Is it Safe or Dangerous?
Pamela Dennison © 2022
Dogs learn the same way that we all do – through operant and classical conditioning. However, I feel there is another aspect that comes into play here (that is actually part of classical conditioning, but I want to further tweak it out). Dogs are very literal and take things at face value.
“Is it safe or is it dangerous?”
When you break down everything your dog might encounter into this simple statement, you may perhaps understand him a little better and look at things from his point of view and not your human point of view.
For instance, let’s say you hit your dog for jumping on people coming to the door. Are “people coming to the door” safe or dangerous? The answer is dangerous. So what might your dog then do? He will make the association that people coming to the door are dangerous, cause them pain and might (depending on his innate personality) escalate from jumping on them to biting them or may run away in fear.
Your dog runs away and when he finally comes back, you punish him. Is that safe or dangerous? The answer is dangerous. He will not understand that you punished him for running away. He will understand that you punished him for coming back to you.
Punishing a dog for having accidents in the house – no matter when (so get rid of the old outdated garbage of “catching them in the act”). Is it safe or dangerous to relieve himself around you? The answer is dangerous. So how easy will it be to take the dog out a potty walk in the future? (plus the obvious fact that if your dog is peeing or pooping and you yell at him – guess what? He’ll be running away, peeing and pooping as he goes, so now you have a bigger mess to clean up!)
It seems to be human nature to react in a punishing or negative way when your dog makes a mistake. You yell or hit him for his mistakes (dangerous), get angry or even rub his nose in his mistakes (dangerous). Yes, this is reacting to your dog, (some people actually call this “training”) but unfortunately the thing you are training is his fear response (dangerous) towards you.
If you change your mindset and really, truly look at the safe/dangerous paradigm, and act accordingly, you will be able to make better choices for your dog and thus help to create a well adjusted one. Even if something bad happens once in awhile (because life isn’t perfect), he’ll be able to bounce back quickly, because the bank you’re building up of positive experiences will far outweigh the bad ones.
Think about it also from the dog’s perspective on how he’ll relate to you if you protect him – he’ll learn to TRUST YOU TO TAKE CARE OF HIM. Then you can work on the two way trust thing – it’s a beautiful thing to behold and it doesn’t just come when you purchase or adopt a dog – you have to EARN IT.