Today’s letter of the day is… P!

Lets talk about the ol’ dreaded “p” word –
Punishment
I often get asked where do I stand in the way of punishment.
What can owners expect from what I teach in the way of having to use discipline with their dog.
Short answer, I am all for it.
But not in the way you may think.
When I first started training I jumped into the purely positive camp with my dog. By 4 months he was was already growling at strangers, by 8 months he was full blown reactive.
I tried all sorts of ways to convince him life was good, he had nothing to fear, I rewarded and praised him allll the time and never scolded him.
By 8 months my nerves were shredded when it came to his unruly behaviours and I found myself losing patience and yelling at him, what made it worse was that is was at random times, it was inconsistent, and it was just a knee jerk reaction to how he was truly making me feel. I couldn’t help it, it would just come out.
What I was doing wasn’t working, and it frustrated me and sadly I would end up taking that frustration out on him, he didn’t know any better, he didn’t know how to do things differently and I was failing big time to help him.
Cue the guilt and feelings of being a huge failure to my dog.
I see this scenario so many times with owners, they are trying their best to be understanding with their dogs, to avoid punishing them in fear of making things even worse than before.
I’ve lived it out myself.
It ends up making things worse, despite our best intentions.
Feeling like I had been lied to, that I had been deceived, I jumped camps, surely they have the answer…
Now balanced trainers do still use positive methods, but they also incorporate corrections, aversives, punishment – all these words mean the same thing, and it can come in all sorts of different methods, the most common however is leash corrections.
For the 2 years I worked on learning new methods, different styles, ways of doing things from balanced trainers, I was told I was too soft, I wasn’t tough enough on my dog and that was the problem.
 For a long time I thought maybe they were right, I hated having to delve out punishment. No one really likes doing it, even the trainers that were calling me soft however they would just accept it had to be done.
Something didn’t sit right, I couldn’t accept that, things still weren’t right with my dog, it took another couple of years to figure out what was missing.
Yep 6 years, in that 6 years I did finally have a dog that I could control, and while that’s what some people want.
It’s not what I wanted, I didn’t want to have to micro manage my dog, watch his every move, constantly be barking orders at him.
I wanted my dog to be able to have the freedom of being himself whilst making my life comfortable. I wanted to just hang out with him, enjoy his company and de-stress with him, life is full of stresses I didn’t want my dog to be one of them.
Through all the hours of research and practical learning, all the work we had put in.
I don’t know how I completely missed this one crucial part of the jigsaw puzzle.
We never prioritize our relationship, our bond, the understanding of one another.
The conversation had become so one sided, I was treating my dog like a push button robot, you do what I say you get reward, ignore me, you get punished.
Now don’t get me wrong, he wasn’t miserable in the slightest, his life had indeed improved, introducing punishment didn’t break him, make him more fearful, it made him more confident in a lot of ways.
He ways able to problem solve better, understand both sides of the coin, he felt more capable and in control of his life.
But we were still disconnected.
I still wasn’t listening.
And it was the very reason why I still had to micro manage him, control so many aspects of his behaviour, I didn’t have the trust or bond there to give him the room or chance to make good choices.
I made all the choices for him.
In a lot of ways, I took away his freedom, the freedom to truly be himself.
It was exhausting, and it certainly wasn’t fun.
6 years and I found myself throwing out most of what I had learned in that time, and began from scratch, first on the list of things was to work on his over all health and well being.
I had stopped listening, stopped paying attention to what he truly loved in life, I didn’t know my dog as well as I should, it was time to shut up and let him do some teaching, to show me how I could be better for him.
Hell, he put up with my crap for 6 years it was the least I could do.
Now Bundy has never been much of a toy dog, never one to pick up a toy and ask for play.
It took a long time to get him to want to even play with toys let alone with people.
I will never forget the day he picked up my shoe, wagged his stumpy tail at my and looked at me with such joy in his eyes as he turned away to get me to chase him.
I had two choices, worry about the consequences of letting him do that or just enjoy the moment with him.
I chose to chase him and play with him, and it felt so freeing so good to connect and laugh.
In that moment I was able to forgive myself. I was able to be me, as soft as I bloody well wanted to be with my dog.
We had done the hard work, we understood each other, we had finally reached the point in our journey where we had truly found one another.
It was that moment, that moment I now get offered to me daily – with his toys now and not my shoe haha
I still hold firm to the rules, there are certain things that are just simply not allowed for my dogs own safety and those around them.
I can’t claim I am a positive trainer, I am an advocate for prong collars and e-collars,
But I can’t exactly claim I’m balanced either, everything I teach is up to 98% positive.
I  believe before punishment is even considered or really discussed when it comes to a dogs behaviour, management for safety, foundation of communication and understanding, bonding and great education MUST be addressed first and foremost, and punishment must be used in a structured calm manner, in a way that is clearly understood by the dog and easy to implement.
This helps boundaries and rules stand strong without the relationship between dog and owner being compromised.
Punishment can not be left out, but it is a small factor in dealing with a behaviour, there are so many things that MUST come first.
I wouldn’t change our journey for the world, because of my struggles and what I learned through living with a difficult dog, finding the gaps in what I was taught and filling them with things that were missing, we now have the opportunity to help owners connect with their dogs in ways they never thought was going to be possible, that’s something I wouldn’t trade for the world.
That and Bundy doesn’t hold a single grudge against me with the decisions I have made of the years. That’s the thing I love most about dogs, they show up as much for us as we are willing for them, and they always love us unconditionally no matter what we go through together xx
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