You, Your Dog, And Consequences

By Sean O’Shea
What happens after you get a speeding ticket? What happens after your doctor tell you your cholesterol is dangerously high? What happens when your spouse threatens to leave because of your behavior? What happens when your accountant tells you you’ve spent far more than you earned?

Well, if any of the above matter to you, a couple things will happen. One, it’ll create some fear (what might happen if I don’t change this or it happens again?). Two, it should create some serious contemplation (Perhaps this choice/action, even if I’ve enjoyed it in the short term, doesn’t serve me in the long run). Three, it should create some future better choices (if the consequence matters, it should cause you to choose a better, more healthy choice next time).

All of the above are communications about behavior, and their possible consequences. Consequences that are the result of our choices and actions. And they serve a purpose. Their purpose is to remind you that something you’re doing is putting you or your quality of life in danger. And if you look at consequences that way you can view them as gifts – gifts that enable you to reorder, course correct, change behavior that is putting you in harm’s way.

Consequences for your dog should create the same results. Of course the context will be different. They won’t be overspending, eating too many hot fudge sundaes, or racing down the freeway. But they might be bolting out the front door, jumping on people, attacking another dog in the house, barking excessively, counter surfing, guarding their food, pulling like crazy on the walk, or destroying stuff in the house. And all these behaviors impact your dog’s overall quality of life as well as yours.

Dogs get hit by cars every day for bolting, and dogs are returned to shelters every day for jumping, barking, guarding, destruction etc. Dogs also die every day from obstructions from eating things they shouldn’t. This is real stuff.

But in our current dog owning culture, consequences are things that are deeply frowned upon. They’re things that many purport to be dangerous to your dog’s mental and emotional well being, as well as detrimental to your relationship. Best to ignore the bad and reinforce the good, right? But what if life treated us the same way? What if the policeman ignored your speeding but offered you a “Nice job!” when he saw you driving appropriately? What if your doctor ignored your cholesterol count but said “Good work, you lost two pounds.”? What if your spouse ignored your inability to manage your anger and stress, but said “You were lovely tonight” when you didn’t explode for a change? What if your accountant ignored your spending issues but said “Nice work on only spending 5k over your budget rather than the usual 10k”?

What would happen is that, instead of receiving the gravity of the communication of what your actions are creating (and the danger they’re putting you in), you’d be allowed to believe things aren’t as dire or serious as they actually are. And that absence of clearly conveyed consequence for unhealthy behavior would put you directly in harm’s way. By not being direct about what is okay and what isn’t. By ignoring the truth of our actions. By prioritizing things feeling “good” rather than true, we’d be setup for impending disaster.

And so it is with our dogs. We don’t clearly let them know what is isn’t okay. We ignore the bad and reward the good. We give our dogs a partial view of the reality, and then they pay the price for that lack of clarity and truth. People recommending you ignore the bad and reward the good are people who aren’t connecting reality – universal reality. The reality of the beauty of consequences. The beauty of knowing clearly what is acceptable, heathy, wanted, and what is not allowed, dangerous, and totally unacceptable.

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  1. Van Bers Diane said:

    What sort of consequence can u give a GSD that jumps the fence into the field? She runs up and down the fence line then comes in by either jumping the fence again or pushing the gate aside. We had put a horse braid up and electrified it but she wld hit it mid jump and not be grounded. No she does not have an e collar.

    • I would e-collar train your dog. Then I’d set up the situation and correct it.

  2. tuffy said:

    i love that you are speaking out so well about this–

    in my experience, consequences also provide full respect and freedom to your dog, as well as security (as in the opposite of insecurity)– contrary to what mainstream current dog training thought is.
    something that not a lot of people in the training realm think about is the fact that giving your dog the clear consequences of all their actions allows for your dog to consider, on their own, what THEY would like the outcome to be. and we as owners/trainers are also giving them the freedom to make that choice. knowing they can control their ‘destiny’ gives a sense of security; knowing that they WILL always receive a consequence for undesired behavior paradoxically gives them more security in their life with you, and makes them respect you more as a *reliable* being they can count on for ever-n-ever.

    Nature, the ultimate consequence giver, does the same. IMHO, that’s why this works so well. i always say, the farther away from Nature we humans go, the more we lose touch with what does and doesn’t work in dog training, or any training, (as well as in agriculture, and environmental/ecological disciplines i might add ;).

    IMHO, dogs and other domestics, but particularly dogs because they live so closely with us, are the last intimate, interactive contact many of us humans have with how Nature works. it’s a reality check. learning about that through training one’s dog with full consequences is really a gift.

    but what do you do about the effects of the no-consequence culture of training?
    it wouldn’t be a problem if full consequence/’balanced training’ training weren’t misunderstood and judged so harshly by the no-consequencers and people in that camp; but they are–often severely and unfairly–in person, in the media, on Facebook, Twitter, etc. it can be difficult to train one’s dog in public with a choke or a prong collar–never mind an e-collar…people can object vociferously and severely to corrections.
    i try to ignore and concentrate on my job at hand. but it doesn’t always work…

    what works?
    (besides handing hecklers the leash of the badly behaved dog and telling them to ”go to it!” LOL! nah, that could be dangerous..)

    • Thanks for the great comment Tuffy! Appreciate it and all the shared insights. There’s some great info in your comment. 🙂

      • tuffy said:

        …and in your blog–as always. thanks again-

  3. Excellent analogy, Sean! I wish more people would realize that consequences and discipline do not have to – and shouldn’t under any circumstance – include screaming at, kicking, or hitting their dog when it behaves inappropriately. Consequences can be as simple as making sure a dog maintains a down command after excitedly jumping on its owner. And if done with the right tone of voice, it’s not going to hurt the dog’s feelings.

    • tuffy said:

      Lol- oh my goodness-
      ‘screaming, kicking, hitting’ and other Emotion-Filled Actions, aren’t appropriate consequences in ANY training regime. those actions would be termed ‘raging, manipulation, emotional blackmail, abuse’, etc-
      in my experience, the less emotion your correction has in it the more effective it is–which is one reason why correctly used e-collars work so well-
      as far as hurt feelings, when you trip and fall over that broken step because you neglected to fix it, you don’t get your feelings hurt by the step or the consequence of falling; you simply patch yourself up and realize that you need to make better choices next time and fix that step ASAP :). hence, unemotional ”brick wall” corrections.

  4. I loved this blog Sean!! You have such an excellent way of communicating your values!! Keep them coming!! Huge fan here 🙂

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