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SG Susan Garrett
SG There’s an old saying, ‘what you learn first, you learn best.’ Now that’s not to say you can’t relearn
something to replace what you’ve learned first, just that sometimes it takes more effort. Hi, I’m Susan
Garrett. Welcome to Shaped by Dog, and today’s podcast is at a request from one of our YouTube
Sarah Anderson asks, “It would be really helpful if you could do a podcast about going from being a
punishment-based/balanced trainer to a choice-based and positive reinforcement one like you. I’m
really struggling with that mindset.” You know what, you’re not alone. That’s something that is a
struggle for everybody because there’s very, very few people in this world who start off training their
dog in our programs.
Now there’s more and more every year. But for a lot of people who have owned dogs in the past, it’s a
choice. And just like anything in life, to make a choice, it has to be a conscious effort. And to go from a
place of punishment to a place of reinforcement, I think there’s really three things that are involved, and
that is the why, the plan, and the grace.
I’ll get to those three things in a second, but first, let’s examine why punishment-based dog training is
so popular. You know, obviously, it’s more traditional. It goes back many generations of dog trainers
who’ve been taught this is the best way to train a dog. I think culturally it may also be human nature.
Now I say culturally because I don’t like to believe this is the way we are naturally programmed. I
believe it’s a way that we evolve through our culture, in that we learn to ignore what’s good and punish
that which is bad, or different. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at social media. And there’s so
many people that are pointing out what’s wrong with the world.
And those are the posts that are getting all kinds of comments. “Yeah, that’s right.” “That’s true.” “My
life sucks too.” “Your life sucks. My life sucks.” “Here’s what’s wrong. It’s the government. You know,
there’s a villain in everything. But if you see the posts that go, “Wow, life is a gift, and it’s just such an
amazing day.” You might get a couple of thumbs up but not nearly the kind of attraction that the drama
So partially, it might be how society has wired us to ignore the good and react to the bad. But if you
think about the ABCs of behavior, and I’ve talked about this on my podcast before, ‘the thing before the
thing.’ So, the antecedent is something that comes before the behavior, and the behavior leads to the
C, which is a consequence. Now, if the consequence is something that is reinforcing, it will happen
again. If the consequence is something that isn’t reinforcing, it will likely be suppressed.
Take, for example, the antecedent of your dog getting their paws up on the counter, and maybe they’re
going for your lunch, and you scream at them, “Hey!”. Maybe you grabbed the closest something, and
you throw it at them. “Get off of there!” A - the antecedent = the dog doing something you don’t like
causes the B - your behavior = you punish them, which creates the C - the consequence = dog got off
the counter, the lunch was saved. So that consequence actually reinforces your behavior.
Dogs are amazing creatures, and they’re just a gift from God. And they do things in spite of what we
do. And so, people get reinforced for the punishment because the thing the dog is doing stops. And
that is a big reason why positive punishment, in particular, is just so rampant in dog training. So, let’s
say you’ve decided, “Okay, Susan, I want to stop this. How do I go about going from thinking
punishment first to going to reinforcement?”
It has to start number one; the first element I mentioned is the why. And in Simon Sinek’s great book
‘Start with Why’ he suggests that any lasting change has to start with why this is important to you. And
saying, “You know, I’d like to be on a Canadian Olympic team. Yeah. I think that’s what I’d like to do; I’d
like to be on the Canadian Olympic team.”
That is a wish, a pipe dream. But if you said, “I’d like to dedicate myself to be on a Canadian Olympic
team.” well, that’s assuming you’re Canadian. That’s going to follow up with how are you going to plan
your day to do eight hours of intense training? Provided you actually have some talent in that area, to
So, there’s a difference between saying, “Yeah, that would be kind of nice.” and “I’m going to dedicate
myself to making this happen.” Do you see the difference? So, what is the difference? So, would you
like to change from being a balanced trainer to being a game-based reinforcement-based trainer
because your friends are doing it?
Because it looks interesting? Because it looks fun? Or is there something deeper? I personally think
those are soft reasons. They aren’t going to make you stick. So, you might play along with a game or
two, but when things don’t go at the speed you expect it, then what you learn first, you learn best.
You’re going to go back to the punishment that you came from because “This isn’t working! This stuff
But if you’re going to dedicate yourself to the change, then if things don’t go at the speed that you think
they should, you might get curious and ask your coach. “Am I doing something wrong?” “Is there
something that I could be doing differently?” And because you’re dedicated to making that change,
you’re going to keep moving on. So, let’s dig into that why. For me, I think the biggest why is we know
that how you train a dog has an effect on you. Because as the dog’s behavior is getting changed, so
The example being, if you are somebody who looks to punish, then every time your dog does
something wrong, you will be judging their behavior and looking to “Hey! Hey!” get on them. Now, how
does that affect who you are as a human being?
Well, I can’t tell you for sure, but I know from my personal experience when I changed to become a
person who looked for ways to set my dog up for success so that I could reinforce them, I became a
person who looked for ways to tell people they were awesome. I looked for ways to lead my team in the
way that I trained my dogs. I became a different person.
I know if you were a parent, I have seen parents try to teach children how to correct the dog into a
down. How to alpha role the dog and tell them, “You know, you have to tell this dog that you’re the
boss or they’re not going to listen to them.” And it breaks my heart. What lessons are you teaching that
child? Who will that child grow to be when they are in a position where they think they are a leader of
somebody and that somebody on their team disappoints them? Or a classmate does something that
they feel shouldn’t be?
I personally believe there’s a potential that we’re raising kids to believe we should be in control of
others. And the bottom line, none of us can control anybody. We can only control ourselves. None of
us can control our dogs. We can only inspire them to do what we want them to do by setting them up
with really good choices.
I don’t care; all the electric collars and pinch collars and anything you want to throw at a dog cannot
control the dog. You can change one moment in time, but you can’t control who that dog is. They still
have that choice. Now you cause enough pain. You can shut down who that dog is and have them
become a mere shadow of who they are.
But I’m hoping that your big why is “I want my dog to help me to become the person I’m meant to be.”
My big why is I want to be shaped by dog. My big why is I want to bring out the absolute best in my
dog. I want my dog to show their true personality and character. At the same time, living life in a way
that’s following guidelines I set up for them so we can live in harmony and do things together.
If that’s your big why then that’s going to lead you to be dedicated to make the change. And you’re not
going to be on any timetable looking at ‘why isn’t this happening right now. So, establish what your why
is and then come up with a plan.
Now, if you’re listening to this podcast, you have more than a hundred other podcasts that you can
start and download the show notes and really do a deep dive into how we train, how we approach any
kind of dog training challenge.
If you stay present for the words I say in every one of the past 100 podcasts, you will have a massive
leg up on becoming the trainer that looks for the good and helps set the dog up for reinforcement. In
order to train this way, you’ve got to be brilliant at the use of reinforcement. And there’s really kind of
two sections during the day that this happens. Number one is training.
So that might be, I don’t know, 20 minutes a day, maybe an hour, but I don’t get an hour a day. And I
do bouts of five to 10 minutes of training at the most. And during those times, most often using food or
toys. So, if you’re using food or toys in your training, my guess is that’s only five or 10 minutes of the
day. The other section of your training has got to be the other 16 hours that you’re awake or potentially
interacting with your dog.
And during that time, the reinforcement is the permission of the behaviors that you allow your dog to
engage with. Do you allow your dog to bark at the front window or fence fight with the neighbors’ dog or
chase after wildlife or cats? And then once it’s done, be mad at the dog? That’s reinforcement that you
need to start to manage so that the dog’s behavior goes through you, and you make the choice of how
they earn that reinforcement.
That’s how this works. Also, in that plan, you need an awareness. An awareness of what’s going on
during the day and awareness of where your dog gets the reinforcement. It’s not just about playing a
couple of games. It’s like saying, “I ate a salad at lunch, therefore I can have a triple-decker ice cream
sundae and chocolate bars for breakfast, and I’m going to lose weight.”
If you’re dedicated to something, you’ve got to look at the entire day. You’ve got to look at having an
awareness of where your dog is getting their reinforcement and how you can adjust that reinforcement.
So, it’s something that brings you to a more productive place. You also have to have awareness of
your own self-talk. You have to have awareness of how you’re talking about your dog.
Now here on Shaped by Dog I talked about the ‘belief loop.’ Who do you believe that dog is? If you find
yourself saying he’s a bad dog or he’s stupid, or he’s aggressive, or he’s whatever your list of
adjectives are, you need to reign that in and trigger your brain. So that when you say, “Oh Susan, how
could you be so…?” Whatever it is, the word is you’re going to say about yourself. Make the change.
I’ve never talked about myself in a bad way. Even if I went downstairs to get my cell phone and I got
distracted and got a drink of water and came back upstairs and didn’t have my cell phone, I don’t say,
“Oh Susan, how could you be so stupid or forgetful?” even if it starts, “Oh Susan, look at how much
extra exercise you’ve just given yourself. Let’s celebrate that!” I never allow myself to talk badly about
myself. I never allow myself to talk badly about my dogs. So that awareness of where your dog is
getting reinforcement and that awareness about how you talk about yourself and about your dog.
Now, the most obvious part of the plan is the strategic games that you’re going to play with your dog.
That’s going to bring them to have better behavior around the house and in your interactions with the
dog. Now for me, that starts with a game called ItsYerChoice. And if you’re in our communities, if you’re
in one of our online classrooms, you’re well familiar with ItsYerChoice.
It is a foundation core game in every one of my online classrooms. If you’re new to me or hearing this
for the first time and you would like to start somewhere, I will give you access to our ItsYerChoice
Summit, a hundred percent free. I’ll give you the link in the show notes. That is the place to start. That
alone and with all these other podcasts will give you a massive foundation to help get that kind of
relationship that you’re dedicating yourself to with your dog.
And the final element is grace. And this is the tough one. Because once we are aware of what’s
possible for our dogs with game-based reinforcement-based dog training, once you buy in and you say,
“that’s what I want,” you can’t help but look at the choices you’ve made in the past and feel bad about
Or if you’re working along at this, and then suddenly your dog runs off, and you start gritting your teeth
and yelling at him, and you put him on leash and you give him a couple shots because you’re so angry,
and then you go back to the house, and you beat yourself up. When you know better, you do better.
And if you slip up and you make a mistake, what you’ve got to ask yourself is, “How could I have
handled this differently?” “What did I learn from this?” Write it down. Go back to the ABCs.
And if your dog is doing something and you yell at them and you stop the behavior, and you get that
reinforcement because your punishment created the outcome you were looking for, I want you to look
at that outcome differently. Sure, the dog stopped getting the lunch. I want you to look at the dog’s
eyes as they look at you, the dog’s body language. Are they a little bit more worried about you? Are
they a little more fearful? Are they a little more withdrawn? Are they less likely to show you who their
true personality is?
So, is it really a good outcome when your punishment stops the dog from doing something? It depends
on what that consequence is. So, I encourage you to look at this differently. Ask yourself, what did my
dog just learn? You may say, “Oh, he learned to stay off the counter.” Or did he learn to be afraid of
you? Did he really learn to stay off the counter? Do you think that he will never get on the counter
again? That you can leave a buffet of meat out there? Don’t kid yourself.
Your dog didn’t learn to stay off the counter. One shot on the neck doesn’t teach the dog not to pull on
a leash. Screaming at them and shaking them when they don’t come when called never teaches them
not to run off again. All it does is make them feel worried about being around you. So, the ABCs, I
would like you to look at that differently.
Anytime you inadvertently punish your dog, look at the consequence that you were given, even if the
dog does stop. Look at it differently because that will help you take a different approach next time. That
will help you to sit back and go, “Okay, first of all, is my dog safe?” So, you can do anything you want. If
there’s a chance that your dog may be in danger. So let me preface that if your dog is running out in
the street, if screaming at them will stop them, by all means, scream at them. And then take a look
back at how can I make sure that never happens again?
And what can I do right now to add layers into my dog’s foundational learning that will help him
understand how important it is to never go out an open gate, to never go out an open door. All of those
lessons are what lead to having that dream dog. So, grace is important, but grace with education.
Grace is living in the present. Recognizing 10 minutes ago, you might’ve gritted your teeth and done
something that you really were a little ashamed of. And grace is going, “You know what, Susan, you
are a good person. You’re dedicating yourself to making life better for this dog so that that doesn’t
happen again.” Cut yourself some slack, celebrate that you realized now that you did it. And even if you
slip up again, you fall back on grace, and that’s what’s going to allow you to bring out the best in you
because that’s what our dogs are here for. To help us all to be the best versions of ourselves we can
That’s it for Shaped by Dog for today. And hey, if you’re listening to this and in an area that you can
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Remember rhymes with hive, beehive. See you next time.