The Future Starts Now

Last week I watched two training videos shared on Facebook which, on one level had certain similarities but on another level were profoundly different. Two videos, two trainers, two very different mindsets.

Both featured dogs of similar breed types. Both dogs displayed similar problematic behaviours - displaying aggressive behaviours towards other dogs. Both videos were shot in similar environments - open, public spaces with multiple strange dogs in reasonable proximity. That's where the similarities ended.

In the first video the dog was allowed to move freely on a long lead. She was given the time and space she needed to assess situations and she was allowed to decide whether, and a what pace, she felt comfortable proceeding. That time and space allowed her to make good choices which were then reinforced. Towards the end of the clip she was able to have a couple of brief interactions with other dogs with no aggression being displayed.

In the second video there was no evidence of any good decisions being reinforced but any decisions deemed by the trainer to be "bad" were corrected. The dog was wearing an e-collar (shock collar) and a prong collar and was being kicked in the ribs by his owner, under the instruction of the trainer. At points his movement was controlled, via jerks on the prong collar, rather than being allowed to move freely. Again, by the end of the video the dog had had interactions with other dogs with no displays of aggression.

So two dogs, two different approaches, both with the same (apparent) outcome.


What we do in the now directly affects what will happen in the future. It's the nature of behaviour that current (and past) consequences determine future behaviour. And that applies to everything the dog is learning during a training session which is always way more than what we think we're teaching.

Both dogs are learning, in different ways, what behaviour works around other dogs. But what else are they learning?

Which of those dogs is likely to grow in confidence? Which of those dogs is likely to begin to see other dogs, not as something worrying or anxiety inducing, but as something that they have the social skills to cope with? Perhaps, in time, even come to see other dogs as a positive thing?

And which of these dogs is potentially going to learn that not only are other dogs a cause of fear and anxiety but they are also now a cue for aversive corrections? Which dog's anxiety and fear is left unaddressed (or potentially increased)?

The juxtaposition of two similar dogs, with similar problems but being treated in very different ways was stark. Their futures are likely to be very different because of what is happening to them in the present and it was hard to watch the second video knowing that. 

The choices we make for our dog in the present affect who our future dog will be. Not only in terms of their behaviour but also their emotional wellbeing. The two are inextricably linked. Punishment works. Anyone who says it doesn't is misinformed. But it comes with fallout which affects your dog not just in the now but in the future. Your future with your dog starts now.