On one hand, puppy wants what it wants and can’t inhibit themselves very well. On the other hand, external influences limit a puppy’s actions. How can we best raise and own dogs, from puppy to adult, and balance these conflicting forces?
About 60 years ago, a new perspective was overtaking the dog world. The message was: only positive reinforcement should be used to train any dog behavior. I believe a lot of this was extrapolated from the work of Skinner, who was the early proponent of this approach for human learning.
I think the next big step was the adoption, by the dog rescue community, of the Five Freedoms of animal welfare. The tenets are 1.) Freedom from Hunger and Thirst; 2.) Freedom from Discomfort; 3.) Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease; 4.) Freedom to Express Normal Behavior; and 5.) Freedom from Fear and Distress. At first glance, these principles sounded good and reasonable.
Today, we are challenged by a new concept which says we should allow dogs to “consent” to whatever happens to them, and allow them to choose whatever they desire, as if a dog is a wild animal in the forest or on the savannah.
I believe the next step will be the attempt to promote the extinction of all domesticated animals and plants in the name of being cruelty free.
Wouldn’t you agree, society has overcompensated in attempting to address past causes of animal cruelty? And aren’t the new milieu of proposed solutions a new form of animal cruelty? I think we can all feel for a young puppy: life is sometimes difficult. A puppy is continually torn between its inner, mostly uninhibited motivations and appetites, and the external limitations put on the puppy by the environment, other animals (particularly other dogs), and people.
So, let’s pick all that apart. Can you completely train a dog to reliably obey, up close and at a distance, around distractions purely with positive reinforcement? No. Is it reasonable to expect that a dog will never be hungry? No. Can you train a dog well with treats if the dog isn’t hungry, or toys if the dog doesn’t want to play, or petting if the dog doesn’t like you? No. Will a dog never be thirsty? No. Just playing with your dog will stimulate thirst. Will a dog never be in discomfort? No. It might be a bit warm going out to go potty, or a bit cold going from the car into the home, or scary going to the veterinarian. Can you ensure a dog will never experience pain? No. Let 2 dogs play together, they will nip and grab at each other and sometimes that will hurt. Can you prevent a dog from ever being injured while at the same time living a normal life? No. Most people have seen their dogs limp after playing or falling. Can you ensure your dog will never suffer from a disease? No. Can a dog always be allowed to express normal behaviors? No, not if you want them to be safe. A dog might want to chase a squirrel into the street, but you can’t let them do that. Do you want a dog to never experience fear? No. Let’s say you do a brain operation on a dog and remove the part that allows a dog to feel fear. Do you think that dog will be safe around other dogs and obstacles? Nope. No one wants a fearless dog. Fear prevents dogs from getting in fights, engaging in some types of dangerous behaviors, and is necessary to create a balanced dog that can get along with other dogs and people. Can you prevent dogs from being distressed? Nope. Puppies usually worry when left alone for the first time in a crate or home. They will adapt, but sometimes things will be distressing, and they need to adapt. Lastly, can we allow dogs to be the ones to “consent” to whatever they want or don’t want without our influence? Nope. And especially “nope” if you have a dog that is off leash.
Puppies need to mature. Puppies need to feel real feelings and learn to adapt to their environments and be around the living beings. It isn’t always easy. It is our job to help facilitate their proper upbringing and normal development. It is inhumane to force them to live in a utopian bubble.
It is hard to be a puppy. They have a lot to deal with. But people successfully raise good dogs all over the earth. I believe the main objective with any puppy is to help them grow up to be happy, obedient, well mannered, social, functional pets. They need to experience life, to feel the emotions that go with those experiences, and to have an owner who helps them navigate living in a modern world.