Suppression is Not the Solution


The dictionary gives several definitions of suppress one of which is, "to restrain from a usual course or action." To suppress behavior is to prevent the dog from expressing that behavior. Sounds good, right? After all, that's why most owners hire a trainer: their dog has a problem and it needs to stop.

As a professional dog trainer, I'm with you! I want to stop your dog from doing the bad behavior. But I want it to last and I want to do it without creating more problems.

Fixing a dog's bad behavior by focusing solely on the external expression is a bad plan--especially in cases of reactivity and aggression--because it ignores the emotions that created and sustain the behavior.

Imagine you have a sore on your arm that is open, bleeding and oozing green pus. This is a problem that needs to be fixed.
The suppression solution is to wipe away the blood and pus and then put a flesh colored bandage over the wound. All better! Right?
Not exactly. Pus is gross and points to some kind of deeper issue like an infection. If your doctor does nothing but externally clean the wound and slap on a bandage, you'll have a very serious health problem before too long.
What you actually need is a thorough cleansing of the wound and some antibiotics. You've got to treat the deeper issue and not just the stuff you see on the surface.

When trainers attempt to fix your dog's problems via suppression, the dog may look fine and "rehabilitated" on the outside, but unfortunately he's not. In fact, he's likely going to get worse.
Effective, science-based training recognizes the fine line between treating observable behavior and seeking to understand (and address) the emotions that drive that behavior. Dogs who are "bad" because they're scared will only become more scared when corrected for expressing their fear; as they become more scared, they express the fear more often and it becomes a vicious cycle.  

So how do you know if a trainer is going to use suppression? One of the easiest ways to find out is to ask, "what will you do when my dog makes a wrong choice/misbehaves/disobeys?"

  • Trainers who plan (consciously or unconsciously) to use suppression will usually use some kind of physical correction when the dog misbehaves. This can be a collar correction/leash jerk, a tap/stim/transmission from an electronic collar, alpha rolling, scruffing, or tapping the dog's body with hands or feet.
  • Trainers who plan to consider and address the underlying emotions will train your dog using desensitization and counter-conditioning techniques. They will set the dog up for success and then reward him for making the right choice. They understand that practice makes behavior permanent so they will be very concerned with preventing your dog from disobeying in the first place.