'Not only is punishment risky, but it also fails to teach the dog an acceptable alternate behaviour. The dog does not learn what to do the next time he is in the same situation. He only learns to fear the situation.' Emma Parsons, Click to Calm p73

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Children and Dogs - Not So Different.

I've been guilty of watching a lot of Supernanny lately, and it has solidified some thoughts for me.

Positive reinforcement and negative punishment work on every and any animal. If it has a mind, it can be taught - and positive reinforcement (R+, the addition or application of something that the animal wants) and negative punishment (P-, the removal of something that the animal wants) are the quickest, most long-lasting, and most humane ways of teaching a behaviour.

On the other hand, you couldn't slap a choke chain on a whale, and you wouldn't fit your child with a prong collar. These are both examples of tools of positive punishment; just as standing on a dog's paw or pinching their ear until they open their mouth is an example of negative reinforcement. We can bully our dogs, and so a lot of people choose to do just that--but you can't bully something bigger and scarier than yourself, and if you are taking your child out in public on a choke chain or prong collar, or slapping them and screaming at them every time they do something Wrong, you are liable to find social services being called quite quickly.

Back to Supernanny. Basically, she is a trainer. She might not think of herself as such, and she might not describe herself as such, but like dog trainers, her role is to teach the parent (parallel to the handler) how to get their child (dog) to behave. She uses reward schemes to support good behaviour, and time-outs as a consequence for bad behaviour.

And it works.

There is no screaming (other than children throwing tantrums, before they realise it doesn't work anymore), no hitting; no harsh treatment. She understands that children need a firm, but patient, calm and kind, hand in order to be raised successfully. A lot of dog trainers and owners could do well to take a leaf out of her book.

I mentioned a few posts ago that I tried something new with Lola, and it worked. That thing in question was an outdoors time out.

Lola has previously demonstrated that time outs (the removal of attention by the removal of her from my presence, or the removal of me from her presence) work HUGELY in shaping her behaviour. For example: if not for the use of consistent and timely (no pun intended) time outs, Lola would likely still bark at my friend Kelly. Instead, the two are slowly forming a trust-based relationship. It's definitely not perfect yet, but Kelly is the first person that Lola has allowed to get so close to her, to be in the house with us, to sleep in 'her' bed, to throw her ball, etc, that she hasn't known since a very young puppy--which is pretty massive for her

Time outs allow my dog (and, according to the Supernanny program, children, too) to refocus and calm down. With time outs, I don't need to challenge my dog, to ramp her up with physical corrections. I just quietly remove her. Since she values my presence, my time and my attention so much, she works actively to avoid being removed from me.

The situation that presented itself, as an opportunity for a time out, was Lola barking and lunging at an absolutely massive (trigger!), fluffy (trigger!), black (trigger!) dog (trigger!). I wasn't able to get away, without picking her up and running and dodging past the guy with his dog, and tried instead to just shovel treats down her throat. When she barked and lunged at the dog, something in me just clicked, and I looped her lead over a very close-at-hand fence, and walked away.

The dog and his handler were stopped a few metres away for the half a minute or so I was gone (inc. ten seconds out of sight), but Lola, from what I saw, didn't glance at them once after that. Her attention was fully on me. When I returned, I ignored her, and we quietly followed the dog.

She was able to sit about three metres away from the dog when they stopped, just getting food and cuddles. She didn't lift her hackles or stare at the dog. She didn't shy away from it (or me). She glanced at the dog a little, but she was no longer bothered by it - the positive reinforcement she was getting from me, and the brief time out, had completely turned her around in regards to that dog. If I'd have dared, I might have even chanced getting closer still to the dog, but it was a strange dog and although it seemed placid, I didn't want to risk it (or risk annoying the handler, who was being a good sport about my very weird behaviour).

I tried the time out method again at the park when we were leaving and some dogs were staring and leaning toward her down their leashes. She barked, and she was immediately tied to a pole and I left. The entire time, she ignored the other dogs (at one point one dog was only a metre or two away - if she'd lunged and it had lunged, they might have even been able to meet) and just stared after me until I returned.

I haven't had the opportunity to practice this since (she's been a good girl, and we also haven't seen that many dogs when on leash) but it seems to be working well.

Positive reinforcement and negative punishment. If it's good enough for a kid, it's good enough for my girl.


Bailey Be Good! said...

Nala and I totally agree with this post (and I'm sure our mommy would too)! We always learn something when we visit you. Thanks so much for taking the time to put such information together for everyone. :)

Woofs & hugs, <3

~Bailey (Yep, I'm a girl!)

Sara said...

Great comparisons! I love that show.

I never thought about putting my dog in "time out", but I kind of do that sometimes, and it is quite effective.

An English Shepherd said...

The boss says us dogs are much better behaved than some children ;-)

Ricky the Sheltie said...

Very interesting - I never thought about giving Ricky a time out like that and having him want to watch me instead of the distraction. What a good idea!

Ci Da said...

I keep telling my boyfriend that I'm probably going to end up clicker training our children. He's fine with it!

He was raised in a household that applied plenty of positive punishment, and his parent's dogs are raised similarly. He's completely hopped on to the positive reinforcement bandwagon. I'm very proud of how far he's come!

And yeah, raising dogs and children aren't that different, much to many people's chagrin.