One of the most sensitive topics I must explore with dog parents is the issue of discipline. It is something that must be talked about, because it is so important for everyone's safety and good canine mental health.
Discipline, or its technical term punishment, should not be taboo from popular discussion. It is not a bad thing -- assuming it is done properly.
Every method of dog training uses reinforcement and punishment -- even ones who claim to use no punishment at all. Withholding a treat from a dog because they would not sit, for instance, is a form of punishment. Technically speaking this is called "negative punishment." The bark of this phrase sounds worse than its bite, doesn't it?
There are many different forms of discipline that can be used to stop a dog from making poor choices. Kinetic energy can be used in the form of leash corrections. Sound energy can also be used to startle. This can be delivered with a sharp "No!", or via a pet correction sound device. Blocking is another tactic. This is where you step in front of a dog and physically impeded their movement using your body.
There is no one form of discipline that fits all dogs. They are individuals, and your discipline should match the needs and personality of your dog.
But why is discipline okay, or even desirable? Discipline and consequences for good and bad choice-making is critical for a dog to develop healthy social skills. It helps their ability to inhibit emotional impulses. In other words, it helps to develop self-control. Without the ability to control themselves, a dog's mind will live in constant chaos. As a result, they will move constantly about the home, seemingly on a search for.....something. First they want a toy, then to go outside, then to come back inside, then to be played with. Unable to stop themselves, they live in a non-stop flurry of mental activity. This is not pleasurable for the dog. Discipline and structure help bring a halt to this unpleasant cycle.
Another argument supporting the use of discipline of dogs is this:
Discipline is completely natural. Dogs do it too!
Watch this amazing video below. It offers a rare and fascinating glimpse into natural canine interpersonal dispute regulation. Dog's, just like people, have parents and police officers that disallow certain behaviors to persist. In this video, you will see a dog resolve a dispute, and does so with no training whatsoever. Instead, he or she will do it out of personal feelings of responsibility.
Many dog parents object to discipline and structure for dogs because it feels to them like they have enslaved their dog to authoritarian rule, and by doing so have violated some rule of nature. Dogs, it is believed, are natural and should not be infringed upon.
This is, of course, is partially true. Dogs are natural, even as bred by humans. But then again, everything is natural! Even the light emitted by your computer screen as you read these words.
Add discipline to the list of "all natural" events to shape your dog's social existence. They are hard-wired to need it. But it doesn't stop there. Wolves do it, monkeys do it, and fish do it. Yes, fish discipline one another too.
The question is really not whether or not to discipline your dog. The real question is how, when, and to what extent. If one form of discipline doesn't work well, try another.
And remember, even though this article is largely about the topic of discipline, reflect on the full breadth of your dog's emotional needs. Along with discipline they need structure found in consistent setting of boundaries, education (or training), emotional support through affection, among others -- not only to be told what not to do.
Aaron McDonald is a canine cognitive behaviorist, theorist, and author. He can be reached at www.ThreeDimensionalDog.com.
If you are interested in learning about your dog's mind, grab a copy of Three Dimensional Dog, A Unified Theory of Canine Behavior.