In The House of Dog – Conflict and Resolution

Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding. — Albert Einstein

Dog training is a form of conflict resolution. The conflict is the dog’s behavior and the owner’s subsequent response to that behavior. The resolution part falls to the dog trainer. As someone who has an understanding of canine behavior, as well as human behavior, it’s my job to bridge the gap and bring peace into a household. But that’s not as easy as it sounds. Actually, it doesn’t even sound that easy.

Unfortunately, there are as many “methods” of dog training as there are of conflict resolution. Every trainer is different, and every dog is different. But we both learn the same way. And that’s what makes dogs and humans compatible. When it comes to dog training and conflict resolution, the method used to resolve the conflict is just as important as the goal of resolution.

Some of you may have heard this comparison before, but go along with this one for me: Let’s say you come to me in the hopes of getting you over your crippling fear of snakes. Now, I can do this a multitude of ways, but only certain methods are actually going to work. I could take an old fashioned approach, and punish you every time you look away from or disengage the snake. The fear of the punishment, in order to keep you engaged with the snake, will need to be strong than your fear of the snake. So, the question becomes is your fear of the snake any less or are you experiencing a greater fear from the punishment? Eventually, you will choose the snake because you are so afraid of the other punishment and you will feel like you will have no other choice in the matter. This is called learned helplessness.

Unfortunately, there are many people out there who call themselves trainers who use this exact process. They believe, incorrectly, that a dog is finally being calm; when, in fact, the dog is displaying learned helplessness. I’ve seen it too many times than I care to count. It’s absolutely heartbreaking.

This is why I prefer scientifically proven methods that employ positive reinforcement. Let’s take the snake example again. I’m going to get you over your fear of snakes. And we’re going to start by giving you an amount of money every time you look at the snake. Then we’ll start moving you closer to the snake, increasing the amount of money if necessary, etc., until you are more comfortable with the snake. Eventually, you’ll start seeing that snake as a form of income. The snake now has a value to you, beyond your fear of it. You might not ever love the snake, but you would learn to tolerate it much better.

Now which method would you prefer? That’s what I thought…

The second method is how I train, and how hundreds of other trainers train dogs. And we see the best results. And more often than not, we are called into cases to help dogs that went through the first method and came out worse.

So here’s the thought I’m going to leave you with: Peace is the only acceptable outcome for conflict resolution, because without that, someone is always going to get hurt.

Happy Tails everyone!

-Ben

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