“Discipline” is a scary word for some people. Given the experience some of us had with public education, and in the workplace, this is not surprising. In those cases, it’s likely that “discipline” meant something a lot like “punishment” but that’s not what we’re talking about here.
In this case, it’s about being able to exercise a sufficient amount of control to produce socially appropriate and desirable behaviors. One of the immediately apparent implications is that discipline is a given -– the only choice we have is whether it is self-imposed or externally imposed.
This is natural – for example, puppies do not come into the world knowing how to regulate bite pressure during play. But they learn from their litter mates and their mother, and soon they can successfully decide for themselves, which is far more satisfactory. Brief reflection readily suggests additional examples both for our dogs and for us. Self-control is clearly an essential learned behavior. The more a dog is able to regulate its own behavior and affective state, the less we humans have to do it.
Training may not carry quite the same pejorative connotations, but a lot of dog owners seem to think that the need for training only applies to other peoples’ dog, or that their own dog is supposed to (somehow) just know how to act right. Or that the rude, unsociable, and sometimes dangerous behavior we see is OK because the dog is “just being a dog” or “just doing his job.”
Really? Who assigned that job?
Dogs do not have “good and bad” or “right and wrong,” they merely have “works” and “didn’t work.” If a dog offers a behavior and gets a result that is in any way preferable to the previously existing state of affairs, then it worked. Unfortunately for everyone, what can be rewarding to a dog can be troublesome for humans.
I get calls from distraught owners telling me that their dog is crazy, or dangerous, or both. Most often the dog is not crazy, but it is certainly driving the owner in that direction. Regularly I find that the root of the problem is a lack of training – nobody ever taught the dog what to do before it started being punished in an effort to teach it what not to do. It’s understandable why the result looks “crazy.”
In this approach to training there is an emphasis on teaching a dog what to do before we teach it what not to do. In this way the dog can learn to offer desirable behaviors, earn rewards, avoid corrections or punishment, and win the game. For the dog, it’s all a game and one behavior could be as good as another until it learns otherwise. Once the dog learns how to make decisions and use her own behavior to influence outcomes, we regularly see a calmer, happier, and healthier dog. The stress level decreases (for everyone incidentally), confidence increases, and the more a dog learns, the more it is able to learn.
Training is a chance to be with your dog, to do something fun together, to enjoy life together. Teaching appropriate self discipline as part of the training is a kind and humane activity you can do for your dog and for yourself.
It certainly can be work, but for the dog, this is just more play.