I had a pleasant convo on the Fear Free Pets page with a trainer who uses “corrections” in his training. He insisted that “corrections” is different than “punishment”. I suggested that this was just a semantics issue. Both include the uniquely human construct of morals, right and wrong.

Humans are the only animal on earth that has a sense of morals. Of “right” and “wrong”. Hence why we don’t get along with most other humans unless they have the same morals as us.

We’ll use dogs in this case, but this is true of all non-human animals. They only have 1 real goal in life. To stay alive.

This trainer’s example of “stealing” food off of a coffee table and the human needing to apply a “correction” of yelling “STOP!” at the dog is a perfect example of human-applied morals to an amoral creature.

Yelling at anyone as a “correction” is a human construct. In the human mind, the dog is “stealing” (moral judgment) and therefore needs an aversive applied because they got it “wrong”.

Let’s look at this scenario from the dog’s perspective.

Because of hundreds of thousands of years of selective breeding, we have taken predators and made them scavengers (yes, I know some dogs still have very strong prey drives and do kill prey animals but even those dogs scavenge for food – that is a different conversation.)

So, when food is left out and available to the dog what are they naturally going to do? They are going to scavenge the food because food means they get to stay alive another day.

By saying they’re “stealing” we’re putting a moral perspective on a natural behavior, a behavior we even engage in, finding and eating food so we can stay alive.

In the rewards-based world, we don’t see it as “stealing” and we don’t think it’s “wrong”. We see it as a natural behavior and if the dog did it with “our” superior-tasting food (I mean, come on pizza is way tastier than dry kibble) then we set the dog up to do the thing.

We step back and say “How can *I* prevent this from happening in the future? Because *I* don’t like it.” (See the *I* statements there?)

We look at management (i.e. putting a baby gate between the dog and the coffee table, putting the food on a higher table that the dog cannot reach, to name a few) and then we look at how we can train the dog to be in the same room without bothering our food. It could be training a “place” cue so the dog has something specific to do while the food is present. It could be providing the dog a scavenging experience through food enrichment activities.

We have options other than applying our moral construct to an amoral animal.

Also, words matter. It affects how we see things.

Is a person “stealing bread” or “trying to feed their starving family”. Makes things significantly different in our heads, as we would be angry if a parent didn’t feed a child, wouldn’t we? (Gosh, that human construct of morals at it again!)