This morning was a good morning but yesterday was pretty bad, for me the dog trainer and the human.

I spend a good amount of my working time trying to convince people that they do not need to use punishment or physical force to train their dog. It often feels like an uphill battle. Sometimes I simply lose my patience trying to persuade people of this ALL THE TIME. Frankly, it can be exhausting.

This week, the Adrian Peterson (Minnesota Vikings) thing happened. The story broke about Peterson “disciplining” his FOUR-year-old child with a switch. The boy had cuts and bruises on his legs, buttocks and scrotum. I saw the photo (I wish I hadn’t) and lost it. I was sad, furious and broken-hearted all at the same time. Tears flowed. At the beginning of the week Peterson was “disciplined” by being banned from playing one game. That was it.

I thought to myself it’s no wonder I have to keep convincing people that they do not need to use a physical “correction” to get their dog to comply because people think this type of “discipline” of a child is OK! How can I possibly convince people not to use punishment on their DOG when society says it’s ok to do this to a CHILD? Do I think Adrian Peterson is a child abuser? I have no idea. I don’t know the guy. My hope is he simply didn’t know any better. He has said this was how he was disciplined as a child and he attributes much of his success as a football player to this method. If Peterson is such a talented player, my guess is he would have been just as successful (and dare I say, maybe even more so) without being beaten with a switch as a child. There are so many other (positive, humane, kind) ways to motivate animals (dogs and human!) that work incredibly well without using any physical force.

This was all so depressing to me. Thankfully a couple of things happened in the last 12 hours that are giving me hope… for starters, this morning the Vikings decided to ban Peterson from the team until his case was concluded. I’m sure this happened because of financial pressure from sponsors but I don’t care, whatever it takes. Also, yesterday at my last appointment of the night I met a wonderful couple and their one-year old Pit Bull at a pre-reactive dog class evaluation.

These folks had been using a well-known (to remain unnamed) dog training franchise that uses dominance/punishment based techniques and “frowns upon” using treats/food in training (yes, my stomach goes into knots just typing that). It wasn’t working (huh?) so these folks ended up with me (hurray!). This lovely young dog walked in on a pinch collar but he also walked in with two open-minded humans who were ready to try something new. THIS makes me happy. Our evaluation is supposed to last 30 minutes but we went closer to an hour and that was totally fine by me. I would have spent 10 hours with them.

Can punishment work? Sure, it can (it can also have lots of problems, backfire and have dangerous fallout that I will not go into here). BUT… even if punishment does “work,” is that the relationship you want with your dog (or child)? I’m sure if I spanked my 7-year old son he would “do what I say” but I don’t want my child, or dog, to “behave” because they fear me. I want them to do what I ask of them because they trust me. I want them to know I have their best interests in my head and heart and to the best of my power, would never lead them into harm.  I want my child and my dog to know I am their safe place, their ambassador. If they are unsure, nervous or afraid (as many of the dogs in reactive dog class are) I want them to know they can look to me and I will help them.

Maybe I live on another planet with all this crazy talk but I sure hope not. Fortunately, I do sometimes see glimmers of change. My son changed elementary schools this year and the new public school has implemented a school-wide “positive discipline” program. Last year my son was in another public school in the same neighborhood and endured a chaotic classroom where his teacher yelled at kids all day (NOT effective for learning or behavior change by the way). One of the first things my son mentioned at the start of school this year was how his teacher “never raised her voice” yet the class was so well behaved. Go figure. Oh, and speaking of football, how about Seattle’s own Superbowl Champion Seahawks’ coach Pete Carroll and his positive methods. THIS is a coach and a teacher. From a Seattle Times article August 2014:

Carroll’s positive makeup, the way he deals with players and coaches, serves a practical purpose: to eliminate doubt and fear, two poisons that can erode performance. Everything Carroll says and does is aimed like a missile at dismissing those two variables.

I hope for his son’s sake, Adrian Peterson gets educated on more humane and effective ways to discipline his child. They exist. I hope Coach Carroll continues to coach his team to many more championships using positive motivation to get there. For my clients, I can’t wait for them to start using a method that doesn’t use any physical force. I can’t wait for them to see how much fun they are going to have with their dog. I can’t wait for them to have a totally different relationship with their dog. That will be awesome.

“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” – Maya Angelou


A boy and his dog
A boy and his dog

Danette Johnston, CPDT-KA


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