Then and now

So it has been just over a week since we adopted Dexter and, on the whole, it is going great. However, there have been a few little issues. Although Dexter is housetrained and can hold his pee all day while we are at work, he really isn’t trained in any other way. He bolts out the front door, jumps up to greet you and mouths your arm when he gets excited.  And tonight during our walk, he proceeded to greet another dog in a strange sequence of unbridled excitement, fierce growling and enthusiastic humping. Hence, we have enrolled in dog training classes. 

I’ve only been to one introductory class (without Dexter), but I’ve also been doing A LOT of reading and I’ve learned things have changed a lot since my family got our dog Pax when I was eleven.  When my dad was in charge of training, things were a bit more “old school”. Here are a few of the differences I’ve discovered:

Now          Clicker training – a small mechanical noisemaker is used to mark the behavior being reinforced and helps quickly identify the precise behavior that results in the treat. 
Then          Swat on the nose – a swat on the nose was given to mark negative behavior;  such as stealing and eating our Chapstick.

Now          Bitter Apple spray – used as a gentle taste deterrent intended to stop dogs from chewing and licking things they shouldn’t.
Then          Tabasco sauce – used as a not-so-gentle taste deterrent when the dog wouldn’t stop chasing and chewing our ping-pong balls.

Now          Bell training – used in house-training so a dog is able to communicate their need to go outside.
Then          Rub their nose in it – a post-event tactic used to communicate our profound anger at the clean-up job ahead of us.

Now           Gentle Leader – a head harness that reduces pulling by applying gentle pressure to the back of the head and snout – where the nose goes the body will follow
Then           Choke chain – a collar that reduces pulling by tightening around the neck until the dog literally chokes – if they can’t breath they longer have the strength to pull.

Now           Ignore them – what you do if your dog is “mouthing” you. They soon learn that a bite means no more play.
Then           Bite them back – what you do if your dog “bites” you. They soon learn that a bite hurts.

Now           Crate them – a crate in your bedroom is a good way for a new dog to settle at night and adjust to being away from their litter.
Then           Trick them – if you wrap a hot water bottle in a t-shirt and place a ticking clock in their bed with them, the dog will think it is still with his mom and sleep all night in the garage.

Now           Can of pennies – if a dog is repeatedly doing a “negative behavior”, you shake a can full of pennies at the same moment as a deterrent.
Then           Can of whup-ass – if a dog is “being bad” you screamed “No!” and scare him straight.

Before you draw any conclusions, let me tell you that Pax was a sweet and gentle dog and the occasional nose swat and taste of Tabasco didn’t seem to cause any long-standing psychological trauma.

However, I think I have to go with the science…

Studies that have placed the two dog-training methods head-to-head have almost universally shown positive training to be more successful than punitive methods in reducing aggression and disobedience. The dogs became more obedient the more they were trained using rewards and, when they were punished, the only significant change was a corresponding rise in the number of bad behaviors.

Also, positive reinforcement led to the lowest average scores for fear and attention-seeking behaviors, while aggression scores were higher in dogs of owners who used punishment. In one study on Belgian military dogs, positive training methods routinely resulted in better performances than punishment.

I guess the path of least reprimand, and more reward, will be the one we’ll be taking. I better bake some more treats!

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4 responses to “Then and now

  1. I think it’s so fabulous that you will be testing all these theories that I will benefit from later on. Of course, by that time Dexter will be very well trained and I’ll be pulling my hair out, so you’ll get some benefit as well.

    Great post!

  2. What a handsome new addition, Stephanie! Those lovely brown eyes must be so difficult to resist.

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