Beating a Dead Zebra – Part 5

cane_corso_italiano_6Learned helplessness occurs when an animal/human finds their situation so out of their control, they eventually stop trying to change or escape it.  This is the reason that humans stay in abusive relationships, and it happens when punishment is used with our four legged friends.  Because our timing is not perfect, our dog doesn’t understand why the punishment happened.  Because (from the dog’s perspective) the punishment happens at random regardless of his behavior, the dog feels powerless to change it and will simply stop moving.

You may have seen this watching some of the popular TV shows featuring dog “professionals”.  Some describe it as calm or submissive.  What it is:  helplessness.  The dog has given up.  You can do whatever you want to him and he will not react because he has decided there is simply no point.  No hope for him.

Learned helplessness has no place in our training regimen, nor does it have a place in our relationship with our dogs.  There is nothing healthy about it.  I have seen a dog stand in one place as if frozen while given commands that he supposedly ignores while he is repeatedly shocked with a “remote” or “electric stimulation” collar.  Chances are the dog simply doesn’t know the cue well enough to perform in his current surroundings.  A dog in this situation is learning nothing except to accept his fate as inevitable.  It will never result in his obedience, just his misery.

About Dawn Gardner, CPDT-KA

I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, a professional member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT), an administrator of the Modern Dog Group, and a member of the Pet Professional Guild (PPG). I am also a freelance writer for dog related publications. I have been training dogs since 1997, promoting force-free, science based training methods, instructing group classes and providing private in-home dog training. I have worked extensively with dogs with behavioral issues, including those suffering from anxiety, aggression and other stress related disorders. I have dedicates much of my free time to rehabilitating and re-homing shelter dogs with a variety of rescue organizations. As part of my passion for advocating science based dog training methods, I have had the privilege to lecture at Virginia Tech’s School of Veterinary Medicine. In 2014 I returned to Arkansas after 12 years in rural North Carolina, where Happy Hound Pet Services began in 2007. I live in Rudy, Arkansas, with my nine dogs and occasional foster dogs.
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