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Suppression Is Not Learning

Guest Blog by Jennifer Caves Pendleton, M.Psy, CGC, Canine-Human Educator for REAL Animal Sanctuary and Behavioral Solutions

What is Suppression?

Suppression- the act of stopping yourself or another from thinking, feeling, or acting. Synonyms of suppression include: defeat, crushing, repression, quashing, concealing, stifling, and restricting. Let that all sink in. Do you want to crush your dog's drive? Do you want to have a relationship based on stifling your dog's natural desires to explore the world? Do you want to have a partnership with your dog based on dominance, power, and control? I would hope most people would say no to all three of those questions. There is a lot of people who unfortunately consider dominance, power, and control as exactly what their dog(s) need for their behavior. Let's discuss that philosophy.

Dominance, in animal behavior, is, "the high status in a social group, usually acquired as the result of aggression, that involves the tendency to take priority in access to resources." In dog behavior, this is basically an outdated philosophy and it should be. Forcing dogs into submission as a means of preventing and correcting problem behaviors does not teach our dogs to perceive, feel or react to a situation with a learned response for new desired behavior. It suppresses all behavior because our dogs become scared. Fearful to do anything because the other end of the leash is always threatening their body and mind with punitive energy. If we have to be aggressive and subject our dogs to threats to "modify" behavior, then we have completely forgotten the whole point of having a relationship with our canine friends. It is really very sad. What a miserable way to live, co-exist and co-create a shared life with our dogs.

Why Suppression doesn't work.

Let's look a little closer at why suppression doesn't really work anyway. Have you ever tried a diet? Most people fail at diets because the root issue is never addressed. It is a bandaid. A temporary false illusion of a solution. If our relationship with food is based on emotion, if we don't have a solid understanding of the nutritional value of foods, and if we don't consider the element of physical activity levels then suppressing our hunger may work temporarily but it did not do anything to help you in the long run. Dog behavior isn't much different. Suppressing a dog's natural drive to sniff is not only cruel but it is never going to have a long-term effect of the dog not sniffing. Suppression, aversive control, and punishment can, unfortunately, have the opposite effect of what people intend. When your dog has an accident in the house and the dog gets punished, what did he learn? That human is scary, that human is intimidating and that human causes stress and fear. Maybe he potties in corners when he cannot hold it, maybe he hides outside when he goes to the bathroom, or maybe as he gets older he develops an aversion to loud noises. At any rate, evasiveness, the need to not get caught is learned rather than learning where to go potty.

"The teacher, in her love for her student, doesn't wish to suppress her learner's desire to learn, but motivate, engage and encourage a drive for acquiring new skills."

I often use a dog's natural abilities to modify behavior. This is the most kind, respectful and successful method of helping dogs be a better version of themself. Numerous puppy clients want guidance on that "puppy energy," all the biting, barking at them and restlessness seems to be overwhelming at times and clients are reporting that "No!" and time-outs just aren't working. No and time-outs fall under the punishment/suppression category; so what do we do. We do enrichment activities that work that little puppy's mind and body that there isn't any energy left to direct to the undesired behaviors. For example, a 30 minute morning walk, with 30-minute training session, and then a Kong with Frozen canned dog food. The puppy is busy and engaged. Or in the evening when pup gets the puppy crazies and you are trying to snuggle and watch your favorite show, but pup only wants to chew on your flesh we make a DIY Puzzle Box so he can use his nose and brain for 40 minutes to an hour working on all the yummy stuff inside his box. The puzzle box takes care of sensorial enrichment, cognitive enrichment, shredding, digging, foraging, moving, nose work, and brain development. What is the puppy not doing during this time? Practicing unwanted behaviors. This is a great example of using what a dog finds naturally rewarding to help set them up for learning. The last example is using a dog's backyard or front yard as a giant snuffle mat. One of my clients had a dog that fixated at the fence line. After sprinkling treats all over the backyard he found that finding treats were more motivating than anything happening at the fence. And the cool thing is the more this is done the more that space has value for the dog. So he becomes conditioned to be in the yard more than at the fence line.

Overall, I find time and time again that if we use our dog's needs as our driving force for our behavioral plan we can teach them in an effective, humane and lasting way. If your dog is having behavioral problems have you ever stopped to ask yourself if he is given any appropriate outlets for his energy? Am I working his mind enough? How can I challenge his brain to work? A dog's behavior is linked to his mind so if he is not mentally tired we can still experience some issues in his behavior. Mental health used to be and in some regards still is a taboo issue compared to medical and physical ones. I want to change that. Your dog's mental health matters and I hope you are motivated to use your dog's drives to shape their development instead of suppressing behavior that leads to psychological harm and even more behavioral damage. If someone spent most of their time in your relationship suppressing the behaviors that brought you joy, stifling the actions that were natural to you, and extinguishing your stress-relieving choices; how long before your frustrations were expressed in other ways? Food for thought.

Meet the Behaviorist, Jennifer Caves, M.Psy, CGC:

"Welcome dog lovers and all dogs! I am the founder and Canine-Human Educator for REAL Animal Sanctuary and Behavioral Solutions. We consider our work to be rooted in science and driven by ethics. Our passion meets purpose mission is unique in that we empower and educate people with a lifelong skillset to help any dog they share their life with currently or in the future. Dogs are incredibly resilient and intelligent and when the humans in their life know the how, why and successful implementation of behavioral principles- our dogs become happy, healthy, and healed. I have my Masters in Psychology and Canine Good Citizen Certification through the AKC. I have literally been rescuing animals since I was 16 years old with 15 years of behavioral experience. I consider it a privilege to work with you and your dog!"

Contact Jennifer by visiting


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