If dogs think and feel, do aversive training techniques cause harm?

“It’s better to be hurt by someone you know, accidentally, than by a stranger, on purpose.” – Dwight K Schrute, “The Office”

Oh boy. Dog trainers are butting heads again over a post on Ruth Crisler’s blog, called “Undo Temperance.” Butting heads figuratively, of course. Because we don’t want to ever butt heads literally. That would be aversive. Although if I understand Crisler’s post, she’s not opposed to an occasional aversive head butt.

But I could be misreading the whole thing. In which case you can yank my collar or give me a cookie. Whichever method  you prefer.

I read Crisler’s post at the request of a friend who saw my review of the Cesar Millan event in Rochester, NY. It was my first experience with Millan, so I wrote what I thought and felt and saw and experienced. Who knew a review could cause such a ruckus? (Or that so many people don’t understand the concept of a review?)

Just so we’re clear, when it comes to dog training, I’m the idiot in the room – it’s engraved on my collar, in rhinestones. “Idiot.” (See, I saved you the trouble of having to point that out when you comment!)

And as another disclaimer: I cannot nor do I desire to respond to Crisler’s entire post, word for word. Again, I’m an idiot. And I’m not a dog trainer. But there are a few things that caught my eye and I’d like to share some thoughts.

Crisler opens the post with this question to dog trainers:

“If your dog was to be subjected to an aversive, would you rather it occurred randomly or control the timing yourself?”

She points out that if an accidental “aversive”, like stubbing a toe while catching a Frisbee, doesn’t harm a dog forever, then a purposeful aversive shouldn’t either. She writes:

“Moreover, we are warned that risks such as extreme generalized fear and negative associations with the dog’s environment or handler, can occur ‘regardless of the strength of the punishment’ … This last claim must rest on belief in a dark sort of behavioral homeopathy, whereby the magical effects of punishment endure despite its infinite dilution.”


“One would think such events as getting stepped on or startled would carry a risk (of potentially extreme and irreversible fallout) equal to that borne by the deliberate application of a comparable aversive. Yet few cautionary tales exist to illustrate these hazards, such as happen to dogs every day of their lives, often right in the presence of their owners or at their owners’ very hands.

I’ve had the pleasure of living with a wonderfully loving but wildly quirky  Border collie, and I can attest to the fact that yes, accidentally stubbing a toe while playing Frisbee can cause a dog to be afraid of 1) the park where he stubbed his toe and 2) the sight of the Frisbee with which he was playing when he stubbed his toe and 3) even the sound of the birds chirping nearby when said toe was stubbed while chasing said Frisbee.

And yes, being stepped on will cause fear of 1) the owner’s shoes, 2) the place in the room where the squashing took place, and 3) any sound that was audible when said squashing took place. And that the effects will be felt long after the event.

Of course, I’m mentally unbalanced, so my dogs are probably mentally off balance as well. We don’t fit into nice boxes over here. And I know from personal experience it can take a long, long time to figure out why said quirky Border collie flinches, flees and runs away for what appears to be no logical reason.

But once those triggers are identified, once you realize that picking up the sneakers causes the dog to flee or understand why he refuses to get out of the car at this park but not that park? Ta da! We can work to lessen the fear and increase the happy feelings associate with shoes, Frisbees and parks.

Crisler asserts that aversive opponents believe there is a “dark sort of behavioral homeopathy, whereby the magical effects of punishment endure despite its infinite dilution.” I contend that there is not enough time in the world to naturally dilute the “magical” effects of a negative accident. (I mean, how many of you have dogs who are afraid of the word b-a-t-h, and are until their dying day?)

And how do we know there are few cautionary tales? If dogs could talk, I think they’d share more than a few stories of ways we’ve damaged them, hurt them, scared them, and ticked them off, all because we think our actions don’t effect them in any meaningful way.

I don’t think you can change the behavior without intending to do so and also considering the dog’s needs, and if you don’t? You may make the behavior go away but  may have damaged the dog in the process. Quirky collie, for example, was “cured” of his barking by shaking pennies in a tin can. His anxiety was also wildy cemented, his fears were increased, and worse, he clearly experienced confusion about why the people he loved were doing that scary thing every time he got excited.

The effect of the purposeful aversive was the same as the accidental: something happened that was loud/scary - dog connected that something to event happening at the time – dog forever tied the two events together – dog’s behavior was changed. (Translation for those of us who speak non-academic, non-dog training English: Mommy scared me and I don’t know why.)

Crisler does make points worth considering, like when she’s commenting on a reflection by Suzanne Clothier on how Clothier’s own motives influence her decision to use or not use aversive techniques:

“To be clear, I’m not arguing for or against specific equipment or methods. I’m suggesting good intentions wield little to no dependable influence over how much a dog gains or suffers.”

I would argue, however, that good intentions do influence how much an animal suffers or doesn’t, because we humans can’t tell if a dog can interpret the spirit, if I can use that term, of our intentions. We don’t actually know what goes on on a dog’s brain or heart or soul, what he thinks for feels, because we don’t understand a dog’s language. And just because we don’t speak his language doesn’t mean our actions don’t affect him. I love this quote from Temple Grandin:

“[Y]ou don’t have to have language to have a conscience, which means it’s at least possible for an animal to have a conscience, too. Many owners have seen their dogs act remorseful after doing something wrong, but animal behaviorists always reject this interpretation. However, no one has shown that an innocent animal can’tfeel bad for doing something he knows is wrong, the same way an innocent child can feel bad for doing something he knows is wrong. We shouldn’t assume that we know for a fact animals never experience the emotion of guilt, because we don’t.”

In the end, dog trainers will always be separated into two camps - those who believe animals feel, understand, and experience emotions and the other camp, who see animals as problems to be solved, with obedience as the goal.

Or if I can sum it up this way: One believes relationship leads to obedience (at the risk of anthropomorphizing animals), the other argues for obedience over (and sometimes at the expense of) relationship. Two basic outlooks on life that drive different techniques used to achieve the same goals.

One is not necessarily better than the other – unless you believe, like I do, that dogs – all animals, for that matter – have feelings, have souls, experience emotions, were created for a purpose by a God who created all living things to work together in harmony. That, in fact, we really don’t know what we don’t know about animals, and that in the void of the unknown, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you” applies to animals as well. (And before you call me a  hypocrite, yes, I would include animals we eat in there as well. Which is a whole other topic for another day.)

Call me ignorant, or “old school as a tent revival”, as Crisler writes, but I’d rather experience loving, emotional relationships with my pups than have dogbots who obey but don’t really like me.

Of course, I also believe everyone needs to be naughty once in a while. Bad dogs really do have more fun.

(*When I read Crisler’s opening sentence, this quote from “The Office” was the first thing that came to my head. I hope you giggled. If not, I suggest two cookies and a good night’s sleep.)


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  • Ada Simms

    Joanne you say things that I think but can’t seem to find the words to make interesting or attention getting.
    I don’t want a robot dog. I have seen so many that are so afraid to make a mistake, that they don’t offer any behaviors, nor can think or figure out simple tasks.
    Yes here I go, I treat me dogs the same way I would treat my child or a friend. We are called to be guardians of all of relationships. To cherish, do no harm, and if you make a mistake, you fix it by not doing “harm” again.

  • http://www.playfulpooch.org Rise VanFleet, PhD, CDBC

    This is such a well-done article! You have distilled the issues beautifully. I’m impressed that you have hit upon one of the essential ways of looking at intervention in human psychology as well. As a relationship-oriented (child/family)psychologist as well as a relationship-oriented dog trainer/behavioral consultant, I have seen over and over again how a focus on a happy, healthy, mutually trusting relationship resolves many behavioral problems. There’s research on this pertaining to therapeutic approaches to child and family problems, and there’s really no reason to believe it’s any different with dogs, whose emotional lives are not that different from our own and whose social structures are very like those in our families. I, too, want a warm, playful, mutually respectful relationship with my dogs, just as with my human family members. And I, too, want them to be themselves with a voice in what happens to them and a choice about how they spend at least some of their time. Thank you for your thoughtfulness. You “get” it more than you realize, I think!

  • Leonard Cecil

    “In the end, dog trainers will always be separated into two camps – those who believe animals feel, understand, and experience emotions and the other camp, who see animals as problems to be solved, with obedience as the goal.”

    Oh, I believe it’s a little more complicated than that. I for example “believe” (for whatever that’s worth), that dogs feel basic emotions, what some call the primary emotions. We can see this to a certain extent based upon actions resulting from stimuli which first unleash the emotion and then that action. What we can’t know is exactly how the dog experiences these emotions. But basic (primary) emotions such as fear, joy, and the like, yes. You can isolate the causes (although not easy to do as Adam Miklosi showed us last weekend at a seminar) and you do have to factor in the dog’s learning experience in conjuction with the expression of these emotions; was the dog rewarded for this expresses or had the expression been suppressed in the past.
    The problem comes with secondary and teriary emotions, which more often than not have a connection to societal, cultural and/or religious background of people and have many fine layers of conditions attached, also including learning history connected with the expression of those emotions. I’m thinking of shame. Whereas Temple Grandin says we don’t know if animals feel shame, we can believe they do, but until we can test and quantify the results, we can’t know. Dr. Miklosi again showed an experiment that seemed to show that dogs do not experience shame but more likely (notice the formulation) react to how the owner conducts him- or herself combined with whether the dog had been trained to leave an object when the owner left the room. But since his team are Ethologists and not trainers, while they asked the question “Has the dog been trained to leave objects alone on command”, they didn’t ask HOW they’d been trained, since aversive training will teach the dog one consequence of non-compliance and positive training will teach the dog a completely different consequence. his facit to the whole question of whether animals have emotions, which ones and how do they experience them is “WE DON’T KNOW”. When directly asked what he -believes- he replied “As a scientist, my beliefs are unimportant.” After a couple more beers he did admit that he, with 2 dogs in his household, even if they do belong to his daughter, not him, does believe – away from the lab.
    As to whether the “other group” believes that dogs are just problems to be solved, that may play a role in many, but I also think there is large number of people who have one picture of their dog in their head when he/she is “good” and another when he/she is being “bad”. They may not know how to get the behavior from one side to the other, may use methods I would not, but would still not discount dogs having emotions, maybe just not ones we find to be positive. And isn’t that the main danger of labeling emotions? Some carry very dangerous social connotations, depending upon the society or belief systems that are ours. The difference between a dog that is jealous and one that is guarding a resource in our emotional picture of the dog is HUGE ad if jealousy (a secondary emotion) is not one a dog can experience or understand in our contexts, we could be doing that animal a disservice by treating a label and not a behavior.

    Other than that small point, I loved this article.

  • http://www.dubuquedogtraining.com Cindy Ludwig

    Very nice writing style, Joanne. I enjoyed reading this!

  • http://www.playfulpooch.org Rise VanFleet, PhD, CDBC

    On the question of relationships and emotions in dogs and other animals, the studies on the role of oxytocin as the possible root of the human-animal bond, and also in overcoming fear, provides increasingly compelling evidence for the use of gentle methods in our interactions with dogs (and why this is likely to bring the best results in terms of good behaviors). I highly recommend Meg Olmert’s book, Made for Each Other: The Biology of the Human-Animal Bond (2009) for a very user-friendly exploration of the research and its implications. It’s an interesting and easily-understood book that speaks to this very question.

    • joanne

      Oh goodie! I’ll put that on my reading list right now. I am not a dog trainer, but I am a voracious reader, and especially animal genetics, behavior, emotions, etc. Thanks for that tip!

      • http://www.playfulpooch.org Rise VanFleet, PhD, CDBC

        You’re very welcome. I think you’ll enjoy it! I got into this the same way. Reading everything turned into going to seminars and then total immersion! The author is now the research director of the Warrior Canine Connection in D.C. where soldiers with PTSD are training the service dogs to be used by other soldiers with traumatic brain injury and other physical injuries. Preliminary results are showing that those with PTSD are using far fewer medications by the end of the project and the hypothesis (to be tested by research in the near future) is that it’s the oxytocin that might be modulating all that!

  • Paul McNamara

    “Or if I can sum it up this way: One believes relationship leads to obedience (at the risk of anthropomorphizing animals), the other argues for obedience over (and sometimes at the expense of) relationship. Two basic outlooks on life that drive different techniques used to achieve the same goals.”

    You have said that you are not a dog trainer, neither am I for that matter, but to be honest, I cannot see either side of the debate in that description. Personally, I believe that it is obedience that leads to relationship, or at least, a much deeper kind of relationship that one might otherwise have in the absence of obedience. Much the same as children must learn to obey the rules of grammar in order to fully enter into the world of language, the human world.

    And yes, obedience and obligation must go both ways for that relationship to fully flourish. And indeed, the best way to fully develop our own understanding of dogs is to train them.

    • joanne

      Paul, thanks for the feedback! I can only speak from my own personal experience, but those people who have expected obedience from me were not looking for a relationship; they were looking for obedience. The relationship was built on them saying “jump”, me saying “how high.” I find that those are the people who tend to be in the “obedience” camp.

      On the other hand, I have found that people who love me, encourage me, and want to know me are the ones I want to obey, and likewisein their relationships with animals.

      Me? I want to follow and obey someone who loves me, rather than try to love someone who demands me to obey them. And I see that in my relationships with my dogs. I know it’s a broad brush to paint with, and there are no absolutes, but in general, that’s what I’ve seen.


      • Paul McNamara

        Did you know that the etymology of the word ‘obey’ is ‘to hear’? Think of training obedience in that sense and you will understand why I think of obedience to be the foundation to building better and stronger relationships.

        And of course, there is nothing that develops one’s own ability to ‘read’ and understand one’s dog (in other words to hear (to obey) what one’s dog is saying) than the process of training.

        Perhaps those people who demanded obedience from you likewise misunderstood what true obedience requires.

  • http://dogwilling.weebly.com Leah Roberts

    Great article! I am constantly flabbergasted by the pains force trainers take to try to justify the unnecessary use of force, fear, pain and intimidation in dog training. I love that even a non-dog-trainer can see this so clearly.

  • Rick

    “In the end, dog trainers will always be separated into two camps – those who believe animals feel, understand, and experience emotions and the other camp, who see animals as problems to be solved, with obedience as the goal.”

    I don’t see the two as mutually exclusive. One can believe animals experience emotions and still work toward and expect obedience. I’m with Paul on this, I believe obedience training can be an excellent way to foster a healthy, loving relationship with one’s pet.

    I see a continuum of training styles from those who believe in using predominantly coercive methods to those who “fret over distilling off every atom of punishment from their training programs” (to quote Ruth) and everything in between. Furthermore, I see people in the more forceful camp who want a healthy relationship with their dog, but see their methods as the best way to get there and view so called R+ methods as counter productive to that end (wrongly or rightly). Could it be that at least some of those who disagree with you on training methods have the same goals (a healthy, fun relationship with a happy, well behaved dog) but just differ on how best to get there?

    I’m guessing it was just a throw away line, but I couldn’t disagree agree with you more when you say “bad dogs really do have more fun”.

    • Joanne Brokaw

      Rick, I think you actually hit the nail right on the head when you say trainers have the same goals but just differ on how best to get there. I think that’s where the problem lies. I actually liken it a lot to the discussion about religion.

      Like I said, I’m not a dog trainer; I was asked to comment on Ruth Crisler’s blog by a friend/reader, so I hope it was clear my perspective was as a dog owner & writer (and specifically, a humor writer, although that’s now my focus here on this blog). I find the entire discussion fascinating. And of course, bad dogs have more fun! You can read my dog Bandit’s blog and see for yourself. ;) http://www.MyNameIsBandit.com


      • Rick

        “I actually liken it a lot to the discussion about religion.”

        Therein lies the rub. I don’t know if this dog is good or bad, but he sure is having fun:

  • http://www.bettystlcdogtraining.com Betty Laurin CPDT-KA, CDBC

    Superb! Well written and very much appreciated by all those who love their companion animals! Keep writing!!

  • Marjie Alonso

    If you’re going to join in the oversimplifying/ polarizing game, perhaps best you stop batting eyes and claiming “dog idiot” status? You’re far from it, and I think you must know that. I’m not sure why that is a remaining theme in your otherwise good work.

    You write: “In the end, dog trainers will always be separated into two camps – those who believe animals feel, understand, and experience emotions and the other camp, who see animals as problems to be solved, with obedience as the goal.”

    Really? I’d hope not – or if that’s so, does it have anything to do with methodology? Neither life nor training camps are really that simple. As a professional who chooses to use positive reinforcement, I am frustrated and saddened by this polarization of white hat/black hat that is simply not true.

    The choice to use aversives (and they’re there all the time whether we deliberately use them or not) can be more complicated than implied. In my opinion they’re rarely if ever the best choice for training.

    However, we’re also, in this “if I’m good I *never* stress my dog; let’s talk body chemicals” universe we seem to have entered into, not properly inoculating our dogs to every day stresses is creating delicate flowers who can’t handle anything that comes their way. That’s neglectful and, in my opinion, sacrifices relationship for religion. It’s bad parenting.

    Sometimes we have wiggy border collies who really do need to be handled with extra care, who really do associate every hangnail with long term memories of trauma – that’s not a balanced or emotionally stable dog (I have a similar critter of my own). Sometimes we have an “I lift things up and put them down” dog that one could bash with a brick and the dog would barely notice. But more and more, we’re creating dogs so unprepared for life’s every day aversives that they can’t handle things that a balanced, “normal” dog should be able to.

    Certainly there are worse and better trainers, and certainly there are people who go with the nasty when they should be going with the positive learning experiences. I’m not suggesting that all trainers approach things or animals the same way. But the world is filed with shades of gray, and much of what’s useful lives in those shadows.

    Relationship is critical to me with my dogs, humans, clients and their dogs, and it also is to *some* (certainly not all) trainers I know who use aversives, which can be shakers of pennies, head harnesses, metal leashes to prevent leash biting and many things not associated with shock (which is another absurdly polarized and under-thought issue in my opinion). I find it concerning that one school of methodology, regardless of levels of use, abuse, skill or awareness, now seems to also be claiming ownership of the value of relationship. Good, thoughtful training is just that. Respect for animals and the humans is just that. I don’t think we can really boil it down to simple, binary equations that seem to be so comforting to so many right now. And in the end I’d rather have I’d rather experience a loving, emotional relationships with my pups that really like me *and* do what I ask because I trained it well, respectfully, and ethically.

    • Joanne Brokaw

      Marjie, it’s actually dog trainers who have repeatedly called me an idiot, so I just saved them the time. As for batting eyes? Huh, I’ve never been accused of that before, but if it draws page views perchance I have found a new way to garner readers! (I say that all in good humor, just in case there is any confusion. ;) )


      • Marjie Alonso

        Dog trainers are terrible name callers. On both sides of the aisle. You are no idiot, but neither are you “not a trainer” in the meaningful sense of the words – you’re neck deep in this stuff with the rest of us. (You have my sympathies…)

      • http://www.playfulpooch.org Rise VanFleet, PhD, CDBC

        Joanne, I actually appreciate your humility. I was criticized, too, when I first began writing and speaking more about what I was learning about dogs several years ago – for suggesting that others knew more than I did. I actually wasn’t putting myself down or “social handicapping” – it was a simple truth at the time and I was recognizing where my own limitations were as well as the contributions of others from whom I had learned. I was rather startled that my attempts to acknowledge that I was in a place of enthusiastic learning rather than expertise were viewed this way. You DO know a lot, but it’s a bit different when dog trainers and behaviorists have spent just as many years learning their professions as you and I have spent learning our primary professions. And sometimes, a fresh eye on things is valuable to get discussion going, as you have! It’s an interesting world sometimes…

  • Rick

    Should be: I couldn’t disagree with you more when you say “bad dogs really do have more fun”.

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  • http://www.playfulpooch.org Rise VanFleet, PhD, CDBC

    If I can get just a little theoretical here about the entire relationship-behavior discussion, I’d like to share some information from the field of family and relationship psychology that is relevant. First, we might be stumbling over our definitions of obedience. Whether we’re talking about children or dogs, what we really want are close, loving relationships AND well-behaved children and dogs. There’s research with children that the best way of doing this is with safety, acceptance and nurturance coupled with clear boundaries. One need not be punitive to enforce the rules. There is a fair amount of accumulating evidence that the same is true for dogs.

    Does good behavior bring about good relationships? Or do good relationships bring about good behavior? In psychotherapy, there are two approaches that reflect these very different assumptions. One is called “intervention as intervention” (don’t ask me why), and this approach targets the immediate reduction of problem behaviors while neglecting broader relationship issues that are important for socialization (children). While relationships are sometimes improved because parents are less frustrated with their children, that is not the focus. On the other hand, there is an approach called “socialization as intervention” which helps families with their immediate needs but focuses on strengthening family interaction patterns that are most likely to lead to better attachment, relationship, and positive child development and social/emotional/behavioral outcomes. There is substantial research support for the latter, especially in terms of long-term positive change. There’s research evidence for the symptom reduction approach, too, but there’s less evidence that this actually helps relationships. While this is all human research, it actually translates very well into our relationships with dogs. (Read Suzanne Clothier, Bones Would Rain from the Sky to see exactly how this works. It’s one reason I really like her work.) I know that this theoretical stuff may not be of interest to everyone, but I actually just had an article published in The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy on this very topic, so it was relatively fresh in my mind. There are huge parallels between dog training and child rearing, and I, for one, am thoroughly convinced of the evidence–both research and practical from decades of work with families–that relationships MUST be healthy for any truly lasting change to occur.

    • Marjie Alonso

      Rise, you write: “relationships MUST be healthy for any truly lasting change to occur.”

      My point is that I know of no one arguing that. My issue is that there is an increasing divide between the “more relationship than thou” crowd and the rest of the jamokes.

      The use of force is almost (yes, in my opinion and others’ almost) always unnecessary, and Ruth’s article points out some very real issues about self-help boundaries, practical boundaries, technical boundaries and dog training/ spiritual awakening stuff overlapping in ways that do harm to the profession, and with that I completely agree. Some of the most “relationship based” trainers I know are some of the most insensitive and self-absorbed, and often clueless about the dogs with whom they work as well because their dogma wins out over seeing their actual, well, DOG.

      Technique, tool use, skill, awareness are all critical, and while there are certainly some trainers for whom the above article’s position holds true – that obedience is the goal, not relationship – that is an enormous and in my opinion dividing generalization. To tell someone using a prong collar that they therefore by default don’t care about their relationship with their dog as much as I do, for instance, is insulting, hubris, and effectively shuts down any chance of learning on the part of the person the “positive” people are now punishing through tribal outrage and ostracism. This was my point.

      • Ada Simms

        I do see your point Marjorie. For a little more than two years I trained my dog with aversives because I didn’t know there was another way. The two local training facilities used force to make the dog comply. First it was choke chain at 5 months, then it was a prong collar. When he started to react to other dogs, I tried to alpha roll to make him submit.
        If I had the knowledge that this was not the only way, I would have not used these methods. It did not feel comfortable.
        My dog took it but then finally decided the pain I was causing him, was being caused when he was near other dogs. My sweet people loving dog, despised the sit of other dogs. I was crushed…not more training at facilities with this wild animal.
        It was then I saw it as a blessing because I had to find other ways. I consulted a MD behaviorist.
        I learned clicker training, counter conditioning, desensitation. I was committed and spent tons of money learning behavior mod.
        It took 18 months of working nearly every day but at last, I was able to return to the facility (using different methods foreign to them). After attending 6 weeks of 8 week Novice Course, My boy won 2 blue ribbons in an AKC Show, Novice. Everybody’s mouth dropped (including mine) when the judge announced our number. I started clapping and people had to tell me, “That’s YOU!”. For a dog that could not contain himself when seeing another dog 100ft away, to a dog that laid peacefully 4 ft either way from two other dogs in a long day stay! WOW.
        Sadly, one location has not grasped force free training but the other place did.
        Which led me to be a trainer. To educate the public there is another way to train. That is what I am dedicated to now. If I can help one dog and one owner to train force free, then I have accomplished saving a dog that might be headed to rescue or worse.

    • Joanne Brokaw

      Rise, I had a marriage counselor joke that someone should write a book about building personal relationships based on dog training – I told her to read Suzanne’s book, LOL.

      As I’ve been reading the discussions about dog training methods, I keep going back to the book “Reviving Ophelia”, where the author talks about parenting methods, and she talks about how parents who set clear rules and boundaries coupled with lots of clear love and affection lead more frequently to well adjusted kids than do low love/low “discipline”, high love/low discipline, and low love/high discipline. (I know that simplifies it, but that’s kind of the gist.) So that’s why I think lots of love and affection coupled with clear and consistent rules and boundaries can work for dogs, too.


      • Rick

        Joanne, the more I read your responses to comments, the less I think you thought through your original post. I totally agree with what you say here about the need for both love and discipline, but it seems in your original post your were saying that love and discipline (or obedience) were necessarily at odds.

        You said, “I’d rather experience loving, emotional relationships with my pups than have dogbots who obey but don’t really like me.” as if those were the only two choices.

        To be sure, there are people who place a higher value on obedience than relationship, but you can’t conclude which camp one is in simply by his choice to use aversives.

        • Joanne Brokaw

          Rick, I can see why you’d think that – remember that I was responding to some of another blogger’s comments, not everything about dog training. I don’t think discipline and love are polar opposites; I think it’s the spirit of the path to get to the goal. I actually hate the word “discipline”, lol, even tho I have to use it sometimes. I am not, by nature, a disciplined person, and the notion of being disciplined brings back … well, memories of the belt. That’s why I remind people I’m not a dog trainer – just a writer who comments, rants, rambles and generally blathers on random topics. :)

          • Rick

            Joanne, yes “discipline”, like “punishment”, can be emotionally charged words, but the point of the post you were commenting on was that we need to get beyond the emotionalism if we are to objectively evaluate various training methods. This is what’s in the best interest of the dogs we care about.

            And I’m sorry you had to endure the circumstances that led to the negative association. I was lucky in that respect (and never take that for granted).

      • http://www.playfulpooch.org Rise VanFleet, PhD, CDBC

        Makes sense to me, Joanne. Baumrind’s studies of different parenting styles in the 1970s has been upheld through the years – and it’s this type of loving, caring parent who had clear boundaries (what was called the “authoritative” parent) that was found to be the most effective in having well-adjusted, well-socialized children. (the parents who used a reliance on corrections and punishments had some of the least well-adjusted children). I like that you suggested that book to the marital therapist. There are remarkable similarities to Bernard Guerney’s Relationship Enhancement to marital and family therapy (Bernie was my advisor in grad school). Interesting parallels everywhere!

  • http://www.playfulpooch.org Rise VanFleet, PhD, CDBC

    My recent article series, Control, Compassion, and Choices (playfulpooch.org, under Resources, from the APDT Chronicle…)speaks to this. There are all kinds of ways to hurt our relationships, and there are all kinds of ways to build and strengthen them. There is more and more solid research that can guide our efforts here, research coming from neuroscience, from human psychology, and from canine ethological studies. I believe that most dog owners who are using aversives really do love their dogs (they just haven’t been exposed to the alternatives) – no argument there and I’ve been very vocal about that. I also think we need to treat dogs and people with respect, and I find the mud-slinging to be useless and alienating no matter where it is coming from. I very much appreciated the thoughtfulness of this article and the main points being made.

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  • http://ruthcrisler.wordpress.com Ruth Crisler

    “In the end, dog trainers will always be separated into two camps – those who believe animals feel, understand, and experience emotions and the other camp, who see animals as problems to be solved, with obedience as the goal.”

    Joanne, thank you for taking the time to read my article and to put down your thoughts. I think the Office quote is funny, by the way, and entirely apropos. I have a question, though, regarding your assertion above.

    Given that you are aware of these two eternal camps, and also confident in their mutual exclusivity, how exactly do you tell us apart?

    I’m embarrassed to admit that despite being a dog trainer myself, I occasionally struggle with identifying my colleagues as either one or the other. In fact–and this is really a hard pill to swallow–I am less than totally certain as to which group I personally belong.

    On the one hand, I’ve never doubted that dogs think and feel, any more than I’ve doubted my children think and feel. On the other, I’m continually called upon to solve problems and foster obedience, and actually take those challenges rather seriously. Anyhow, I’d appreciate your insight. It’s clear you have a talent for swiftly assigning people to their groups.

    • Joanne Brokaw

      Hi, Ruth! I think dog training ends up being a lot like religion – those inside the community – at least those vocal about what they do and believe – end up in those two camps. The people in the middle don’t often say much, because they get lambasted by people on the polar ends. I’ve been dealing with it for more than a decade covering entertainment from a religious perspective, and was shocked to find that the dog community is equally polarized. I mean, I talk to dog trainers and dog people all day long, and I’m stunned at how often I hear people on either one side or the other, and rarely even listening to the middle. So I guess my jaded background shone thru in that blanket statement.

      Honest, I am not a dog trainer; because a reader asked me to comment specifically about your post, I focused on some things in there that jumped out. I do hope that was clear, b/c I really can’t tackle the whole topic of dog training, nor would I want to. I’m just not experienced or educated enough about dog training.

      That you got that Office quote? YAY! I love you just for that. :) (And I did get that little jab at the end. ;) )


  • Cheryl Huerta

    Hi Ruth. I’m a day late and a dollar short as usual. Just got a link to your blog in an article written by someone who opposes any kind or version of aversive methods. Would like to connect with you personally. As a pit bull advocate I work very hard to instill in others that they need to find the way that works best for them and their dogs to make sure that their pit bulls are ambassadors for all pit bull type dogs. I am very often vilified by people I help network for dogs in need of a home in discussions about ‘training methods’. It’s nice to see someone who has a more ‘balanced’ approach to it than most of the R+ fanatics I know…

    Could you please contact me? chuerta_1@yahoo.com.

    Thanks for your time.