Those of you that follow BestBehaviour's facebook page may have seen a shorter version of this post before, however I thought it was worth repeating!
A note on punishment based training for dogs that came up in discussion today: punishment supresses undesired behaviour by creating a fear of punishment from the owner/trainer. This initially stops a dog from performing the undesired behaviour however this does not addresses the actual cause of the behaviour in the first place. For example, when presented with a dog that growls at a child (commonly because the dog is fearful of the child or uncomfortable with what the child is doing) some professionals would punish the dog for growling. The dog remains fearful in presence of the child but learns to supress the growling behaviour through fear of punishment. The dog may cease to use growling behaviours around children due to the fear of punishment. You may think 'great! problem solved' however instead of growling next time your dog sees the child they may go straight to biting, this is because THE MOTIVATION BEHIND THE BEHAVIOUR WAS NEVER ADDRESSED! In this case the dog is still fearful of children. Therefore by punishing growling behaviour your trainer has accidently taught your dog to bite when they feel frightened instead! (To understand this better check our the ladder of aggression diagram in staying safe: children & dogs part 2. You can punish any of the behaviours seen on the rungs on the ladder to stop these behaviours however this just means your dog may move up to the next rung on the ladder. A dog will give as many signals as possible to avoid aggression however if we ignore these behaviours or even punish these behaviours eventually we leave our dogs with no alternative but to bite.)
A behaviourist works with a client and their dog to stop the dog being afraid of children. By removing the fear of the child the behaviourist significantly reduces the likelihood the dog will bite the child. In fact behaviourists go further than this to help you build positive associations so your dog begins to see children as a positive. They also provide you with effective management techniques so you can always be safe with your dog around children.
In addition it is worth noting that 'pack theory' research has been retracted (some time ago I might add!!!) due to serious methodology flaws. This was discovered when the research was compared with wolves in the wild and found not to agree with behaviour observations. The 'pack theory' idea has been used to promote punishment based methods by many trainers however it is based on dud science and a reliance on punishment rather than training skills to create obedience. You can control anyone or anything if you are successfully able to punish them enough! The use of punishment does not support the idea of pack theory! Dominance and submission do exist in various contexts for dogs (and other animals) but not in the form of dog's constantly trying to become dominant over their owners or become a 'pack leader'. This would be detrimental to the dogs survival for a start due to the wasted energy and risk of injury through aggressive behaviours. This is a fact well established by animal behaviour research. Therefore BestBehaviour advises owners and trainers to avoid professionals advertising services that continue to purport this theory and rely on punishment based methods.
Tamsin Peachey is a Clinical Animal Behaviourist living in Hurley, Atherstone. Tamsin is passionate about dog safety and debunking the current myths surrounding animal behaviour training.