Treat Causes, Not Symptoms


Ken Ramirez said.

Treating symptoms seems the biggest concern of many. Symptoms are all that many can see. And what many can see is the only thing that matters, at least for some.

The reality is that all symptoms have a cause. And that is important to be considered when training, educating or modifying the behaviour of dogs.

The biggest example of “treating symptoms” rather than causes is aversive-based/punishment-based training.

The dog shows a behaviour which is problematic and what many do is to make the dog wear a choke chain, prong collar, electric shock collar or any other device invented to create discomfort/pain onto the dog to shape their external behaviour.

These tools’ effect will either be added or removed depending on the training method and usually shape the dog’s behaviour in a way that the behaviour problem stops. Or at least, it looks like.

Let’s consider a basic example.

When I was a child I was afraid of clowns. I remember to be at a Christmas party where there was a circus show. All was good until… the clowns appeared. I started to cry showing the need to move away from that scary event. I cried and cried until I finally got what I wanted, go away. My behaviour was reinforced and so was my need.

Although this could have gone on a different path. Imagin that when I cried, somebody shouted and even used physical force to make me stop crying because of the clowns. Imagine that over and over again. Every time I would see a clown, I would get shouted at or hit.

After several repetitions, I would probably not cry anymore because of the clowns, but that would not mean that I suddenly accepted the clowns as safe and friendly.

In fact, that would probably be transformed into a traumatic experience that would shape my life forever.

Dogs. They are going through this type of approach every single day.

They go through it with their families, or with the trainers, their families paid for.

We need to aim for a better approach.

We must understand that every dog has a cause behind a symptom.

We should understand that if we really want to help a dog, we cannot simply focus on changing the symptoms independently of the approach.

So what we need to do it our best to analyse their behaviour, understand the function of it, and implement a plan which will (re)shape their external behaviour but also their internal behaviour while their needs are met along the way.

That is how it is should be done, not only because it is better, but because it is the correct thing to do.

Treat Causes, not Symptoms.

Thank you,

Dog Behaviourist Ricardo Ministro

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