The danger of suppressing your dogs behavior

Meet Happy…the very suppressed dog…

Let me explain!  There is a new trend for balanced trainers and other trainers that “correct” bad behavior.  The trend is to say we only suppress behavior, we create ticking time bombs that way and we don’t do any actual training.  
WHEW!  That’s a little hard for me to even type out because of the craziness behind it.   If correcting dogs is ALL it took I would be out of business.  Me just telling people how to correct dogs would diminish my industry and I could pursue other things…I’d be totally okay with that too.  
Training Happy, this little bundle of crazy, was nothing less then traumatic for me before I used training tools and wasn’t a walk in the park after either.  But I won’t go into that, I’ll save that for a book, because it could truly be a book!  
What I will say is that in the beginning I was correcting her CONSTANTLY.  It’s true…every day, several times a day.  She couldn’t function walking by people, dogs or hear noises or be alone.  Just dealing with the severe barking frenzy every time she heard a NOISE left me in the bathroom crying more often then I care to admit…even after correction training, because it is NOT a magic pill.  I had to stop the barking.  I couldn’t get ANYWHERE in her brain, help her psychological state, create anything in the realm of positive until we got a handle on that barking  (not to mention already being kicked out of one apartment because of her).  This was done with crazy intense combinations of food for distraction and correction for the barking frenzy and anxious state it would leave her in literally once every 15-20 minutes in a noisy apartment building.  Basically correct for nuttiness, 10-15 minutes working her through the emotions, 2 minutes of calm dog before the next noise and we start all over again.  I’d fall asleep on the couch with treat pouches on and held my husband’s hand during movies with one hand and an ecollar in the other.  I only WISH all it took was suppressing behavior.  It’s so much more.
Suppressing behavior gets you to the real work.  After weeks…no…after months of all of that, plus daily walks filled with obedience work and figuring out how much space she needed to wear low communication was enough to settle her 90% of the time at least (impossible in a busy city), plus going to parks and practicing long line work for confidence, ALL of this re-shaping our relationship, it was the indoor apartment anxiety that took the longest.  It took months of what I mentioned above to re-shape and define our relationship where I could really penetrate her psyche and counter condition her and get to the good stuff of trying to get her to tolerate new people and noises and the jingling of keys (that signified dog tags she would react to).  With plenty of set backs along the way she became a dog I can take anywhere, but she’ll never be easy.  
This ridiculous idea that trainers use tools to just correct dogs, suppress behavior and don’t train is nonsense and unethical.  It’s a way to get more money in their pockets with their enlightened wisdom.  I know there are bad trainers and am not naive, but I would put that group that bashes training tools or says those things in the same category as the “bad” trainers who don’t know how to read and work dogs and do just often correct.  
The reality is most of us are doing good work and doing our best to teach owners it isn’t just about correcting either…you need to work your dog.  Both are needed to achieve FAIR balance, but YES, usually anxiety filled aggression cases will experience a fair amount of correcting…in the beginning.  But that is a small part of what you should be doing with your dog and if you aren’t, then you need to re-evaluate what you are doing and your relationship with your dog.  Who you listen to, take advice from and how you pursue training your dog is your choice, but be very careful placing your own judgements and ideas on others based off of little to no actual experience.  Especially when it comes to basic training vs aggression or city vs rural.  The internet is a great place to just say things…
With all that being said, this girl at 13 years old was able to go to a busy dog beach, chase birds, not bark in the hotel room in crate except once (told no, she stopped based off of relationship/habit, not correction), was able to be recalled QUICKLY from two different out of control large dogs that would have hurt her out of excitement and would have scared her to death hurting the trust I’ve built AND recalled away from a kid burying himself in the sand that she wanted to bark at!  
So...if the danger of suppressing behavior is being able to help my dog with her crippling seperation anxiety, human fear aggression, dog reactivity, aversion to noise, fear to smells and noises and general dislike for life, if I can suppress that in order to work her through those things, which I did, I'm totally okay with that. 
Looking back I’d say ALL of our hard work, correcting, timing, food work, working with, advocating for, anxiety work, confidence building, has paid off with me having many wonderful years with her. That is always the goal with our clients with more difficult dogs.  We understand because we have been there and know the limitations of other training.  The idea I just dangerously suppressed Happy's behavior is laughable, but I’ll let you be the judge, permission to judge away!!!  But from the perspective that matters, my own, I suppressed her right into being a tolerant, often friendly, fun little dog that gets to have adventures and the fullest life in a difficult environment.  The end...

 -Bethany Wilson


 P.S.  Long and possibly run-on sentences are part of the charm of this post, but probably not to all, haha!  If you don't think so your judgement is dually noted. 

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Comments: 2
  • #1

    Marco Del Valle (Wednesday, 12 August 2020 22:56)

    I totally agree, I use obedience tools first to be able to drive them through the behavioural therapy, suppressing unwanted and dangerous behaviour is necessary to be able to create communication.

  • #2

    Linda Deede (Monday, 31 August 2020 20:22)

    Well done explaining a highly complicated subject when done correctly...the goal being a "balanced," happy dog. A commend your passion and effort as I understand them well. We should not simplify training down to a one- way process because it will not take into account the instinctual canine drives, nor bring about change when behavior runs awry, and is a bandaid on a rehabilitation process that is far more complex in many cases instead of building a new foundation for a better existence.