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Dog Training – A Compassionate, Sensible, Effective Approach

December 8, 2019

There was recently an article published in the Providence Journal on December 4, titled “Providence dog trainer’s ‘bonking’ technique leads to death threats”. We wholeheartedly do not agree with anyone threatening someone’s life as the trainer says they are.  Such threats have no place in a discussion about being more humane. We do, however agree with critics of the dog trainer shown on a video hitting a dog with force in the head with a large, rolled up towel – an aversive technique referred to by some as “bonking”. We firmly believe the intended labeling of “bonking” is designed to make the action of hitting a dog seem cute and inconsequential, but the act of hitting a dog, even with a rolled-up towel, has consequences. 

At the Potter League for Animals, we work with hundreds of dogs each year that are behaviorally challenged in some way. Many dogs need a refresher course on manners, such as learning to sit or not jump up when excited. Others have more severe behaviors; extreme fear or anxiety triggered by humans, animals, or other environmental stimuli. When this fear or anxiety manifests, we often see the “reactive” or “aggressive” dog – one that barks, lunges, growls, and flails on the end of the leash, dragging their handler for the ride. For many owners, these dogs can become overwhelming, scary, and difficult to control. We have tremendous success working with these dogs and you won’t see bonkers, shock collars, pet correctors, or other devices designed to be aversive here.

The Potter League follows the Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive (LIMA) approach to behavior modification, in our public training classes, and when working with shelter animals. This methodology is recommended by prominent training organizations and has been scientifically shown to be the most humane and effective approach to training dogs. Real behavior change takes time and patience. There are no genuine quick fixes to challenging dog behaviors. When a dog is “bonked”, or punished in a similar manner for reacting to something, they may actually stop their behavior (as seen in the video during the training seminar), however it is not because they are learning what we want from them, or learning how to communicate their needs to us. They are simply shutting down, instilling fear, and betraying the very trust that often bonds humans to dogs. We prefer and strongly encourage methods that build the relationship between people and animals.

“Bonking” and other similar aversive methods that use fear or pain communicate lack of understanding to the dog. In simple terms, it is a band-aid technique that often fails down the line. Fido learns that something bad happens when she barks and growls at new, scary people, so she stops. This short-term fix results in doing long term harm. Methods that attempt to train through fear, pain or ‘dominance’ actually cause anxiety and fear in dogs and over the long term, create more severe problems that will need to be overcome. 

When a dog is acting in an aggressive or fearful way, there is absolutely an underlying issue that needs to be addressed. It is our responsibility to understand what is causing the behavior, what is happening after the behavior occurs, and to make sure we set our dogs up to succeed the next time around. Let us be clear, this is not anyone’s personal opinion, we have countless years, studies, and scientific evidence depicting how dogs thrive when trained with non-aversive behavior modification and adjustment training. We are living in an age where real scientific information is at our fingertips so it is always a disappointment when so many choose not to learn the science of dog behavior, and just continue to use methods that feel right and get short term results. We cannot expect dogs to change without showing them how to do it in clear, humane terms. Let’s look past a “quick fix”, and move towards changing undesirable behaviors with care, respect, and science. 

The Potter League offers a wide variety of affordable classes for dogs of any training level. We also offer a Free Behavior Helpline, which can be reached by phone or email: 401.846.8276 ext. 119 or Helpline@PotterLeague.org
In addition to our helpline, we offer free classes on pet ownership.