Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Arrogance of Punishment

As a professional force-free dog trainer I often hear dog owners use the term “punishment” and understand it from their perspective as a word in common use.

Webster’s dictionary: 1 the act of punishing; 2 a. a suffering of pain or loss that serves as retribution; 2 b. a penalty inflicted upon an offender through judicial procedure; 3 severe, rough, or disastrous treatment.

I will address each definition in context of “punishment” as applied to pet dogs by their owners, rather than the use of the term as understood by professionals, with respect to operant conditioning.
First, as an American I acknowledge living in a punitive society, evidenced by the highest incarceration rate per capita in the world.  Many of us were raised in homes where punishment was the norm.  My 30-year police career postured me to observe the behavior of citizens, looking for something to stop.  If that “something” was serious enough it resulted in arrest and likely punishment through legal process.

Dog owners often consider punishing unwanted behavior rather than rewarding favorable behavior.  As a trainer I shape the attitude of dog owners to look for opportunities to reinforce desired behavior, rather than look for something to stop.

Dogs have no moral code, yet humans cast upon them the anthropomorphic notion that dogs “know what they are doing is wrong” and so punishment is justified.  Dogs are roughly comparable to a two-year old human child.[1]  We do not assume toddlers “know what they are doing is wrong” or criminally prosecute them, so punishment is not a logical choice.  With short-term memory measured in seconds it also makes no sense to punish a dog long after the behavior occurred.

Second, inflicting pain or retribution upon a dog should never be a basis for punishment.  I find that concept disturbing, unethical and arrogant.  It puzzles me why some people feel justified in punishing animals for expressing their normal behaviors when we have the alternative of teaching them what we prefer.  Read the entire article

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