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Compassion in Rescue

Much has been made in the past five or so years of the different styles of dog training. When it comes to rescue, training methods are more important because many of the dogs in rescue come with built-in issues, a product of a past that we do not know about. Using punitive training techniques on a dog who has experienced trauma can cause the dog to further regress. These techniques confuse the dog further, moving the opposite direction you are trying to get.

CC image courtesy of jo_beets on Flickr

The central misconception of these punitive or dominant techniques often seen on TV revolve around the question “What is punishment for a dog?” Punitive techniques punish a dog for breaking an arbitrary human rule (jumping up, pulling on leash, etc.) with a correction involving pain or with the human asserting dominance over the dog, suggesting that punishment should be scary or painful. 


The definition of punishment is “a stimulus that reduces the immediately preceding behaviour such that it is less likely to occur in the future.”  

Modernmore humanedog-training techniques interpret this definition simply as not rewarding bad behaviour. This can be difficult and tests an owner’s patience and involves a great deal of compassion and understanding. To be successful at this method, you have to remember, contrary to what you may sometimes believe, the dog does not wish to upset you.
cc image courtesy of Brian.Mo on Flickr

The simplest example is of a dog that jumps up on you. The dog is trying to get your attention and has learned that the most effective way to get people’s attention is to body-check them. So when you yell, push and react to this behaviour, the dog has succeeded in his or her main goal of getting your attention.


As every volunteer at TAGS comes to learn, rescue dogs can come with very difficult pasts. We will never know what most dogs have experienced. Judging by the fear that they exhibit when you lift a pop can or unroll a garden hose, you begin to paint a picture, and it is no Rembrandt. 

Many of the fearful behaviours we see in rescue were instilled in these dogs because of techniques based on a misinterpretation of punishment. And I would like to stress that fear is often displayed as aggression

For those of you out there who have dogs, it can be difficult to reward good behaviour and easy to just react to bad behaviour. After all, a well-behaved dog can be hard to notice when you’re being body-checked by an 80-pound Lab.  

CC image courtesy of OakleyOriginals on Flickr




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