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Crime and Punishment

If you have ever experienced a computer expert coming to see you to teach you how to use software programmes, how many times do they seem to skip or are too quick in their demonstration. When they have gone and you start using the programme you are stuck. This means you have to telephone the helpdesk to ask what to do next. Being an expert, you have to see things from the students view in order to teach successfully.

A question came up the other week that does show that I made the same type of mistake. The question comes from my writing about the day Winston stole some cooked liver intended for my class of the following day. I did shout at him to drop it, which he did, and then I ignored him for a day. I did not even feed him that evening, but he needs to be on a diet and it has an important function in doing this.

The other point to this was I said I do not like to use citronella collars on any dog that suffers separation anxiety. I feel it is like chastising it for crying and yet I still advocate using the same ignoring technique in both cases. The question is therefore are both dogs still being chastised creating stress for them. The simple answer to this is no.

The problem here is the human’s views on crime and the various versions of punishment are legion. We are far more complicated than dogs that have very simple genetic rules that govern the way they interact with others of their group.

To try to understand this we have to break it down into sections in order to comprehend how a dog views what is happening. In the case when I caught Winston, actually eating the liver, my punishment was a loud gruff command to drop it. This he did and I immediately reverted to my normal happy posture but I would no longer recognise Winston existed. This is not a punishment. It is more of a time out for Winston to reflect on his interaction with me.

All dogs have genetic guide rules on interaction and they can alter these by learning new rules. If he can learn to steal my food and I am the Alpha, this goes against the original genetic rules. Winston needs me to be part of a social group and most importantly to provide his meals. This means he must revaluate that all food belongs to the Alphas. Now when I leave food out as a test he looks away as if it is not there.

In cases of separation anxiety, there is no punishment yet still the ignoring method works so is it not a punishment too. Humans use to have simple rules but over the hundreds of years, these rules have become more complicated. Years ago, stealing and you lost your hand. Now we see punishment as depriving their freedom of those that steal in one way or another. Sending children to their room is a similar seemingly a loss of freedom still seen under the heading of punishment. Is it really punishment or time out to reconsider their interaction with groups or society?

In any group of wolves or canine packs, there is no such thing as separation anxiety except when the bitch finally closes her milk bar for the cubs or puppies. This is when she will chase them away using an aggressive stance to make sure they stay away. Now they must learn to fend for themselves instead of having the constant attention and protection of the Alpha female. Once having chased them away, she will then ignore them. The design of canine social system is to accept the puppies or cubs into the greater social group. There is no way they can go back to mother.

Humans being very loving people do tend to fuss over puppies to the extent that as a puppy it wanted to return to the mother but refused, humans let them do precisely this. The common indicator of this problem is a puppy that follows you everywhere like a shadow and cannot settle unless you are present. Like any human baby, it will find that crying or barking, humans will let them into the bedroom, even onto the bed. Humans mistakenly think this need to be constantly by their side is just the sign of a very loving puppy until they find later that they cannot go out the house without their dog. If they do not take it with them, then it barks or cries even scratching the door, chewing up furniture or furnishing to help it over its anxiety. Where the Alpha bitch has forced her young to go away from her and make their own lives, humans often undo this only to find their lives under the control of a puppy.

Within the wolves or dogs original genetic rules exists how they interact with one another and how their society works. As in cases of separation anxiety, they had learned from their mother how to fend for themselves but once in a human household they can find the protection again of a new human Alpha willing to do what the real mother tried to stop them doing.

This change in the rules is learned but if humans then ignore the puppy, it must revaluate its interaction with its original rules, which it understands. Where it has learnt that the real mother chased them away before, now the human adopted parents are doing the same. The earlier this is spotted and corrected then a puppy learns very quickly to accept the change as normal. This means that if humans ignore their pup in what for us seems an uncaring way, though we might not understand it from a human perspective, dogs do.

In the case of Winston, the genetic rule of social behaviour all food belongs to the Alphas except when they are puppies. This is when all puppies have the priority of eating food before the Alphas and then the rest of the pack. If the puppies do not experience the change when they reach the age that they must learn to wait in line with all the other members of the pack then you can have a puppy that thinks they are entitled to all food that enters the household.

For Winston living in a shelter from being a puppy he has had to survive by making sure he obtains his fair share of food in an ever changing pack. Dogs come into his run and some go again when adopted. For him even though castrated he will still try to dominate and take control of food, which he loves. By my ignoring him, he had to look again at his basic genetic rules and accept he needs me and that I am the Alpha. He must therefore also accept that all food is mine to do with as I wish.

The query arose because humans see things in a more complicated way and think ignoring a human or a dog is a form of punishment. Whilst a human may well see it in such a way, dogs do not.


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