I spent 3 days at a workshop with Suzanne Clothier focusing on the treatment and handling of fearful and reactive dogs. The fabulous Deborah Flick of the The Boulder Dog Blog came out and joined me and I can’t imagine a better time.
One of the questions asked of Suzanne was- when was it appropriate to ‘correct’ or ‘punish’ a dog. Her response made me think of the ‘Good Samaritan Law‘ which applies to people who volunteer to help someone who is sick or injured and prevents them from being held liable for their actions. In practice this means that should you stop to help someone at the scene of a car accident, you cannot be sued if the victim chooses to claim that your actions caused them harm. The purpose of the law is to ensure that people continue to assist others in need without worrying about being sued for it. However, if you are a professional, an emergency room doctor let’s say, the same law may not apply. You will be held to higher standard for your actions.
Suzanne’s response regarding when it was appropriate to ‘correct’ a dog was based on whether or not she could be completely sure that the dog not only knew the behavior being asked of them, but that their skill level also met the challenges of the situation (were they an emergency room doctor or lay person?). A dog without the skills for the situation would not be punished for noncompliance. The punishment does not teach them the skills they need nor does it make it easier for them to learn. A dog without the skills to sit quietly when other dogs approach or when people come to the door needs to learn those skills, not be punished for not having them.
As with the good Samaritan we don’t punish a dog for trying to the best of their ability and making choices based on that ability. We want to teach them the skills they need to be successful. At the same time we want to cut the emergency room doctor some slack if they are unable to perform up to their skill level on the side of the road.
I have tried to give my fearful dog the skills to be successful in as many different situations as possible, but should he need to he can defer to my greater expertise. He may think a tourniquet is necessary when I suspect a bandaid will do the trick. It’s been a long time since he’s argued with my decisions.