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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