Most canine behavior problems are a result of fear or anxiety, meaning that the behaviors you actually observe your dog doing are elicited by fear or anxiety. You cannot resolve these problems by using punishment and you cannot ‘train them out’.
Let’s look at an example:
If your dog is exhibiting distance increasing signals when it sees another dog, such as lunging, barking, or growling, and the behavior is fear based, then punishing your dog, physically or verbally, is only going to make the situation worse. We humans tend to escalate punishment if the punishment does not work the first time. When the punishment becomes very severe it may reduce the barking, lunging or snapping but by definition punishment only suppresses behavior, it does not eliminate behavior. If you suppress fear or anxious behaviors through the use of severe punishment then you are left with a ‘ticking time bomb.’ At some point that fear or anxious behavior is going to appear and probably with little warning and with no predictability.
Here is a human example:
Take something you are afraid of - say a spider or a snake. When you see one you may scream, freeze, run or cry. If I hit you, shock you or scream at you each time you react in fear to the presence of the ‘thing,’ is my punishment going to stop you from feeling anxious or scared? No, of course it will not. It may reduce or alter your fear reaction as you now also anticipate getting physically or verbally punished by me. It will certainly damage our relationship, you will find my presence distasteful and you will no longer trust me. I am no longer safe to you and have moved into the area of being dangerous and unpredictable.
When we are working with dogs we want all of our communication to be instructional. Punishment is not instructional. It does not tell a dog what it should do nor does it help build behavior repertoires. In addition, it does, as scientific research has proven over and over, create many fallout behaviors such as aggression, learned helplessness and unhealthy attachment behaviors.
You may at this point be saying, “I don’t punish my dog.” But a punisher or punishment event is not defined by us, the dog trainer, or the dog’s owner. A punisher is determined by the dog being punished. Is what you do something the dog will seek to escape or avoid? If so then what you are doing is punishing your dog. Think about this the next time you shout at or raise your hand or some other object at your dog.
If your dog has fear or anxiety based problematic behaviors then be sure to consult a Dog Behavior Counselor. Qualified Dog Behavior Counselors are trained to deal with these types of behaviors. You cannot train these behaviors to go away. The actual behavior you are seeing is motivated by fear or anxiety and that requires a different approach to just training a dog to ‘sit,’ ‘down’ or ‘stay.’