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Disciplining Your Cocker

Discipline (punishment) has its place in any training program as your puppy IS GOING to make mistakes! You need to keep in mind however, that your puppy's mistakes are ALWAYS your fault! If you are properly supervising your puppy and using your crate, your puppy will not have an opportunity to actually DO the wrong thing. He may start to do the wrong thing, but if you are supervising him correctly, you will be able to stop the behavior before he actually succeeds in soiling the floor, chewing on a shoe or a piece of furniture. Because you are going to be very vigilant during your puppy's training, you are going to have a 100% positive relationship with your puppy. You won't need to discipline your puppy if you prevent him from getting into trouble in the first place!

If you make a mistake and your puppy does something wrong, remember that, to be effective, discipline must be delivered in a correct and timely manner. The only acceptable time to punish your puppy is if you actually catch him "in the act" of exhibiting undesirable behavior. The reprimand must be immediate and something that he can understand. If you deliver the punishment too late or just flail around in anger, your puppy will not associate your behavior with his undesirable behavior and he is likely to become fearful and distrusting of you.

Punishment can be verbal ("No!"), postural (body language - dogs are VERY good at reading this!) and/or physical (tug on the lead during training). It is used during or immediately following a behavior that is undesirable. Discipline is only administered for the purpose of discouraging inappropriate behavior. Punishment is never delivered in anger or frustration.

Physical punishment generally incorporates some level of physical discomfort for the puppy or dog. This type of discipline must not be used indiscriminately as Cockers are very sensitive and you could easily intimidate the puppy and cause worse behavioral problems than the one you are trying to solve. Submissive urination and fear-biting can be side effects of over-zealous discipline.

You must think carefully about what to discipline your puppy for and how to do so. Before you use any form of punishment on your puppy, consider whether your punishment will actually be teaching the lesson you intend. Punishment can sometimes have unexpected results. Let me give you an example of training that I have seen back-fire, with disastrous results.

Let's say a nice couple own a very sweet dog. This dog is very involved with the couple and much loved. One day however, the young couple suddenly bring home a new baby. Now, the new parents are very nervous as this new baby is, of course, the most important thing in the world to them and they know that the baby is very fragile. They also know their loving companion (remember the dog I mentioned previously?) has not been around many children and they are fearful of what the dog MIGHT do to the baby, IF it should become "jealous" or "angry". Just in case the dog MIGHT do something wrong, these nervous new parents begin to push the dog away if it tries to sniff or get close to the baby. They may yell at the dog or even slap at it if it should get too close. In this nice young couple's minds they are teaching the dog to "respect" the baby.

Now let's look at the REAL situation. This couple have a nice dog and a new baby. The dog is very happy to see everyone come home from the hospital, but is rather confused about this loud, smelly bundle of clothing that everyone is devoting all their time to. He would love to investigate this new member of the family, but everyone pushes him away. The more the dog gets pushed away and the longer he is not involved in the daily interactions of his family, the more anxious the dog becomes. He tries to push his way in to investigate the baby by jumping into the middle of the bed or couch where mom is playing with the baby. This only succeeds in getting him yelled or swatted at and he has to retreat again. As the baby gets older the punishment continues because the dog mustn't get near the baby's play rug on the floor or any of the other infant paraphernalia. Over time, all of this negative attention every time he gets near the "little human" causes the dog to become fearful of this creature that has invaded his previously happy home.

By the time the baby is crawling, the dog no longer wants to be involved with this new member of the family. He no longer tries to get near the child and leaves the vicinity should the child crawl in his direction. He has learned that he will be punished if he gets near the baby, so he stays away. Unfortunately, this is where the tables turn and THE BABY becomes fascinated with the dog and wants to investigate the animal.

Up to this point, the dog has never actually done anything wrong, but he is now afraid of being near this small human. This is where the story can turn tragic. As the baby begins to walk, the dog can suddenly be in a position that the baby is chasing him down. Since the dog knows he's not supposed to get near the child, this sudden pursuit terrifies him. If the baby should corner the dog or accidentally fall on him, the dog may feel threatened and panic. He may feel that he has to protect himself. This could mean the child gets bitten by the dog.

If a dog should bite a child in this situation, it does not mean that he is vicious. It only means that he has been TAUGHT to be afraid and has reacted to a situation out of that fear. Basically, he has done nothing but follow his training and instincts. Unfortunately, the parents of a bleeding child do not understand that they are the true cause of their child's injury and they take the dog to the vet's and have the dog put down for biting their child. They never realize that this tragic situation could have been avoided and the child and dog could have become the best of friends.

Instead of punishing the dog for getting near the child, the parents should have asked the dog to sit or lay down and gently introduced the baby and the dog. When the dog stayed quiet and still, he should have been rewarded with praise and rewards. As time went on and the dog received POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT for good behavior around the infant, he would have learned to be gentle and quiet with the baby and he would have had no reason to fear the child. Positive reinforcement for good behavior should have been continued as the child grew and the baby and dog would have learned how to treat each other with respect. If the situation had been handled in this positive manner, it is unlikely that there would ever have been a problem between the dog and the child. The child's trauma over being bitten and the death of a good dog could have been avoided.

Again, the point of this story is that you must TRAIN your dog to exhibit acceptable behavior and you must reward positive behavior instead of just punishing for unacceptable behavior. You must do this with consistent, constructive training and you must always be sure that you are teaching the right lessons. Thousands of dogs a year end up in shelters or destroyed because they were incorrectly or inadequately trained.

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Copyright Sandcastle Kennels 2004

Last revised: January 06, 2006