Do they or don't they?
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  • Understand right and wrong?

    "Don't anthropomorphize dogs.
    They hate that."

    Loved that signature, can't remember who I swiped it from. However, it is a good intro to what I wanted to discuss…..

    Do dogs understand right and wrong? Well, like human children, if raised in a structured environment they certainly understand what gets them praise and what gets them punishment......in other words, the "rules" of the house. Exactly how they process the information seems less important to me than what they do with it, and in most cases they do just fine. Like children, they are quick to learn what is unacceptable. Whether they avoid doing the unacceptable will depend on a number of factors, not the least of which is opportunity. Some people have little problem with their dogs and kids not because of superior training, but because of superior supervision.

    I don't believe dogs agonize over having broken the rules, although some appear to stress over the owner's reaction. Sensitive breeds give the appearance of "guilt" because they find their owner's disapproval emotionally stressful. (These dogs would not, by and large, be Basenjis!) Others fear physical retribution (positive or negative punishment, e.g. a "spanking" or isolation in a crate) or emotional disengagement from the owner. (being ignored). All of these aversives can be damaging to the owner/dog relationship, but IMHO the most damaging is isolating the animal. Most critters understand anger and retaliation, because it happens in their own social order. Isolation, on the other hand, is a death sentence in the wild. Staying with the pack or herd means safety. If you observe animals you will find most disputes are sharp, short, and over......it's our species that holds a grudge. (Yes, there are lots of cases of two dogs that "hate" each other, but is that a grudge, or fear of another encounter?)

    My own feeling is that if an animal understands the rules and steps over the line, a correction is entirely appropriate. However, a correction can vary in weight between a sharp word or glance, all the way up to physical discipline, which does not have to be harsh. It should "fit the crime". What I don't like is any sort of drawn out removal of the dog from the social life of the house. Make your point, ask for a behaviour you know you can get, and use the opportunity to reward the dog and restore confidence in each other.

    I'd like to make one point about our understanding of "punishment". It is entirely possible that when we administer what appears in our eyes to be positive punishment, it is in reality positive reinforcement. You will know which by the result. If the behaviour diminishes or extinguishes, then it was positive punishment. If the behaviour increases, your action may well have acted as positive reinforcement. This is the "any attention is better than no attention" syndrome, and one of the reasons people like to say positive punishment doesn't work. It works very well, when applied with the proper timing, and when it is not being undermined by ongoing negative punishment. If your animal (or child) is so desperate for your attention that it deliberately provokes a physical correction because that is preferable to being ignored, I'd say you need to reassess how much time you are spending with the animal.

    To get back to my original premise, I think dogs do indeed understand a version of right or wrong, in the context of obeying the rules. Like an FAS kid or a sociopath, they may not have a conscience about doing the wrong thing, but they demonstrably know what it is. A dog that refrains from swiping food from the coffee table when you are in the room (but might be happy to do so when you aren't) isn't a lot different from the human who keeps to the speed limit when he can see a cop in the rear view mirror. And like the dog who is caught exiting the living room with loot in his jaws, most of us aren't very happy when the unmarked cruiser flashes the dome light.

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  • I do believe they understand anything from right and wrong, maybe not WHEN they do it, but when we come out to them and give them the "look", if you know what I mean. But I do believe they also do something they shouldn't to get your attention.

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  • yes i believe so too. i understand the training as a pup is 'to catch them in the act' so they know what they have done wrong but i fully believe once an adult they KNOW!

    my basenji fully knows when shes been naughty or has done something wrong and will even take herself out, or drop her ears and give us that "to die for look, cos u totally love me and ill melt your heart" before we discover what shes done, sometimes we dont even know what shes done wrong until we search but her body language indicates to us that shes been up to no good and she knows it. they are intelligent. people dont give them enough credit :)

    each to their own on how they raise them and what training they use :)

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  • I think they understand the practicality of right and wrong as in 'I just did something that the leader doesn't like'…or 'I just did something that the leader does like'. I think they don't think about it much when we aren't there...but if we were able to give them a quiz and say 'are you allowed to take things out of the garbage?' they would be able to answer correctly. But I don't think they have any context for right and wrong outside of what they have been taught; and they cannot generalize, they cannot say 'well, it is not okay to chew up the stuffed toy over there...so it must not be okay to eat these underwear over here' And when in doubt, they always revert to 'dog law'...so, if it smells edible, and they aren't sure if they are allowed, they will proceed as a dog would.

    And then there are some dogs that just don't care. Just like there are some people that just don't care. No amount of correction, rewarding, bribing, whatever will override 'dog law' for them.

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  • Somehow, people who believe in physical punishment justify that if it works it is okay. If I put a shock device on my husband or he had to allow me to slap him– heck probably a citronella spray too, I bet you I could correct a lot of his behaviors pdq. It wouldn't even have to be a strong shock. And even though he DOES understand right and wrong, the damage to the relationship if I had that power to make him wear it or allow me to give him a slap. Ditto on children. But humans are able to comprehend right, wrong, and evaluate the relationship. Let's not mix them up with dogs.

    Andrea has it utterly right on what behaviorists have always said-- understanding what is allowed and how their humans respond is not the same as right or wrong. It really is not. Just as a dog that you call "guilty looking" isn't FEELING guilty. They are demonstrating awareness of what your response to pee on the floor or torn up cushions is going to be. That is not the same thing as guilt.

    Dogs live in the now for the most part. Right or wrong? No. I care about the human response if I steal their sandwich or I don't care so much, maybe. I could leave a steak on the coffee table and my rotties and chows would not touch because they learned leave it. My basenjis don't need a steak-- I could leave a piece of lettuce and they'd take it. Has nothing to do with food value, it has to do with their acceptance of my role or right to tell them no. Although the human alpha stuff is fortunately slowly being buried, dogs do comprehend relationships with humans and each other.

    Which leads us to my point and really only one. More than an utterly obedient dog, more than a dog I can brag about how well trained, I want a relationship with my dogs. I want a relationship of trust. I want whatever I manage to get them to do to be because of that relationship, not because they ever experience any sort of physical punishment. Let us not play with words (and for the record I have a degree in psychology so yeah I comprehend behaviorism and all the terms). Ignoring a dog for a few minutes until it puts all four feet on the ground (ie learns not to jump up on people) or as part of refusing to let the dog demand attention or placing a dog on a leash and putting in a down position until they settle is not the same type of physical response as hitting, shocking or even using a rolled newspaper. You can call it any technical word you want, but when the result is pain, fear of pain or anxiety about your response, the goal is domination through intimidation. You don't have to inflict actual pain to do that. And at the end of the day, I want my dogs to do what I want because I have shown them, supervised them, let them know when they do something I don't like and because they know that I will back up what I say. If I call the dogs and they don't come, I GO GET THEM, promptly without repeat calling. If I say OFF THE BED, they get off. Not because they know the next response is to yell or hit, but because the next response is to pick their furry butt up and put out of the room. You can train dogs to do things with the minimal response. Resorting to hitting, shocking, spraying, rolled newspapers, etc is rarely necessary. And at the end of the day, I have preserved a relationship with my dogs that is more akin to a partnership than a drill sergeant and new recruit.

    And for things that I cannot get compliance on, like Arwen and all and any trash cans, I accept limitations. She isn't going to die if she dumps the trash, I am not going to die, and so I can make them so heavy she can't dump or can't dump easily. Could I put a shock collar on her and stop it? ABSOLUTELY. It's a perfect truly effective use of one. The dog doesn't even associate YOU with the shock. I would never do it. If my older Rottie dumped the trash cans, I would have willingly used one because unlike Arwen who simply looks for tissues and food, Dax ate EVERYTHING and ended up at the ER vet over it once. Fortunately a different design stopped her, unlike Arwen who will dump over any container she can't open. I would absolutely advise someone who has a rock eater or a dog who goes after bees or snakes to consider an aversion type collar because they are dealing with life and death and they can use the collar without the dog connecting the response to the person generally.

    But again, the bottom line is I truly believe in training the kindest way possible. I will choose less effective over more kind in any situation other than life threatening ones every time. But I have to be honest, the research supports over and over and over and over that while you can get accurate results with physical punishment, you get them just as solid and accurate using clickers and praise. Why would anyone choose the other is what I don't understand.

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  • @DebraDownSouth:

    Which leads us to my point and really only one. More than an utterly obedient dog, more than a dog I can brag about how well trained, I want a relationship with my dogs. I want a relationship of trust. I want whatever I manage to get them to do to be because of that relationship, not because they ever experience any sort of physical punishment. Let us not play with words (and for the record I have a degree in psychology so yeah I comprehend behaviorism and all the terms). Ignoring a dog for a few minutes until it puts all four feet on the ground (ie learns not to jump up on people) or as part of refusing to let the dog demand attention or placing a dog on a leash and putting in a down position until they settle is not the same type of physical response as hitting, shocking or even using a rolled newspaper. You can call it any technical word you want, but when the result is pain, fear of pain or anxiety about your response, the goal is domination through intimidation. You don't have to inflict actual pain to do that. And at the end of the day, I want my dogs to do what I want because I have shown them, supervised them, let them know when they do something I don't like and because they know that I will back up what I say. If I call the dogs and they don't come, I GO GET THEM, promptly without repeat calling. If I say OFF THE BED, they get off. Not because they know the next response is to yell or hit, but because the next response is to pick their furry butt up and put out of the room. You can train dogs to do things with the minimal response. Resorting to hitting, shocking, spraying, rolled newspapers, etc is rarely necessary. And at the end of the day, I have preserved a relationship with my dogs that is more akin to a partnership than a drill sergeant and new recruit.

    Well…...I agree almost entirely with what you say. However, fear and anxiety can be caused without any physical discipline whatsoever. Ignoring a dog temporarily will do no harm (although the sensitive ones will suffer anxiety), but the type of deprivation caused by hours in a crate will most definitely do harm, and has the potential to do a lot of damage to a relationship. And yet, it is not railed against as are e collars (which can give the most mild of corrections, less physically uncomfortable than a collar and leash). I won't reiterate what I have said. There are a lot of shades of grey here, and many people employ punishment without ever calling it by that name. Your animal will indeed tell you, and I am satisfied with the relationship I have with all of my critters......who display a great deal of trust in me. Talk is cheap, I know. Too bad I can't supply more than words.

    the research supports over and over and over and over that while you can get accurate results with physical punishment, you get them just as solid and accurate using clickers and praise. Why would anyone choose the other is what I don't understand.

    I don't think the research currently does support this conclusion, although it would be nice if it did. There really hasn't been the sort of study done (that I am aware of) to assess the various methods without some sort of built in bias, depending on which side of the argument is trying to prove what.

    If I were to choose the optimal training "method", I would have to go with Chuck Eisenmann. But unfortunately most of us don't have the time, talent, and powers of observation that he had, and in any case he didn't call it "training". He called it "educating". He didn't like any method that relied on habituation, which of course rules out most methods I am aware of…....he wanted his dogs to "think", and they gave ample evidence that they did indeed do exactly that.

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  • If you rule out all research and studies because those doing them believed in positive training or clickers, you are probably right in limited studies. Too tired to look right now, but I will look for current things.

    If you think that NOT using physical punishments opposite is HOURS in a crate, you missed the boat. Really. But because I am absolutely certain you really know that, and know that such responses are not in any way approved by anyone with a single working brain cell, we'll move on.

    I have read about Chuck, not his actual work, but his philosophy. Chuck had a lot right. I had one of the most intelligent dogs on earth who was uber soft and I got her in the days of rolled newspapers and my own concerns about such a large guardian breed dog being in control. By the time she was 3, I had learned so much more. But I watched her and if I was in the picture in ANY way, she did not think, she simply did what I had told her to do. Having seen schutzhund and other dogs trained not to do rote behavior but to THINK about what they needed to do, I came to realize just how much I taught Tasha to not think but to look to me to tell her.

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  • @DebraDownSouth:

    If you think that NOT using physical punishments opposite is HOURS in a crate, you missed the boat.

    Nope, didn't say that. What I said was:

    @eeeefarm:

    …...the type of deprivation caused by hours in a crate will most definitely do harm, and has the potential to do a lot of damage to a relationship. And yet, it is not railed against as are e collars.....

    I was not equating the two, just pointing out that any mention of an e collar results in comments about them being abusive, while the use of crates…..which IMHO can be equally if not more abusive depending on their use.......never seems to attract this type of response.

    @DebraDownSouth:

    If you rule out all research and studies because those doing them believed in positive training or clickers, you are probably right in limited studies.

    @eeeefarm:

    There really hasn't been the sort of study done (that I am aware of) to assess the various methods without some sort of built in bias, depending on which side of the argument is trying to prove what.

    I didn't suggest it is only the "positive" trainers who may conduct biased studies. The only really valid studies, IMO, are double blind, hard to achieve when it comes to dog training.

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  • Alrighty…let's just agree that you two disagree.....heeeheee and will probably have different views on a lot of stuff. It is ok for everyone to have a different opinion on things and everything read on this forum has to be processed by the person reading it and they can take from it what they may. I apparently am a baaad person to some on this forum as well. I expressed my opinion and got called down and had a little spat. No biggie, I am no worse for wear. Not everyone will agree on everything but sometimes we just need to move on. Let's all have a Happy New Year with lots of cheer and Basenji love!

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  • @krunzer:

    Alrighty…let's just agree that you two disagree

    I think that is a pretty fair assumption. However, we apparently agree on Chuck Eisenmann, so that is a start. I'd like to second your Happy New Year and lots of Basenji love to all on the forum, whether we agree or not. :) All the best in 2012.

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  • Here's me… first time basenji owner. Yes, I got a basenji from a breeder that put in a lot of time and has wonderful basenjis. What works for me is no punishment at all. Everything is positive and a new opportunity to learn, for both of us. I have found that building a superior relationship and trust with him makes him happy to be guided by me and to trust that I always have his best interests at heart. This is working very well for us. There is no need to raise my voice to cause stress to either one of us. I simply tell him "you cannot do that", "time to settle down now", or "okay, let's stop that now, shall we". Does he understand the words? Maybe some, but they are very useful for me to keep what he is doing in perspective and guide him to better behavior. I believe the tone I use tells him if his actions are either appreciated or frowned upon, and he is becoming a dog who chooses to do good because I know he feels the harmony.

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  • P

    I've followed this thread with interest and I think both Debra and Fran have pinned it down. I do think that right and wrong are subjective and that those who say that animals feel guilt are anthromorphising. Guilt is a very human feeling.

    I raise my Basenji to respect me but I also respect them. They listen to me and I 'listen' to them. I see no need for physical discipline. My dogs are taught from the beginning what their limits are. Not to say that they are instantly obedient. They are just normal Basenjis with normal Basenji instincts. Some are unacceptable to me and that is where I draw the line. I believe the tone of voice is very important as is the Basenji's vocalisation.

    I feel it's good that we don't always agree - after all it would be a very dull forum if we did!

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