Abusive Punishment The Need for Universal Condemnation

The use of corporal punishment to control dog behavior is very problematical and should be avoided. Not only are such methods dangerous for inexperienced owners to employ, they are probably ineffective (certainly in the sense of lasting and generalized behavioral control) and are fraught with potentially serious side effects. Physical punishment of aggressive behavior can easily result in an escalation of aggression or produce a more severe and difficult problem to control. For example, although an intimidated dog may not dare to threaten or snap at the person applying such abusive treatment, other family members of less social rank or unsuspecting guests may become the victims of redirected attacks or attacks following momentary disinhibition. Further, excessive punishment may suppress vital threat displays, making future attacks more difficult to anticipate and avoid safely. In the long run, such misguided training efforts may produce a much more difficult and dangerous situation to control.

Despite the criticism and growing pressure exerted by leading dog trainers, applied animal behaviorists, and veterinary behaviorists, corporal punishment remains deeply entrenched in the dog-training culture. Some advocates of extreme measures (e.g., beating and hanging) argue that it should be used only as a last resort for the control of incorrigible behavior problems. Many are simply ignorant and do not know any better. A national task force of animal behaviorists, dog trainers, and veterinarians was convened in March 1998 to address such problems by defining humane dog training and to set the groundwork for developing a professional standards and practices document. The efforts of the task force have been enthusiastically received and endorsed by many dogtraining, humane, service-dog, and veterinary organizations. It remains to be seen how effective these efforts will be in curtailing abusive practices in dog training.

Although punishment is an important tool for the control of dog behavior, its use should be tempered by informed judgment, ethical restraint, and compassion. Dog trainers and behaviorists alike would do well to follow the spirit of the Hippocratic oath to "do no harm" and to avoid methods that so obviously "do harm" dogs and the human-dog relationship.

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