Pulling on lead and conditioned punishers.

In the Dog Training group recently two members offered their videos on the subject of dogs pulling in lead. My blog is not intended as a step by step guide on solving this but rather to take a look at the big picture and discuss some of the terminology.

Theo made the point that very often we approach the problem from the wrong angle; that is say we aim to teach the dog not to pull rather than what we want the dog to actually do. In other words we are teaching a negative rather than a positive, leading potentially to nagging and a relationship breakdown with our dog.

An owner applying a leash correction, or painful jerk, to stop a dog pulling is applying the principle of negative reinforcement. The dog finds it reinforcing to remove the pain by offering the desired behaviour (in theory). However, the pain is added in the first place by the owner to reduce the behaviour of pulling; positive punishment has been applied initially. If a neutral word, such as ‘heel’ or ‘tsch’, is added simultaneously with the correction, the dog over time learns to associate the two; ‘heel’ or ‘tsch’ has become a conditioned punisher and the physical correction is eventually removed. The dog has been dominated by force.

However, the dog may become habituated to the pain and simply learns to cope. This highlights where it could all go wrong, with the need for escalating punishment and an ensuing ‘battle of wills’, and why positive reinforcement is invariably the better option – the dog walking in the desired position because he has been trained correctly and ultimately chooses to. The derisory “heel” may be substituted with “good boy” or “come on” along with lashings of reassurance!  How often do we see owners blithely walking along taking no notice of their charge? Chatting, singing or dancing along with our dog, in other words, generally COMMUNICATING with him/her is paramount. An enhanced relationship also helps with a reliable recall; a double blessing!

Not only is this undesirable behaviour but imagine the physical damage to the dog’s neck and throat area!


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