Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick: Compelling Versus Inspiring

Dogs, Pets — By on March 1, 2012

Punishment is becoming passé. Rather than compelling your pet to do what is requested, consider inspiring him or her.

Teddy Roosevelt described his foreign policy as, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Historically, mankind has embraced this approach to relations. Indeed, many people associate training their pooch with domineering techniques that essentially bully pups into participation. Truth is, you may get immediate results as the wolf within your wiener dog recognizes you as the alpha pack leader. But this training style is becoming less pawpular for a pethora of reasons.

Compulsion training or training based on punishment employs force, intimidation or physical discomfort. Essentially, the animal is responding to fear, discomfort or pain. “A major problem with using punishment is that it suppresses behavior temporarily but does not necessarily modify the underlying cause of the behavior,” said Dr. John Ciribassi, past-president of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, in a statement issued on their behalf.

It’s a no-brainer: instilling behaviors with fear can cause fear. Fear reduces your trusty sidekick’s trust in you. Pets may even develop irrational-seeming phobias of people, places or inanimate objects (such as sticks) that are present at the time of corrections.

Although unwanted behaviors may stop, so can a pup’s enthusiasm for both the disciplinarian and the training process. On the other paw, some pets will only respect the disciplinarian. If your cockapoo only cooperates when dad’s home, you can relate.

Some pets become defensive or Dog forbid, aggressive. A study by the University of Pennsylvania found that hostile dogs are likely to respond violently to the aggressive approach.

Compulsion training also lends itself to escalation. Perhaps just a “no” worked the first time your border collie herded the neighbor’s SUV but in no time at all you may need to scream like a banshee before you’re acknowledged. Worse yet: some pets welcome any attention and may go out of their way to induce the aforementioned reaction. This sort of discipline may get out of control when you are having a bad day or share a fence line with a loco librarian.

Of course, if you are pet-sitting your nephew’s pointer and it has decided that your Persian would make a great pupu, at least one of your kitty’s lives may depend on how good of a banshee imitation you can do. In certain situations, some compulsion methods are appropriate.

But as a general rule, focusing on what not to do leaves out a very important point: what to do. If you are constantly informing your pooch that “NO!” your slippers are not chew-worthy nor are your socks, the couch, the balustrade, your table legs or your smart phone, you are barking up the wrong tree. To many pets all these corrections feel like punishments without warning. They can cause an animal to tune you out better than any Italian son does his nagging nana.

A good trainer focuses on what his or her companion animals can do. Let your pets know that “YES!” it is okay to chew owner-sanctioned options. Prolifically praise them when they comply. Before you know it, your shiba inus will be flossing with rawhide instead of shoe laces.

Although it may take a patience that eludes you, positive reinforcement has been found to have the best results long-term. In punishment-based methods, an animal will do just enough to avoid the punishment.  However, with positive reinforcement, learning can be fun as animals go out of their way to meet and exceed your expectations.

Positive reinforcement isn’t just applicable to dog training. Try commending your hubby when he cleans the kitchen even if he leaves the dining area a disaster zone. By focusing on desirable behaviors, you will help him stay open to your requests and eager to please. Before you know it, you will have a happy hubby and habitable dining area.

Teddy’s foreign policy is outdated. Foreign countries and seemingly-from-another planet partners agree; it’s just retrievers that appreciate big sticks.

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