Treated Like a Dog

This is the most difficult story that I have ever written.  Repeatedly I have deleted the words.  They take me to a place I am not comfortable with.  A dark, painful place, it remains only in the memories of my childhood.

Growing up, I had a father who believed in discipline.  That discipline was coupled with strict religious values.  Rules were clear.  Men, women and children held traditional values and roles.  Wives and children should submit.  The man was head of the house.  Spare the rod and you spoiled the child.  That rod was literal.

Dog lovers who know my work probably have already realized that the word “submit” alludes to where I am going with this story.  Submission and dominance are two concepts commonly used in dog training.  Forced to submit while growing up, I feel safe saying that I can verbalize what if feels like to be a dog.

Physical discipline has at its core an honest motive.  I truly believe those who use it, genuinely believe they are acting in the child or dog’s best interest.  Many expressions support this idea.  I heard them all, and I heard them often.  The words would echo in my ears, “This hurts me more than it hurts you.  But you have to learn.”  As I grow older, I truly believe that people who use physical discipline really have never learned an alternative solution, or have not learned that alternative well enough.

As a child, I really do not think I was a danger to society or to myself.  In other words, physical punishment was not given to stop a dangerous situation.  I was, however, an independent thinker.  Independent thinkers are not well regarded in homes or churches ruled by male authority figures.

Control, through submission is all about fear mongering.  Parents use physical punishment because they fear that harm will befall their children.  Perceived as serving a greater good, force is justified.

That is the perception of the adult and it is a naive one.

Some children and wives may submit to authority.  Others do not.  Anyone with a backbone learns to misbehave behind the backs of authority figures.  School officials would be shocked to learn that all the forms signed by my dad had forged signatures.  I wanted to go on class field trips.   I wanted to take part in activities and sports.  They were not allowed, so I forged signatures and went regardless.

When my dad caught on, it meant greater supervision, which I rallied against.  Surprise visits and inspections became the norm.  It meant that I always had to be on guard.

Living under rigid structure and rules coupled with the threat of negative consequences leads to strong emotions.  I identify with three.

Anxiety grips you at the pit of your stomach, leaving you in a perpetual state of heightened awareness.  The tentacles of fear take over your muscles, clenching them repeatedly until they spasm.  Each step you take, you look over your shoulder, fully expecting that someone is watching and waiting for you to fail.  Inevitably, the punishment comes.  “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, please don’t hit me,” does not work because spoiling the rod is equated with spoiling the child.

Coupled with that is a sense of relief.  It comes when you realize that you have passed or met expectations.  When it happens, you smile.  Do not mistake that smile for pride, joy or love.  Trust me – it is relief.  Inside you feel like a quivering, grateful and groveling mess.  “Thank you, oh thank you for being pleased with me.”

Those reading might wonder why people do not just leave or call the police.  Because for the most part, it is legal, and the church took painstaking efforts in educating parents on how to hit their children legally.

Turning to authorities for help triggers the third and final emotion of rage.  Begging and pleading for help (please make it stop) fails.  I stood there and listened as the police officers chastised my mom and me.  “You need to be more submissive.  You need to be a better wife.  You need to obey your dad.”  When this happens, when no one listens, you take matters into your own hands.  In the heat of the moment, when your spirit is broken and have no say over your own life, you take your life back through force.

Eventually I grew up, as all children do.  I can say with absolute certainty that rules, boundaries and discipline did not keep me safe.  I rebelled.   For the first time in my life, I felt I had wings.  Like Icarus, perhaps there were times I flew too close to the sun, crashing to the sea below.

I share this story because I see many parallels between force based dog training and cult based religion.  They claim that lack of discipline and physical correction spoils the dog.  Owners fear remote and unrealistic dire consequences.  “If you don’t correct the dog, it will run into traffic and die…jump on grandma and knock her over…maul babies and children…kill other dogs.”  Exaggerated worst case scenarios justify the use of force.

When dogs misbehave, owners are encouraged to supervise consistently.  Some trainers recommend tethering (umbilical cording) the dog to their waist.  With the alpha human always looming by ever so closely, every transgression is seen and disciplined with a jerk of the leash, a smack to the nose, a pinch on the ear.

As with spanking, the legal definition of dog abuse allows many of these practices to continue.  Dogs can neither complain nor consent.  People who advocate for the animals have their concerns dismissed.  Hitting is often within the bounds of the law. I think the law is wrong and needs to change.  Just as I retaliated and rebelled, research shows that physical discipline triggers aggression in dogs.  It does not take a rocket scientist to see that many dogs would bite when hit.

Some people claim that physical discipline is necessary and effective.  Others say it teaches the dog to respect the owner.  They point to heavy-handed trainers and owners with happy dogs.

Let me very clearly clarify.  Yes, forcing someone to submit can get them to comply – until they have enough and snap.  That is not respect.  I think dogs trained with force are relieved when owners are calm because the alternative is punishment.  That is not love or even like.  Once the dog figures out that the owner is associated with discipline, we really shouldn’t be surprised when they snap.

I will concede that I may never know exactly what a dog thinks or feels.  However, I do know what it is like to be forced to submit.  I cannot understand how any woman or minority who has fought for equal rights could not see the parallels and the offensiveness of the concept.

If I have one hope, it is that people reading this stop for one second and think what it is like to be the dog.  In the future, perhaps, I will pull the Band-Aid off the wounds of my past a bit further and talk about the dog that was forced to submit along with me.

43 thoughts on “Treated Like a Dog

  1. Popsicles and rainbows? I rely on scientific evidence. I think your questions have been answered. I haven’t seen any twisting into other questions. The pack leader approach is based on false science and if you were truly looking for answers, you would have uncovered that in your research. But, I really have nothing more to say because in the land of popsicles and rainbows there is one rule to follow…don’t feed the trolls.

    • You may be surprised to know that Patricia McConnell, a well-known +R proponent, has a book entitled “How to be the Leader of the Pack”. Other proponents of +R training also advocate that you assume the leadership role. But I guess the real scientists have proven that letting your dog run the show works best.

      And Pat Miller, in her book about positive dog training, has a short chapter on the question of +P. She cites an example where she felt compelled to use punishment (a cap gun that scared the dog to get it to stop chasing horses). Even elsewhere in these blogs there is a more nuanced attempt to grapple with the question of +P.

      The question of whether to use fear, pain, and violence on a dog to train it is not really interesting because every decent, humane person agrees that the answer is NO. And the answer to the question about whether we should forcibly compel our dogs to submit to us using physical and mental violence is also (almost) universally NO. So there is not much point in discussing this since we all agree, yet the discussion keeps coming back to it.

      The interesting questions, and the ones I’m getting at, are:

      1) Can using some (pain-free and harmless) forms of +P or -R make training faster and more effective?

      2) Can we be leaders to our dogs without resorting coercion?

      Apparently, the answers to these questions on this forum are: (1) absolutely no form of aversive stimulus can be used ever because this will destroy the dog; and (2) you can’t be a leader to your dog without being mean-spirited, overbearing, and physically violent. I guess there is ironclad scientific evidence to support these positions.

      • First – I don’t recall any of your two points being made. It wasn’t the intent of the initial blog and I’m not sure too many other people too it that way. I said “physical punishment” in the initial blog. Which is used by many trainers. The “pin your dog and don’t quit even if it urinates and defecates.” In a pretty recent book among many others.
        Asking if we can use “pain-free and harmless” forms of P+ and R- is a trick question because you built an assumption into it. First you’d have to show me that the technique is “Painfree and harmless.” Many research studies show that many training techniques trigger aggression. If you have proof of these “harmless” techniques, please share.
        As for leadership. I’m a big believer that leaders command respect – not demand it. So, the second I hear that the dog “has to learn to respect,” it makes me roll my eyes. Not that you said it. But it is a common expression. It’s like hearing a boss or parent say the employee or child must learn to respect. And I know the internal dialoge that happens in that situation. “Respect? Not. I’ll do what you want if I have to.” I don’t think that’s a healthy relationship.
        If you’re asking if I am all R+? No. I’m not sure that type of world exists. I do use P-, rarely and only on appropriate dogs and with an appropriate behaviour already taught. I set boundaries. And I try to behave in a way that my kid, husband…pets want to respect me.
        You won’t get any disagreement in me that we have to be leaders. The question is, “Does the student think you’re a good leader? Or are they rolling their eyes?” Anyone who doesn’t consider that and prevent it and assumes they can demand respect I think is seriously kidding themselves.
        Will get the psych quote in another post on the rules of punishment. Have to look it up. Will get to it tonight.

  2. Dawn,

    Congratulations. But your dog is different from mine. In fact, it is unique. I’ve had difficult dogs that respond very well to +R (I think that is what you meant, and not +P) so I’m not knocking that approach (though I use treats very sparingly). My current dog is much different, though. Just because you’ve trained one dog with a particular approach doesn’t mean that you can train all dogs effectively with that same approach. That’s the fallacy underlying your implicit criticism of me.

    I don’t consider myself an expert. Far from it. It just bothers me when people equate discipline and corrections with torture and subjugation. This leads to an intellectually dishonest argument about an important topic in dog training. Many popular advocates of +R training understand the need for occasional +P, though they are talking about mildly aversive and completely harmless stimulus. They also recommend that you become the “pack leader”, though they don’t mean “fear-mongering dictator” as suggested above.

    I say I wasted money on behaviorists because they wouldn’t observe the behavior first-hand and participate in the treatment. Clearly, I don’t have it all figured out. I was seeking help. But I’m not so stupid as to think you can assess a dogs behavior by listening passively to me describe it (I am untrained at behavioral observation). Also, one +R “behaviorist” advised me to put my dog on Prozac without once observing my dogs behavior. That’s how he treats severely reactive and/or aggressive dogs. Want his number?

    I keep asking because my questions are never addressed; They are twisted into other questions that imply that I’m considering physical abuse against my dog. And sometimes people like you just feel the need to judge me because I don’t believe in the land of popsicles and rainbows where all behavioral issues are resolved with rewards.

    • Rules of Punishment from “Psychology – Wortman, Loftus, Weaver, Atkinson” First year phych text for university.
      p 207. “Inhibition of the problem behavior is apt to be only temporary unless punishment is immediate, consistently applied, and severe (see Table 6-1).
      p 208 table 6-1 Four General “Laws of Punishment”
      1 The more intense the punishment, the better the conditiong.
      2 The great the number of trials in which a behavior and a punishment are paired, the greater the learning (provided the punishment is of sufficient intensity).
      3 The shorter the delay between the behavior and the punishment, the more effective the punishment.
      4 Punishment is more effective when the contingency between behavior and punishment is high (that is, when a behavior always results in punishment).

      • I initially recoiled from the content of the above post and wanted to argue against those rules. But if considered dispassionately, I’d have to agree with the four rules. Consider:

        1) Makes sense that the worse the consequences the less likely the behavior will be repeated. You usually don’t see kids stick their hands in fire or play with bees more than once. And I don’t know of any dogs that went after porcupines or skunks after the their first encounter.

        2) If the punishment isn’t so severe that the subject repeats the behavior, the more consistently undesirable results that are experienced the stronger the association of behavior with bad outcome. Think about that lame boyfriend or girlfriend that always let your down; It may have taken a while but we eventually learn.

        3) Clearly, the shorter the delay between action and consequence, especially for animals incapable of making logical connections, the more obvious the connection. This also applies to +R where the connection between good behavior and reward is strongest when the reward is delivered immediately.

        4) Consistency of results leaves no doubt as to the outcome. If you are occasionally rewarded for bad behavior (say, a free meal from the counter or a pocket full of cash for stealing) you may not be dissuaded from repeating the behavior. It becomes a risk that you are sometimes willing to take, like gambling.

        So this all makes sense to me. The question is really about the severity of the punishment required to condition against the behavior. The severity probably only has to exceed the desirability of performing the behavior or the perceived reward of the behavior. Applying this to conditioning a dog against certain behavior, the severity of the punishment must be weighed against the consequences of the dog repeating the behavior.

        If the behavior threatens the health or life of the dog you would likely condone more severe punishment than if the behavior was merely annoying. Keep in mind also what the rules of punishment imply: no punishment resulting from the behavior means the subject is not conditioned against the behavior at all and is likely to repeat it. This could possibly result in injury or death if the behavior has potentially grave consequences (like chasing cars, horses, etc).

        If one were to use some form of +P, one thing I would be careful not to do is have your dog perceive you as the one administering punishment. There are two reasons for that: (1) you don’t want your pet to associate you with bad things and adversely effect your relationship, and (2) you want your dog to associate the negative consequences with the behavior itself so that he/she is conditioned against the behavior whether or not you are around (you can’t always be there to redirect).

        Anyway, I’m just thinking this through for the first time so I’m open to counterarguments.

  3. I think you are letting your particular personal experience, and your psychological response to it, drive your understanding of all relationships and the responsibilities of a guide (parent/trainer) to those in their care (children/pets). I have several issues with how your experience has shaped your views/approach to training.

    1) You present a false dichotomy. To you, training is a choice between positive reinforcement only or positive punishment in the form of physical abuse. If I equated positive reinforcement to spoiling, pitying and coddling you may not be supportive of it. Similarly, when you equate positive punishment and discipline with physical abuse I’m against it. But positive punishment in the lexicon of operant conditioning only means the addition of a stimulus that causes the behavior to occur less frequently. Presumably the subject is averse to the stimulus and doesn’t want to experience it, but the stimulus need not be painful or harmful.

    2) You define “correction” as pain, violence, and forced coercion. A correction is, more generally, communicating that the behavior is not desirable/acceptable to humans and/or other dogs. People correct other people, dogs correct other dogs, and dogs correct people…why can’t people correct dogs (fairly and humanely)? At least theoretically, isn’t training aided by additional modes of communication (“yes, that’s good” and “no, that’s bad”)? Using all modes of communication you can inhibit bad behavior and encourage good behavior.

    3) There is a difference between the general notion of setting rules and boundaries and administering discipline and the single specific approach to doing so that you relate from your childhood. Because rules and boundaries can be unfair and/or poorly communicated, and because discipline can be administered in a cruel manner doesn’t mean that all rule setting is bad and any form of discipline inhumane and soul-destroying.

    You say that “submission and dominance are two concepts commonly used in dog training.” I’m not sure how you define submission and dominance, but I have not encountered a trainer that espouses such things. I have spoken to and read articles/books by trainers that employ aversive stimulus to communicate when an action is not what is desired (even in books by advocates of positive reinforcement only training).

    I’d be interested in training methods that use positive punishment (+P) or negative reinforcement (-R) that are effective and generally acceptable to avowed dog lovers. One example of +P is to pat your dog lightly on the head if he/she nudges your hand for attention (dogs generally don’t like head pats). Another would be the tension on a head collar when your dog pulls while walking on a leash. An example of negative reinforcement would be when your dog barks incessantly at you until you give him/her affection, a treat, or something else that it wants.

    • No, I don’t think I ever equated P+ with abuse. I expressed my experience with submission.
      However, the rules of learning state that for punishment to be effective, it needs to be immediate and severe. But that’s not my rules or opinion. That’s just the way it works. Mild P+, I tend to equate that with nagging – ineffective nagging.
      As for my personal parenting style, I’m actually quite firm. I never said I didn’t believe in rules and boundaries. Actually, I’m pretty sure I’ve always maintained that research into parenting shows 3 types of styles. The most effective is full of love and positive without spoiling and coddling. (Baumrind) I think the same would apply to dogs, but no research to back that up.
      What I think I was trying to drive home is that no one can ever say that a punishment was mild or humane – unless you are the person receiving it.
      The question becomes, where do boundaries turn into control and abuse. I think giving a timeout to a dog with separation anxiety is horrifically cruel. It’s not always the method. It’s considering that you really cannot assume that a technique is or is not cruel. I throw a child in the pool and they scream with joy. I throw another kid in a pool and they panic. Fun or cruel? You have to ask or assume that you might make the wrong choice.
      As for dominance and submission, I’m pretty sure you’ll find quite a lot of material out there on alpha dogs and pack leaders and “the dog must submit.” Try a google search. It’s an idea that has become so prevalent that the researcher who coined the term “alpha wolf” now refuses to say it because it’s been applied incorrectly. (Mech)

      • I disagree with the declaration: “rules of learning state that for punishment to be effective, it needs to be immediate and severe”. You say you disagree as well but then go on to say that those are “the rules” as if we have to accept them, and argue against them. Whose rules are these and do they even require a counterargument? Since you say that you disagree, what punishment do you think is acceptable and effective?

        I agree that what is innocuous to one dog may be traumatic to another; but to say that because some dogs find it traumatic you cannot apply it to any dog is ridiculous. There is bound to be a dog out there somewhere for whom any given action is going be traumatic, which would leave no options if you’re bound to take absolutely no chances. Affection is traumatic for some dogs. Would you counsel never to pet or caress any dog? Of course, this is absurd, but it is the logical conclusion of your reasoning.

        I would say that you need to understand your particular dog and apply reinforcements/rewards and punishments/discipline that:

        1) Promote emotional and psychological well-being in the dog
        2) Foster the proper leader/follower relationship between person and dog
        3) Teach the dog to obey basic, useful, and sometimes lifesaving obedience commands

        The goal is not just to achieve the behavior you want, but for the dog to understand that certain behavior is good and other behavior bad and that following your guidance will make him happy and, by extension, not following your guidance may very well have negative consequences (not necessarily inflicted or controlled by the owner). Teaching a dog that certain behavior may have a negative consequence by using an aversive stimulus may later save the dog serious pain or death.

        I believe your dog must accept you as leader in order to function effectively and to be happy in the human-centric world we live in. You understand how this world works, what is safe and what is dangerous, what leads to happiness and what leads to pain and sorrow. The dog does not understand any of this and never will. Furthermore, drawing parallels between your childhood experience and a dog’s training is misguided. Parents should teach there children to successfully function independently. You train your dog for a happy and safe lifetime in your charge.

        To deny the responsibility of being your dog’s leader is detrimental to your dog. Of course, if you equate leadership with physically-imposed dictatorship then we aren’t even speaking the same language. I hear others speak of being “pack leaders” but they don’t fit your description at all. They seek acceptance as leaders by establishing trust with their dogs. They understand that a dog’s well-being and happiness depend on the owner assuming responsibility for the dog’s care and actions, which can only happen if the dog accepts the person’s leadership position.

        • Now we see why your dog doesn’t respond to your requests to stop a behaviour immediately. You started by asking questions on how to get your dog to comply, but you obviously consider yourself an expert. So why ask?

          I am only a layperson, but my dogs respond to my requests instantly, even when told to stop while in pursuit of a wild rabbit. They have been trained with P+ only. There was no need to escalate aversives from collar corrections to spray bottles in order “to get their attention”. I have their attention at all times because I fostered it.

          You say you wasted your money seeing a behaviourist who suggested patience. Perhaps you were wasting their time, because you seem to believe you have it all figured out.

  4. Reblogged this on The Sand County and commented:
    I read this and I cannot get it out of my mind. There is so much here that is so eloquent, so insightful, so beautifully put and that appeals to so many of my beliefs, values, and the causes that I subscribe to that I just had to share this with everyone. What I think comes through here, so clearly and compassionately, is that if we don’t love, respect, and honour one another and all the life and lives around us then all we have left is brutality, pain, sickness. I give this my strongest possible endorsement.

  5. Yvette, this is deeply moving. There are so many things I want to say in response to this (all of them supportive of what you have said and what you have shared). I grew up with abuse too (though not from my parents, fortunately). What you said here expresses my beliefs and my wishes exactly:

    “I will concede that I may never know exactly what a dog thinks or feels. However, I do know what it is like to be forced to submit. I cannot understand how any woman or minority who has fought for equal rights could not see the parallels and the offensiveness of the concept.

    “If I have one hope, it is that people reading this stop for one second and think what it is like to be the dog. In the future, perhaps, I will pull the Band-Aid off the wounds of my past a bit further and talk about the dog that was forced to submit along with me.”

    I have always had a strong identification with animals and I attribute this in no small part to knowing what it is like to be humiliated, made to feel powerless and worthless, and for being made to feel that my independence, my genuine feelings for the world made me a “marked” person. But what has been hardest has been to see my buried feelings come out in my desire, especially at first, to control our dogs to keep them from harm (precisely what you described). I know this comes from my past -I can identify it and I recognize the cues. Your training (and Michelle’s emotional support) has given me a set of tools that have allowed me to follow my heart and my conscience and reject the malevolent pressures we often get from the outside. I hate physical discipline and verbal abuse (not to mention hierarchy) and you have helped me understand my dogs and work with them in a way that is healing for me and allows me to love and honour them the way they fully deserve (I can only wish this for all dogs, for all animals). I can never repay you for that.

    I thought you should know this.

  6. You must also realize that bitches give their puppies swift, harsh physical corrections when they step out of line or behave in an unstable manner. It’s not the physicality that’s the problem, it’s what is motivating it and whether it makes sense to the dog. If it’s about some weird goal of mind control, sure, you can probably get a simulation of that and depending on what kind of dog you are training, you may need more or less of it.

    I was raised by people who reasoned with me and my brother from about age two, never struck us, we were atheists and encouraged to question everything. Still rebelled, still couldn’t wait to get away from my neurotic parent.


    • Did you continue to talk to your parents as you became an adult?
      Most kids rebell to some degree. There’s a difference between that and kids who spend the rest of their lives avoiding their parents or cutting ties altogether.
      And just to be clear, my mother is and has always been awesome. She had rules. She got out. I don’t want to give the impression that I’m talking about both of my parents.

  7. I think the experiences of so many people speak volumes. So many people have written to me over the past 24 hours and told me their stories. Since dogs can’t complain, the only comparison we have are the humans who were in similar positions where they were made to submit. I wish I could take that pain away from everyone.
    The rape point Sara – well said. I remember a particular meeting at the congregation where the topic came up. The men were laughing and commenting. “How can I rape my wife? It’s not possible. It’s her duty.”
    I think, perhaps I’ll write that part two sooner rather than later. Think it’s time to talk about the dog and Kohler.

  8. Children are just as eager to please their parents as dogs are to please their owners. Try watching a child caught in a dispute between their parents try and diplomatically get themselves out and you will understand just how much children aim to please and just how emotionally impactful all of that can be on them.

    Hitting your dog or your child to show them who is “the pack leader” is simply put, abuse. Maybe it’s legal, but that doesn’t make it right. Until the 1980s it was legal to rape your wife. There are lots of things that we as a society need to think long and hard about, and how we treat the vulnerable in society, including children, women, the elderly, and animals, is one of those things where progress and evolution is needed if we truly want to call ourselves compassionate and advanced.

  9. I’m sorry, but although I’m a firm believer in positive training with dogs (and children), I think this article is based on a false premise. For this sick person to equate her sad experiences with what dogs go through is a bit bizarre. First of all, dogs are very anxious to please their owner and will submit as soon as they think they need to , and she testifies to the fact that she knowingly and willingly defied her father. Then when he instructed her as to what she had done wrong, she did it again and again. I’d be very tempted to wack her little butt myself, or have her sent back to the rescue I got her from! As far as positive training goes there is a place for setting limits as well. A strongly voiced NO is usually enough to let any dog know he has crossed a line, AND it IS needed at times. I have seen numerous trainers who subscribe to the “total” positive training thought whose dogs are a wreck with reactive behavior problems because they don’t know who is in charge in the relationship. A dog needs to know who is the pack leader and if it is not YOU, then who do you suppose the dog thinks is in charge?

    • Terry – Please cite your reference that dogs are “anxious to please.” I have yet to see that study. Have asked for it hundreds of times when people make that claim.

      Second – Yes. I defied him. I’d do it again. I got punished for reading Nancy Drew books. Those books showed women to be independent thinkers. That was wrong. The girls in those books had boyfriends and went about…unsupervised! As many parents in religion tell their children, that leads to babies. I was forbidden to do school work. So I did it on the schoolbus. Women should not have careers. I was forbidden to go to college. I did that too. I was forbidden to wear my hair long, as it might be attractive. I was forbidden from speaking to any human being outside the church unless I was attempting to convert them. I would get hit if caught speaking to anyone.

      How DARE you assume that my defiance was wrong. Yup. I read books. I talked to people. I did homework. I went to college.

      I was a HORRIBLE child that deserved it. It’s always the punisher that blames the victim.

      • No. You were NOT a horrible child. And you did NOT deserve to be abused. End of story. You were right to try to be your own person, and you were right to defend yourself in any way possible, and if that “defending” was simply being defiant to keep yourself sane, then it’s great you had the strength to do that.

        Terry: you are WAY off base to blame her for being abused. And, yes, that kind of overbearing control is abuse.

        In regards to the dogs, some dogs need nothing more than a firm ‘No’ and that is all the correction they will ever need. Other dogs couldn’t care less. I taught classes for a couple of years and saw the range from ultra-soft, just look at them cross eyed and the world ends, to dogs that shrugged off just about anything because they were more interested on doing what they wanted to to.

        As for the corrections, I don’t agree that dogs can’t communicate that corrections are unfair / too strong. An aware handler can clearly see how the dog feels by paying attention to body language, vocalization and overall attitude. Whether that correction comes in the form of Positive Punishment or Negative Reinforcement.

    • Terry, abusers always blame the victims. I couldn’t wear my hair short, because according to my fathers beliefs, it was my crowning glory. I was not allowed to wear make-up. I missed prom rather than having my dad drive me and my outstanding date back and forth. What was the punishment for infractions? A fist. A backhand. He put my mother’s face through a window for daring to challenge him on his infidelities. Abusers are abusers and will always rationalize what they do. Some hide behind a religion, some a badge, some the mere fact that they are bigger and meaner is enough. I clearly remember the last time my father attempted to hit me. I was late by 5 minutes coming in and for no sinister reason. He told me to go to my room, I said Yes Sir and made the mistake of slamming the door behind me. I heard him coming, and as he approached, I flipped back on my bed and meaning to kick him in the gut, missed and kicked him lower. Hard. He left without beating me and never hit me again, because he died soon after. All I felt was a sense of relief. Is that the legacy you want to leave to your children?

    • Seriously? You are a firm believer in positive training for children and dogs…yet you then say you would be tempted to wack her little butt. A bit of a paradox, along with being degrading. There is nothing bizarre about the comparisons, if you can’t see the correlation, it is because you are too lost in the pack leader nonsense. Which has absolutely no scientific basis and is just an excuse to make people feel important and superior in their relationship with their dogs

    • I think it is truly heartless to write what you have written. No only have you stated that she deserved to be abused, you have suggested that you would have liked to abuse her as well. That statement right there is a form of verbal abuse and you need to know that.

      I think it is a tragedy that you cannot for a moment understand what dogs go through by being at the mercy of human beings who are often vindicative, cruel, whimsical and open to all kinds of false assumptions, misinformation, and misapprehensions. That is Yvette’s point. Human beings can act with impunity against dogs and, when they have the cooperation of the police, the churches, or any other institution at their disposal they can turn on others they want to control. To be abused is to be made to feel completely at the mercy of others. Dogs, as I think you are willing to admit, are completely at the mercy of their owners.

      If you can’t make the connection here that is due to your own limitations, not the author’s. And what is more, how DARE you call her a “sick person.” I can only marvel at someone who would have the temerity to read this piece and then write something like that.

  10. Thank you for this. I grew up with a mentally ill parent, every moment of my life determined by his ever shifting and often bizarre moods. I was never happy, only relieved if he praised me instead of screaming at me, which was rare.

    Trainers who use force, like parents who spank, have such a sad mindset. They’re always looking for failure to punish instead of success to praise. It destroys your self esteem to be always punished and never praised. I see it in myself and I see it in my rescue dog, who, when he came to me, would curl up like a dead bug if you told him to sit, clearly awaiting violent punishment for his failures.

    How anyone could see that as good is beyond me.

    • “Trainers who use force, like parents who spank, have such a sad mindset. They’re always looking for failure to punish instead of success to praise.”
      Completely untrue. Again, you are confusing ABUSE with fair, balanced rewards and consequences. Apples and oranges – for people and dogs.

      • Sorry, you don’t get to choose how much pain another creature gets to be in. What you call “fair” your dog may well consider abusive, only he can’t talk.

      • To quote Karen Pryor, ” the strength of the aversive can only be judged by the recipient. What the trainer may consider to be mild may be seen by the trainee as blisteringly severe.”

  11. Very well written, and I sympathize with what you went through. However, there is a VERY big difference between being punished and being abused. From your descriptions, you lived through abuse. I can count on one hand the number of times I was physically punished when I was growing up. Every time it was deserved, and it didn’t make me afraid of my mom, it made me clearly aware of the line I had crossed. And I never crossed it again (in the same way.)

    FAIR punishment doesn’t cause fear, anxiety or hatred. But the key here is fair. Your father was not fair, you should not have had to be subversive to be happy. That’s an awful way to live. When punishment is not fair, that’s when backlash happens.

    • As a society if we hit our spouses it is called ASSAULT. Yet people continue to justify committing these acts against those in our society who are the most vulnerable. I will never understand how a fair and compassionate society can view something as FAIR against those who can’t speak for themselves but a criminal act against adults who have their own voice.

      • When I was 16 I got in a HUGE argument with my mother. In the course of the yelling somehow “F#$k YOU” came out of my mouth. She slapped me across the face – and I deserved it. I sure was angry, and I remember how much I hated her at that moment. However, I also knew that I had gone WAY over the line. There is a difference between discipline and abuse – a huge difference.

        When people, or dogs for that matter, know that there are consequences – FAIR consequences – for their actions, they can make a decision. Is the possible negative consequence worth the risk of getting in trouble? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. So you make that decision and then deal with the consequence.

  12. I was nodding along with everything you said. I have had my own fallout from being punished. I think that every organism responds to punishment differently. .For some, they may take it in stride and become happily compliant, for others (like me), they become afraid and very sensitive, for still others, they may re-direct the aggression onto others who are smaller/weaker than they (this was also me), and then there is the one who snaps and will strike back.

    And, yes, I too, had a dog who had to endure things right along with me. We hung out a lot together. I think we comforted each other.

  13. Your post has hit a chord with me. I grew up in an abusive and chaotic environment. I know the feeling in the pit of my stomach you describe. I live the anxiety every single day. I never really made the connection between how I grew up and how I respond today. I was adopted by a family of bullies. I am still victimized by bullies. Even though I am a strong, confident and accomplished woman, I still respond like the scared 8-year old when I am confronted with a bully. I don’t know how to change it. But I am going to work on it. Thank you for your honesty.

  14. Thank you for sharing of yourself. One thing I’ll add, when you mention people pointing to happy dogs with heavy handed trainers, is that these dogs are not necessarily happy- just relieved, as you put it, at the time. They make the claim that their dogs work for praise, and they do- because praise means safety from punishment, not an enjoyment of a task well done by a partnership.
    Again, thank you for sharing so honestly!

  15. Having been brought up with parents who hit me, etc I understand your insight fully. I did not however retaliate I “shut down” a term so often overlooked or not taken seriously. I suffer still from the effects of so called teaching respect by forced/adversive methods. I did have a release at one point in my life where I went off the rails, taking my pain out on others, but I still have never fully recovered and doubt I ever will. Please anyone who has the inclination to do harm to a dog, who like me will “shut down” and suffer for the rest of its life think long and hard there is always a better way to earn respect and build a solid foundation that will last a life time.


  16. This made me hurt. For you, for me, for other kids that are in this sort of situation…and yes, for the dogs.
    I understand the tip over to violently fighting back. I know it well. It takes a while to get there, for the suppression can be very strong. Eventually you break. I did. Unfortunately when the dog breaks, it costs them much more than it did me.
    Now of course, will come the comments about anthropomorphizing. For those of you who think that this is a bad thing…all I can say is empathy is never a bad thing. It is a humane thing.

  17. Interesting essay – you are quite right – one complies until one cannot comply anymore and “explodes” and then it is a “flight or fight” response. It is the same whether you are a human, a dog, a cat, or anyone else. After the explosion comes the healing and in the healing there must be putting the past where it belongs, in the past…. a very difficult thing to do..and you must forgive., even harder to do. Once you live in the present, freedom comes in all it’s glory and doors open, creativity blossoms, unconditional love is accessible, opportunities show up from everywhere..

  18. These are such profound words uttered in the name of giving dogs a voice. But, anyone reading them should also think of the implications of force and punishment on children. It always wounds them, as it does dogs, and in ways that parents may never fully realize, limits their potential. The most successful AND humane people I know were parented by people who realized the importance of being authoritative, NOT authoritarian or completely laissez-faire. Positive trainers are often accused of being the latter, which is untrue. Modern positive training makes the most concerted effort to be the middle of the road parent, who wisely guides at the same time they allow the child to take small risks to gain experience. The two enemies of learning, rebelliousness and learned helplessness, are not our aim. As with people, we want inquisitiveness and confidence to be engendered in our dogs. We want to reward their right decisions and never abuse them into compliance for its own sake. That isn’t the way to get a responsive, well educated dog – or child. Think. Would you want your child to have written this blog post? Ms. VanVeen has survived her childhood, but some kids don’t. They are often the ones who self medicate their pain with drugs, or who live in their abusive parent’s basement as adults because they are not self sufficient (learned helpless), or who commit abuse themselves and continue the problem into the next generations. Open your minds to a new way of teaching. You won’t be sorry. And, neither will your children, or your dogs.

  19. This sure puts everything in perspective. It’s so hard to break through the popular belief that dogs must submit to their owner, it’s seems to be everywhere and most owners repeat it like a chant! I think that using physical force is also brought on by laziness. Having to find an alternative and respectful way of teaching takes effort which I don’t know how many people are willing to make.

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