Would you slap a little girl if she pinched you?

There is an ethical test used by many dog trainers and behaviorists. It can be roughly stated that it you wouldn’t do it to a child it’s not right to do it to a dog. This is said to accomplish two things – to suggest that the speaker is more ethical than those who do not follow this rule and to elevate their status as more caring and sensitive than others. So, let’s take up the challenge. If we would not slap a little girl we would therefore consider it unethical to slap a dog. What do you think? It sounds good, but to truly believe this you’d have to limit your reality to a thin slice. In essence, it suggests that there is never a time when causing pain or fear is an appropriate behavioral therapy regardless of context or outcome. Is that true? If I can suggest a context and outcome that justifies slapping a little girl does that mean it’s OK to slap a dog? We have now stepped out onto thin ice. How could anyone justify slapping a little girl? What if she was pinching you? Would that do it? Continue reading

Teaching Inhibitions: Stopping unacceptable behavior, now.

Note: This is from a presentation I gave at Central Veterinary Conferences in Washington, DC. A veterinarian behaviorist complained so I was prevented from continuing speaking for that organization. The complaint? What I said wasn’t part of the current catechism, even though I cited peer-reviewed and scholarly texts and showed live video to confirm what I said. Meaning I cited sources that were of the same standard as any other presentation at that conference. So much for open minded discussion of behavior at veterinary conferences. Ironically, CVC still posts my abstracts and handouts on their website for vets. This brings a list of my work that is currently available on DVM360 – http://veterinarycalendar.dvm360.com/gary-wilkes-dvm

And this is the link to the this paper as presented. http://veterinarycalendar.dvm360.com/teaching-inhibitions-stopping-unacceptable-behavior-now-proceedings I have tweaked this version slightly. I have put the edits in italics. The main difference is that I actually identify the group that authored the “Position Statement on Punishment” referenced in the paper.

May 1, 2011
By: Gary Wilkes, DVM (Author’s Note. They always add DVM or PhD to my title and I always tell them I’m not either. I left this here because if you go to the site you’ll see the letters and assume that I let it slide. I never do. When I spoke at a symposium at MIT I had them remove the PhD and put “dog trainer” – a title I wear proudly. As dog trainers are many times more competent than behavioral scientists, I choose the higher honor.)


It is the claim of animal behaviorists that behavior is the most common cause of death in companion animals. This is true, but does not automatically explain how to solve the problem. Almost always, it is what animals do that kills them. They jump on guests, eat shoes, bite children, fight with other dogs and tug unmercifully on leash. If you can stop them from doing these behaviors in a timely fashion for a reasonable price, they live. If you cannot stop the behavior they die. The single most important question in modern behavioral therapy is, “how do you stop a single behavior, now.” Continue reading