Understanding the Ethics of Dog Training and Behaviour Modification

Feb 23, 2023 | Dog Behaviour

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The article emphasises the importance of fulfilling a dog’s basic needs like food, water, and shelter before embarking on any training or behaviour modification program. It introduces the “5 Freedoms for Dogs” and relates Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to canine care, advocating for a humane approach to training. Modern methods like positive reinforcement, clicker training, and desensitisation are touted for being effective in addressing behavioural issues while promoting a positive dog-owner relationship. The author, a certified dog trainer, encourages educating oneself on these humane methods to ensure the well-being and proper behaviour management of dogs.

The Importance of Meeting Your Dog’s Basic Needs

Before starting any dog training and behaviour program, it is crucial to ensure that your dog’s basic needs are met. This includes access to food, water, shelter, veterinary care, exercise, and socialisation. Neglecting these needs can lead to stress, anxiety, and behavioural issues in dogs.

If you find this article interesting, you might want to check out our blog and podcast section.

Understanding the Philosophy and Ethics of Dog Training: The 5 Freedoms for Dogs

To ensure your dog’s well-being, it is also important to understand the 5 freedoms for dogs, which are:

  1. Freedom from hunger and thirst: Make sure your dog has access to water at all times, and their calorie requirements are met.
  2. Freedom from discomfort: Ensure your dog has adequate shelter from the elements.
  3. Freedom from pain, injury or disease: Provide veterinary care and use conscientious training and handling methods.
  4. Freedom to express normal behaviour: Allow your dog to exercise and socialize regularly.
  5. Freedom from fear and distress: Use love, understanding, and training methods that are designed without force or pain.

Adhering to these freedoms will help you consider your dog’s physical and emotional well-being during training and behaviour modification.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and The Humane Hierarchy

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which includes physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization needs, also applies to dogs. It is important to keep this hierarchy in mind during training and behaviour modification to ensure that all of your dog’s needs are met.

The humane hierarchy, based on Maslow’s hierarchy, outlines the importance of meeting a dog’s basic needs before attempting to modify their behaviour. It emphasises the importance of building trust and a positive relationship with your dog before attempting to address any behavioural issues.

The Advancements in Dog Training Techniques

Recent advancements in behaviour modification techniques have notably enhanced the training and rehabilitation of dogs. The expanded comprehension of operant conditioning principles has catalysed the creation of innovative, humane methods for altering canine behaviour positively.

Positive Reinforcement, Clicker Training, and Desensitisation

  • Leveraging Operant Conditioning: Harnesses the power of consequences to shape behaviour, employing rewards and reinforcements that encourage positive outcomes.
  • Implementing Positive Reinforcement: Focuses on rewarding desired behaviours, which naturally increases the likelihood of these behaviours being repeated, and fosters a healthy learning environment.
  • Utilising Clicker Training: Employs a clear, consistent signal to mark desirable behaviour immediately, making it an effective communication tool that speeds up learning.
  • Applying Desensitisation Techniques: Gradually exposes the dog to stimuli that elicit negative behaviour’s, reducing their reactions over time in a controlled and compassionate manner.

These techniques have proven efficacy in addressing a multitude of behavioural issues ranging from basic obedience to more complex behavioural challenges. By rewarding positive behaviours instead of penalizing negative ones, they cultivate a trust-based relationship between dogs and their owners, promoting a harmonious living environment and enhancing the overall well-being of the dog.

The Benefits of Humane Approaches to Dog Training and Behaviour

These advancements in dog training techniques have not only improved the lives of dogs and their owners but have also increased our understanding of animal behaviour and the potential for utilising behaviour modification techniques in other species. By using humane, force-free training techniques, we can promote the well-being of dogs, while also increasing our understanding of animal behaviour. CBT Dog Behaviour adheres to the “most positive, least intrusive” ethical model devised by the amazing Dr Susan Friedman.

If you would like to here more from Susan, check episode #2 on our podcast!

Dr Susan Freidman interview with Jim Gillies

Susan’s hierarchy is divided into several levels, starting with the least intrusive methods at the top and progressing to the more intrusive methods at the bottom.

Hierarchy of Behavior-Change Procedures

Most positive, least intrusive
  1. Health and overall wellness: Veterinary checks are undertaken to ensure there are no undiagnosed or unresolved medical issues contributing to the individual’s behaviour.
  2. Antecedent arrangement: Antecedent arrangement refers to the process of manipulating the environment or the context in which a behaviour occurs in order to increase or decrease the likelihood of that behaviour.
  3. Positive reinforcement: This involves providing a reward for a desired behaviour to increase the likelihood that the behaviour will be repeated in the future. Positive reinforcement is considered the most humane method of behaviour change as it does not involve any form of punishment.
  4. Negative reinforcement: This involves removing an unpleasant stimulus (e.g. taking away a punishment) when a desired behaviour is exhibited, which also increases the likelihood that the behaviour will be repeated. It’s considered less humane than positive reinforcement as it involves the manipulation of a negative aspect (unpleasant stimulus) but still consider less intrusive than the next level.
  5. Extinction: This involves withholding reinforcement for a behaviour, which eventually causes the behaviour to decrease and stop. It is considered less humane than positive reinforcement as it may cause some discomfort to the individual and can be distressing if not managed well. It can also lead to further behaviour issues like extinction bursts (Extinction bursts in dogs refer to an increase in the frequency or intensity of a behaviour when the reinforcement for that behaviour is withdrawn. Extinction bursts are a common phenomenon that can occur when trying to decrease or eliminate an undesired behaviour through the process of extinction.).
  6. Punishment: This involves presenting an unpleasant consequence for a behaviour, which decreases the likelihood that the behaviour will be repeated. Punishment is considered the most intrusive and least humane method of behaviour change.

It is important to note that the use of punishment should be avoided. It’s also important to differentiate between day-to-day training and emergency handling. Remembering we live in an unpredictable world with our dogs and there may be emergencies where action may need to be taken.

The Importance of Understanding Key Concepts in Dog Training and Behaviour Modification

In the realm of dog training and behaviour modification, it is imperative to possess a comprehensive grasp of the foundational concepts and methods that contribute to a dog’s welfare.

Embracing the 5 Freedoms for Dogs, adhering to the structure of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and the Humane Hierarchy, along with implementing compassionate, non-coercive methodologies such as positive reinforcement, clicker training, and desensitisation, are pivotal in guaranteeing exemplary care for our canine companions.

  • Understanding the 5 Freedoms for Dogs: Ensures that all their physical and psychological needs are met, from proper nutrition to the freedom to express natural behaviours.
  • Applying Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: Provides a framework for assessing and fulfilling a dog’s essential emotional and psychological requirements, creating a foundation for a well-adjusted pet.
  • Following the Humane Hierarchy: Guides trainers and owners in choosing the least intrusive, minimally aversive techniques for effective training.
  • Utilising Positive Training Techniques: Reinforces desired behaviours without causing physical or emotional harm, promoting trust and a strong bond between the dog and its owner.
  • Incorporating Clicker Training and Desensitisation: Helps in shaping behaviour and managing responses to stimuli in a controlled, progressive manner.

Our duty as guardians of our pets extends to ensuring their comprehensive care, of which training and behaviour modification are integral elements. Dedicating time to learning and implementing best practices in dog training affirms our commitment to offering a nurturing and stimulating environment for our dogs.

It is crucial to acknowledge that training is an ongoing journey that reflects our dedication to the health and happiness of our pets. Therefore, patience and a steadfast focus on their welfare should always be at the forefront of any training endeavour.

Hierarchy o fDog Needs

About me

Jim Gillies, a Certified Dog Behaviourist and Trainer in Glasgow with over 10 years of experience, prioritises canine well-being through modern, science-backed methods. Handling 4000+ cases of 1-to-1 behaviour training, Jim is fully accredited, insured, and recognised for addressing various behavioural issues including aggression, separation anxiety, and more. Jim holds qualifications in level 5 (merit) Advanced Diploma Canine Behaviour Management and level 6 Graduate Diploma Applied Animal Behaviour. Explore his insightful blog and podcast, sharing expert knowledge on dog training and behaviour. Certified by the IAABC, Jim’s expertise makes him a reliable choice for addressing your dog’s needs.

Contact information

Should you have any questions about this article, feel free to contact me on:

  • Email: jim@cbtdogbehaviour.com
  • Mobile: 07864029933
Dog Training & Behaviour FAQs
Dog Training & Behaviour FAQs
Why is it important to meet my dog’s basic needs before starting training?
Meeting your dog’s basic needs ensures they are physically and emotionally ready for training, which includes food, water, shelter, veterinary care, exercise, and socialisation. Neglecting these can lead to stress and behavioural issues, negatively impacting training.
What are the “5 Freedoms for Dogs”?
The “5 Freedoms for Dogs” are essential guidelines for well-being: freedom from hunger and thirst, discomfort, pain, injury, or disease; freedom to express normal behaviour; and freedom from fear and distress.
How does Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs apply to dogs?
Dogs have a hierarchy of needs—physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem, self-actualization—that when understood, ensure their well-being is prioritised during training and behaviour modification.
What is the Humane Hierarchy in dog training?
The Humane Hierarchy, based on Maslow’s, underscores the importance of fulfilling a dog’s basic needs first and focuses on trust-building and positive relationships for effective behavioural modification.
What are some modern dog training techniques?
Modern training techniques like Positive Reinforcement, Clicker Training, and Desensitisation reward good behaviour rather than punish bad, fostering a stronger bond between dog and owner.
What are the benefits of humane dog training approaches?
Humane training promotes well-being, understanding, and positive relationships, enhancing our knowledge of animal behaviour and informing behaviour modification across species.
How can I contact a professional for more dog training and behaviour modification advice?
For expert advice, reach out to Jim Gillies, a Certified Dog Behaviourist, via email at jim@cbtdogbehaviour.com or call 07864029933. Jim offers modern, evidence-based training solutions.
Where can I learn more about dog training and behaviour modification?
Learn more from the blog and podcast by Jim Gillies on cbtdogbehaviour.com, or contact him directly for tailored advice and training sessions.


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