The Permissive Path to Death and Destruction: There’s the rub.

Let’s accept for a second that any use of punishment is horrible. OK. However, I don’t know that it kills very many dogs, outright. It may scare them for awhile and require time to rehabilitate the dog, but death isn’t the usual outcome. However, being intent on clarity, I’m going to accept for a second that punishment somehow kills dogs. My next question is, “how many”? Is it 1:100, 1:1000, 1:1,000,000? The reason I want the numbers is because I want to make a rational decision about the topic. Without some kind of numbers we can’t make logical comparisons. So, we will have to plunge into this topic with some educated guess-work. I used to be a dog catcher. I was a shelter manager. I have real-world experience to help me make heads-or-tails of this. If my perspective seems a little funny, you can chalk it up to my experience.
First, I’m going to ask some questions that don’t seem immediately connected. Bear with me, there is a method to my madness. For instance, how many dogs die in training compared to dogs that are killed by cars? How many dogs are killed trying to go over or under a fence? How many escape out the front door to chase a cat and die from any number of causes outside their home? The answer to these questions is a uniform, nobody really knows. Because nobody knows, we cannot quantify or compare conclusions about harm or benefit. To oppose any of these things without some kind of ranking is far madder than my odd set of examples. Here’s why.

Even if dogs routinely died in training (In reality, an incredibly rare occurrence.) that shouldn’t be any more shocking than saying that a dog died from ‘running at large’. Both activities are the result of humans interacting with dogs. Without specific numbers, I’m going to take a guess and suggest that far more dogs die on the streets than in training. That makes ‘running at large’ a far bigger cause of death than punishment-based dog training. A common way to prevent ‘running at large’ is a big, inert containment system – commonly called a fence. You can use the same tool to avoid the need for training – if you are willing to live like a dog rather than elevating the dog to living with people. Less rare than dogs dying from training, some dogs die when they try to escape a fenced yard. They are accidentally hung by their collars, pinned trying to dig under or impaled as they climb over the top. Again, we have no numbers, but I’m going to guess that far more dogs are contained (and therefore saved) by fences than are killed by fences. That means ‘death by automobile’ is likely far more lethal than evil, sadistic, killer dog-trainers or when imprisoned dogs attempt to escape and ‘die on the wire’ trying to negotiate a backyard fence. Though all three events are lethal, one is far more likely to be lethal than the others. If you are still on board with this, we get to the metaphor for those who attack any use of aversive control. What if someone opposed fences because they cause injury and death? What if they opposed training that included preventing a dog from blasting out the front door or attempting to jump the fence?

Attacking the use of fences and training as a means of saving lives would make little sense. Promoting fences and training as a means of stopping “death by automobile” would make plenty of sense, even if we had to postpone solving the problem of a tiny number of dogs being killed while trying to escape or killed in training. Attacking punishment and praising positive reinforcement without regard to the actual effects they produce is as silly as the people who are convinced that city dogs should “run free.” It doesn’t make a bit of difference that dogs running free are happy, unhindered by emotional distress and perfectly pleased with being unconfined – and not long for this world. What is the behavioral effect responsible for their devil-may-care love of running free? Make sure you are sitting down when you read this. Positive reinforcement kills them. The novel experiences of running free set them up to be DOA – dead on asphalt – or poisoned, or killed by another dog or so lost they never get home. Devotees of positive reinforcement don’t accept this fact. They try to squirm their way out by saying that this is an abuse of the tool. In reality it is identical to a vicious trainer killing a dog in training. They are both examples of abuse. Both end in violence and brutal, traumatic damage. Is a dog hung by a choke chain somehow more mangled than a dog hit by a Ford F-150? Having picked up hundreds of DOA dogs but never having seen a dog killed in training I can only offer one side of that question. Cars mangle dogs. The ones killed outright are the lucky ones. The ones that are dismembered usually die horrible deaths.

My next door neighbor’s American Bulldog loved them so much that one day, when they piled in the car and drove away, he lovingly hit the gate hard enough to spring the latch. They never imagined such a scene because he had never done anything like that before. He loved them because they never punished him for anything. Their relationship was filled with rewards for good behavior. It is my opinion that teaching dogs to stay in the yard even if the gate is wide open is the act of a truly loving owner – even if the methods cause the dog transitory fear, distress and discomfort. The alternative is to cause the dog immense fear, pain, discomfort and possibly death by not using aversive control to inhibit escaping. Aye, there’s the rub.


6 thoughts on “The Permissive Path to Death and Destruction: There’s the rub.

  1. I sorta undertand where you’re coming from. least around here, much more dogs trained with a big amount of punishment die in traffic accidents than those ones that are trained with minimal use of positive punishment. In fact I don’t think the subset of people who are trying (trying…) to train most things with positive reinforcement and without aversives is that big and relevant.

    Even when punished, the dog can fail to obey. I’ve seen it so many times with hunting dogs, that are trained with a lot of punishment (much larger intensities than a bonker…shock collars at highest setting, regular beatings with the heeling stick…) and still they ignore sometimes a command and end up getting crossed by a train or a car.

    Did you never experience deadly accidents with “punished” dogs?

    • Chihuahua,.
      It is positive reinforcement in the absence of contingent punishment that kills more dogs than any other formula. I spent 8 years either actively picking up dead dogs off the street or loading them in a bin after an animal control officer picked them up. How do you think a dog gets loose? Is it punishment that causes them to run free? Is it some form of punishment that causes millions of dogs to die on the streets?

      One other point. You are using the term punishment apart from its purpose – to suppress behavior. That a dog ignores a command means the punishment was not applied correctly for failure to come when called. So, rephrase your last question as “Did you ever experience deadly accidents when owners attempted to punish their dogs?” That would be comparable to “did you ever experience people who died when they attempted to apply the brakes?” Any tool must be judged in the context of its proper use. Abuse is not an argument against that proper use. So, do you suggest that punishment, done correctly, should never be used to stop dogs from dangerous, potentially fatal behavior? What do you offer as an alternative?

      • “. So, do you suggest that punishment, done correctly, should never be used to stop dogs from dangerous, potentially fatal behavior?”

        Not at all! Why do you think that? I think all quadrants should be used consciously, in order to provide the best solution available for each dog (and their owners).

        Just saying, that at least here, far more dogs are dying in accidents or get put to sleep, that were trained with punishment than dogs of owners, than owners that are trying to use “positive reinforcement in the absence of contingent punishment”.

        This is also such small minority (undoubtedly existing ) that follows an “only positive” clicker ideology… just have seen very few people that had a dog that was in question for euthansia due to bite incidentst that were trained from the beginning on with lots of reinforcement with marker training and only a minimal use of aversives. Besides that lots of these dogs here have a very low frustration tolerance and are a pain in the ass, they seldom cause large damage.

        This happens (here) mainly with dogs, that have been abused, misstreated, neglected or due to a serious medical problem.

        • Go back and read the post. The widespread antipathy toward using aversive control is based purely on supposition. I asked for stats – no such stats exist. I also proposed a conclusive statement – that the most lethal formula for training is positive reinforcement in the absence of punishment for anti-social and dangerous behavior. What happens “here” doesn’t tell me anything as I have no idea where “here” is, for you.

        • Chihuahua,
          “This is also such small minority (undoubtedly existing ) that follows an “only positive” clicker ideology…”
          Unless you are not in the US, Canada, England, France, Germany, Italy or Switzerland, your statement is inaccurate. It is not a small minority. It is a very vocal and combative number – probably about 40% of trainers, whether they use a clicker or not.

    • Training a hunting dog using a shock collar at the highest setting or beating it with a heeling stick is not training. That is abuse. I have three hunting dogs trained with ecollar and on occasion heeling sticks (not used to beat but to reinforce the heel position) and they come when called and are safe when we go out hunting. Just because a person uses a training tool does not mean that they have trained their dog. It takes a lot of time and patience.

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