6 Additional Words I Wish Dog Owners and Dog Trainers Wouldn’t Use

©Scott Sheaffer, CDBC, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, USA Dog Behavior, LLC

In an earlier article, 3 Words I Wish Dog Owners and Dog Trainers Wouldn’t Use, I identified 3 words that make me cringe a little bit when I hear them: “alpha, pack and dominant”. As a postscript to that article, I identify 6 more cringe-worthy words below that need to be removed from the world’s canine vocabulary.

“The picture you see above is of a dog that was “trained only using the buzzer”…I’ve seen many more disturbing cases than this.”

“Correct”
I normally hear this from clients who have received advice from a dog trainer about how to address certain behavior issues. This usually takes the form of a “leash correction.” A leash correction means the owner jerks the dog’s leash violently in order to punish the dog for not complying with a request. This inflicts pain to dogs and theoretically tells them what you don’t want them to do. Isn’t it better to teach dogs what we want them to do with positive reinforcement? The list of don’t-do-this-or-you’ll-be-punished items is infinite while the to-do list is simple and direct, thus making it easier for a dog to learn.

“Break”
This is a term that has historically been used in the equine world. A horse trainer would “break” a horse by forcing an untrained and unridden horse to accept a saddle and rider and stop bucking or they would quickly end up as pet food. It should be of no surprise that the failure rate for breaking horses using this method was very high. Using heavy-handed techniques like this in the canine world in order to change behavior causes the dog to fear humans. Addressing this fear takes much longer than properly addressing the problem behavior in the first place.

“Spank”
As hard as this might be to believe, some people still spank their dogs. Dogs have no idea why their owner is hitting them. They simply assume their owner is a scary person and needs to be avoided. Spanking does not work; it creates new and long-lasting problems (just like it does with human children according to all the latest scientific research).

“Punish”
Any punishment technique that uses physical pain in order to train creates short-term gain and long-term pain. There is a cultural imperative in some groups that mandates they use physical punishment in order to “properly” train canines. Physical punishment is a siren song for those who are too lazy or impatient to train using know-how from current animal behavioral science.

“Discipline”
See “punish” above. The word “discipline” has a more thoughtful connotation to it, doesn’t it? However, physical discipline is no different from physical punishment.

“Buzzer”
I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard the following phrase, “The dog trainer used a shock collar on my dog but she said she only used the buzzer.” For those of you who aren’t familiar with shock collars (politely relabeled as an e-collar or electronic collar to make them less offensive sounding), a buzzer is frequently added to “warn” the dog that a painful electrical shock is coming soon if the dog doesn’t quickly comply. The truth is that dog trainers who use shock collars always, as in 100% of the time, shock the dog. Here’s the little secret that many dog owners may not know - the buzzer won’t work in training unless the dog is shocked. It’s almost impossible for me to believe that people still use these things in the 21st century.

The picture you see above is of a dog that was “trained only using the buzzer” by a questionable dog training company. This dog belongs to one of my clients and I took the photo. The two white spots you see on the dog’s neck are where the electrical contacts touched the dog’s skin and permanently burned off the fur from being repeatedly shocked. Sadly, I’ve seen many more disturbing cases than this. Why are these barbaric devices still legal?

Changing vocabulary or eliminating words alone doesn’t change human behavior, but the absence of these words in our daily conversation about dogs would certainly indicate that things are moving in the right direction.