whether he’s coming or going.

After a few weeks we take away the walls

Fred begins to explore but always goes back to his cosy place because he likes it. He has visitors, friends and a safe secure home, we have met his needs and he is happy. We managed to do this because we set him up to relax and then showed him that relaxation was a good thing. Fred has gained trust and no longer wants to run away, in fact he loves his life and has forgotten all about the first few days in the cell.

Tom sees the walls come down and will do one of two things:

He will run away.

Or

He is broken enough to stay but will never really recover from the electric shocks, force and brutality – science calls this learned helplessness. Regardless of the choice Tom makes, he will never get over those few weeks in his prison cell. The confusion, lack of trust and trauma will stay with him for the rest of his life.

The Results

Just before we took down the walls (as far as we were concerned) we had the exact same behaviour result from both Fred and Tom. Both were no trouble to us, they no longer fought us, they had both learned what we expected from them, yet their states of mind and belief in us were very different indeed.

Six Months Later

Fred is happy and getting on with his life.
Tom is traumatised and has no trust in people.

This is why we should always teach our dogs with kindness, because the behaviour might change in the exact same way, but the effect on the well-being of the animal is shockingly different.

Dog training methods do matter and they should always be questioned, without fail.

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