Do the ends justify the means?

This week’s article is written by Gillian who is one of the Glasgow Dog Trainer Team


“The ends justify the means”

A Netflix comedy this week quoted Machiavelli , and set off the memory
of Kay Laurence’s cadence at a conference in Demark last year. Tonight
I found Kay’s words earnestly scribbled in one my early moleskins

“HOW something is taught is much more important than what the behaviour is”

Let’s discuss. I’ve had discourse with clients, friends, colleagues
and peers. Opinions range from identifying with Machiavelli, some with
Kay and predictably the majority of folk sitting more comfortably in
the middle; many believing the end result only edges ahead
slightly…in comparison to the kind of journey we have getting
there. Results matter to people. Of course they do.

This conversation is important to me. It’s important to you. It’s more
important to our dogs.

Let’s look at why we train our dogs. Why bother trying to teach
behaviours at all?

1. The most obvious to any of us, I think; we want to keep our dogs safe.
2. Training can make general life more harmonious and enjoyable (for
both parties).
3. To help our dogs cope with the life/situations we place them in.
4. Social obligation/to be a good citizen. Its the decent thing to do.
5. To build communication between you both, to develop your bond and
mutual trust.
6. To enrich the life of your dog, encourage a confident learner,
foster curiosity and build choice into his/her life.

Not an exhaustive list, all noble, responsible and ethical, yes? No
problems there.

What about the kind of relationship you want with your dog, can we examine that?

In the same research, the run of buzzwords go thusly: trust, fun,
companionship, personality, individuality, communication, choice,
play, social, safety, enrichment, love, friendship, partnership,
exercise, outdoors, cooperative. All lovely, and heartening.

Not one person I polled mentioned a whisper of wanting an
automaton/robotic dog who simply “obeys”, couldn’t play, exhibit a
little “sass”, or demonstrate his/her own agency. Surely, it’s the
quirk and individual personality of our oddbod dogs that have us
utterly in love with them?!

Why punishment then? Why do good people who truly love their dogs and
want to foster all of that beauty mentioned up there, feel that the
“how” isn’t as important as the “what”?

Punishment works. Well, it “works”. It took me a short while to see it
as a novice before, for several reasons. I am mentored by an amazing
trainer, as a result blissfully surrounded by incredible professionals
and was in a bit of an intellectual bubble. These people work so hard to
pull animal training into the 21st century that it might gall some of
them to say it to a nubie.

As a species we are excellent at using punishment to affect
change…we are infinitely more practiced at it. We have also become
eloquently dissonant in expressing its terms (“tough love” anyone?) It
is seductive because it does what we think we want it to; it changes
behaviour, often immediately, right before our eyes. Results matter to
What about the change you can’t immediately measure though? The broken
trust, undermined relationships, suppressed behaviour, confused and
increasingly frustrated animal…the problem(s) with punishment is
different post in the making, and a lengthy one.

For now it’s reasonable to say I think if you’ve gotten this far in
reading, you’ve probably already evaluated a) the kind of relationship
you want with your dog and b) the ways and means by which you mean to
achieve that.

Where does how you get the results/behaviour you want stack up
against your means to get them? With training, or any plan at large,
it’s probably decent practice to try to examine our own personal
ethics before we thoughtfully employ strategy. (I reckon I could find
a Machiavelli quote to agree…)

Thank you for reading, and happy training.