What a Speed Trap Can Teach You About Dog Training
November 19, 2012
I drive a lot. Did I say a lot? I meant a LOT. If I’m not picking up dogs and driving them to the park I’m heading to a client’s house to save them from dog-insanity. My best friend Erica Mawson says I drive like a “farmer” (which basically means fast, and one-handed). In fact, the other day I caught myself quoting my truck driver father when I literally said, “time is money”, as I honked my horn at some poor old lady trying to find a parking spot. What have I become?
There is this one part of Bathurst that particularly kills me. After what feels like hours of stop and go traffic, it opens up into this glorious stretch of open road. No lights, no stop signs. Almost every single person that comes down that patch of road can barely resist the urge to floor it. My Kia feels like a convertible and I’m instantly Thelma without Louise. Here’s the problem. Maybe once or twice a week there’s a police officer parked at the other end just picking people off like fish in a barrel. The other day it occurred to me that the only people slowing down are the ones that take Bathurst street every day. They know he’s going to be there. The poor suckers flying past me are in for a rude awakening.
Now of course, because I’m a trainer, I obviously have to relate everything I see to the principles of behaviour. It has occurred to me that speeding tickets don’t stop us from speeding, the same way that punishments don’t stop our dogs from misbehaving. The biggest problem, and the reason that all punishment-based methods break down in the end, is that punishment only works if you’re there to see it! How many dogs do you know that will sneak off into a dark corner to have a pee on your carpet, or wait until you leave to eat the kitchen garbage? It’s very VERY difficult to teach a dog to associate its BEHAVIOUR with punishment instead of YOU with punishment.
This brings me to another point. My brother, while being decidedly bad-ass in many areas of his life, drives like my grandma. I’m not just talking 40 km in a 40…I’m talking 37 km in a 40. He says that people are constantly giving him dirty looks when they can finally get around him and let’s just say he’s usually the last to arrive at family gatherings. However, the other day, my sister in-law says to me, “Your brother almost never speeds-unless he’s late. Then he’s insane”. So there it is people! The threat of punishment can only suppress behaviour as long as the consequence is severe enough to outweigh the rewards. To my brother, it’s more important to him to avoid his boss’s wrath than it is to avoid the ticket. Our dogs are constantly performing the same mental arithmetic; trying to decide whether the payoff is worth enduring the potential punishment. Let’s just say that if your dog is bored enough, hungry enough, frustrated enough or scared enough then your shocks, jerks, chokes, slaps and yells are just not going to cut it.
I’m sure that eventually that cop will become bored with Bathurst and leave. For awhile people will go the speed limit…I give them two weeks max. One way or another, if he stays away long enough, people will get comfortable and we’ll be right back where we started…livin’ on the wrong side of the law with the wind in our hair.