Newton's Third Law and Dog Training

"To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction."

Newton's Third Law of Motion.

And, the first law of dog training. Confession time first. Kip is my first dog, and he is only 2 years old. So, I don't have a lot of experience in dog training. But, being the left-brained type I am, I have invested hours in reading about dog training, talking about dog training, discussing dog training, arguing about dog training... and watching dogs. And of course, training Kip.

In that entire time, I have had a natural abhorrence for gentle leaders, front-clip harnesses (actually, harnesses in general) and the like for walking dogs. My opinion is that every dog should be taught to walk nicely on a simple collar and leash. And that those devices (herein after called GL/Hs for the sake of conciseness) simply prevent certain actions, but do not actually train the dog to walk nicely.

But today, I had a breakthrough. I figured out why GL/Hs don't work.

Because they punish instead of correct.

Yep, you heard me, they punish.

Stay with me here, we're about to take a detour.

Let's look at a dog that barks at the mailman. To simplify it, the mailman is a stimulus (S), and the barking is a reaction (R).

Thus, a dog that barks:

S ==> R

Now, enter the human. Generally, humans at this point will act in some manner to quiet the dog (Action, A).

S ==> R ==> A

But, an action that comes after the reaction is actually punishment (P), and any dog that learns from punishment is learning through fear. This is why trainers will tell you disciplining a dog after the fact for doing something wrong doesn't work.

S ==> R ==> A ==> P

Most trainers will agree on how you stop a dog from barking - you understand the stimulus, and stop the barking before it starts. You correct (C) the behaviour before it starts by reading the dog's body language. The onus is on the human, not the dog, to prevent the reaction, and to reward either the lack of reaction (NR) or a wanted secondary action.

S ==> C ==> NR ==> reward

That's what I've done with Kip. I know when he's about to bark simply by reading his body language. Stopping the subsequent barking started out with a larger correction on my part (clapping my hands, grabbing his collar, etc), but is now down to either a verbal cue ("shht") or just a look from me. And he gets rewarded (verbal praise) for not barking. If I'm not in the room, he gets rewarded for giving a single bark, then coming to find me (a wanted secondary action).

So, what does this have to do with leashes and collars? It sets up why those devices that prevent behaviour are actually working as punishment.

Please note - I am not using the term punishment to mean physically harming the dog, etc. I'm using in to describe an action on the humans part in response to an unwanted behaviour, after the dog has done it. Thus, yelling at your dog for barking is punishment. Traditional house-training ("rub his nose in it") is punishment. Any action on your part to change a behaviour after the dog has done it is punishment. In contrast, a correction is something given to a dog to prevent a behaviour. A verbal cue when you see your puppy start to squat in the house to prevent him from peeing is a correction. A hand signal given to keep a dog sitting before the dog can break the sit is a correction.

Corrections train; punishments either don't train at all, or do so by fear.

So, what do
GL/Hs do?

The dog is walking on leash, and encounters a stimulus. The dog then reacts, generally by running towards (or away from) the stimulus, until it is prevented from doing so by the device.

S ==> R ==> A

But remember, any action that comes after the reaction is punishment.

S ==> R ==> A ==> P

So, anyone relying solely on a GL/H to prevent an unwanted action is actually punishing their dog for reacting to the stimulus.

Now, what do prong/choke/shock collars do? When used properly, they prevent the reaction. When learning how to properly use one, you are told to watch the dog, and act before the dog reacts. Thus, they are corrections. And the lack of reaction is rewarded.

S ==> C ==> NR ==> reward

And that is why they are so effective at training dogs.

I admit, you can probably use GL/Hs in an effective manner to prevent the reaction, again by watching the body language of the dog and using it to prevent a reaction (and many people misuse prongs, etc., as punishments). But no one that I have ever heard recommend them talks about that. It's simply "use it, and it prevents your dog from doing X". In other words, the onus is on the device, not the human. That's why it's easy to use. That's why so many people swear by them.

But that's also why they will never work in training any dog to be able to walk on a simple collar and leash, unless the human on the other end of the leash knows the difference between corrections and punishments.

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