Lessons from Leo, the Dog
This is based on a true story, the story of a dog called Leo, a Lab Golden Retriever. When brought home as a puppy, he was such an adorable, cute and soft bundle of boundless love and affection. Leo lacked nothing. He had the best food a dog could have and lots of comfort. He was petted, cuddled and pampered. But the one thing his family forgot was to discipline him. They forgot to set boundaries and make him obey commands. Now, Leo the puppy is a full grown dog and weighs about 50 k.g. He can frighten any intruder, human or animal, with his loud burst of barking, hostile posture and nasty look.
Of late, Leo has been behaving strangely. The family found much to their dismay that their once loyal friend was turning pretty hostile. Leo growls and even snarls at his masters when he feels that their slightest move is unpleasant. For example, if Leo is scolded for being naughty, which he often is, he starts growling and looks menacingly at them. He digs up the yard and shreds into bits anything that comes his way.
The family is afraid of their dear ‘protector’! What’s happened to this adorable puppy? This story has so many implications for all of us,especially for young parents. How to discipline and refine our little wards to get ready for the real world is indeed a question which has several answers.
Pavlov’s famous dog and classical conditioning and operant conditioning (B. F. Skinner) taught us the basics of learning. There’s no difference between animal and human learning, they found. Based on the theories of conditioning, Behaviorist Schools emphasized the role of environmental factors. All learning takes place based on associations and conditioning; and a significant element in learning behavior depends on reward or punishment. Behavior that is reinforced tends to be repeated, leading to strengthening of such behavior, and behavior not reinforced, tends to die out (Skinner B.F. 1948). Now the question is, how do we reinforce the good behavior of our children and reduce the bad ones? What‘s the role of corporal punishment in achieving the latter goal?
There are umpteen ways of rewarding good behavior. Think about your own past and how you became what you are today. Did you not enjoy so many rewarding moments, so many approvals and appreciations? Now the problem is about suppressing or weeding out negative behavior. The temptation to punish and subject a child to instant obedience is a myth. Psychologists, based on scientific studies, strongly advise us to avoid corporal punishment for the following reasons: If punishment itself is aggressive, children who comply immediately are also found to be more aggressive. Such children are found to show less ability to control aggression, and are low on mental health in the long term (Gershoff E.T. 2002).
Another reason is that these children may comply but may not internalize the norms of being good for its own sake. In order to enhance learning, one needs intrinsic positive motivation. In corporal punishment it’s always the extrinsic factors that matter.
Another danger of corporal punishment is the likelihood of the repeating the aggression later in life towards one’s spouse, children etc.
Enhancing human learning through reinforcements, both positive and negative, is essential. The temptation to succumb to corporal punishment is not the best way to go. There are lessons to learn from Leo the dog, the untrained ‘beauty’ who became a ‘beast’, and from Ivan Pavlov’s trained and disciplined dog.