I Was Severely Punished

I Was Severely Punished

It Worked, and I’ll Never Do It Again, I Promise!   

I wasn’t the slightest bit interested in entering the AKC Rally competition nearby, but several friends and the instructor of my course encouraged me to jump in. It was a sport about which they were sincerely passionate, and I commend them for this. Astro and I had likely sufficiently mastered the requisite skills, but I’d have to put some effort into studying the rules. Some of the terminology conflicted with that of Rally-FrEe, the sport in which I was already competing and found more fun and interesting than Rally. This would be a bit confusing.
I decided to enter. By the time the competition date arrived, Astro and I felt ready to give it a try. I was confident about my grasp of the rules. I was even somewhat excited about it, I reluctantly admitted!
When we were called to walk the novice course, I realized I needed clarification on something, so I approached the judge with a simple question.

Mad Judge*
She openly berated me. She was condescending and accusatory, roaring that the answer was in the rule book I should have read, and “shame on me” for not knowing. She refused to respond, instead huffing away in contempt and derision.
I was aghast. Aren’t you, too, just reading this? Was talking to the judge verboten? If so, she could have kindly told me this (and what a weird rule that would be anyway). Luckily, one of the other exhibitors answered my question (surreptitiously whispering it to me, out of sight of the judge as if we were involved in some duplicitous drug deal).
This was supposed to be a fun hobby to do with our dogs and other teams with similar passions, not some military exercise where pulling rank fills one’s fragile ego.
How do you think I felt as Astro and I ran the course with Mad Judge closely watching us? We hadn’t even started, and it was already tainted by negativity. There was no joy in it whatsoever for me. I was thrilled just to be done with it.

Tied for first.
She called the two first place finishers to the table, openly disappointed that we did as well as we did. She was still angry. Her anger sprouted, she admitted, from her disdain for positive reinforcement trainers like the two of us “Cookie Pushers.” I wear the “Cookie Pusher” badge with pride even though it’s tossed around as a derisive term. I love cookies. (note: no treats are allowed in the ring, yet we still excelled). She decided to give my competitor first and me second, but she was clearly still unhappy about life. Her rant deepened into a long-winded diatribe about the state of the wider world, how spoiled children are these days, etc. She carried on for so long that I high-tailed it while she was still in full rage, so eager was I to flee the scene and never, ever return.
“Punishment”: a consequence which reduces the likelihood of a behavior happening again.

First Impressions are Powerful; we don’t get a second chance.
What if, instead of the above (factual) scenario, I’d been welcomed by a kind and supportive judge, if I’d had many prior, positive experiences to help buffer this one bad one? It would likely be very different. The team who tied with me went on to compete many times and loved it. I stuck with Rally-FrEe! What’s not to love about a bow as the last behavior on every course?

This isn’t just about me, in case you were wondering…
The above applies to our interactions with our dogs and the choices we make in how to train them. The rules of psychology recognize no species borders. A dog who plays a rousing game of joyful tug when he first enters the vet’s office will have a very different first impression than a dog who comes in and is reprimanded for being fearful. When we are having training sessions focused on punishing our dogs for not knowing what they don’t know (that happened to me) rather than supporting them through the learning process, we will likely have an unhappy learner.
What experiences have you had where you were punished for something you didn’t do, where the punishment far outweighed the “crime”, or where your dog had a bad - or great - first impression that endured? Please share!
Happy training!

*This is a true story, but it does not reflect the typical experience of a Rally trial. I got the wrong judge, but the damage was done. The use of punishment risks causing long-term fall-out.

Diana Logan, CPDT-KA Certified Professional Dog Trainer, Knowledge-Assessed  
Pet Connection Dog Training, North Yarmouth, Maine
 www.dianalogan.com | 207-252-9352

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