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When raising a sporting, service or performance dog there is a common misconception that inhibiting a dog’s expression of instinct towards one stimulus will have an unavoidable negative effect to all other expressions of that instinct.
Consider that if this were true then we would have to let our dogs chase car tyres on the main road, be aggressive to children and snatch food off the bench! With some thought we can see that there are some major holes in this philosophy. Selective suppression is a key element to dogs being able to function at the highest level as well as being livable and easily trainable.
If the desired training outcomes for the dog require you to inhibit instinctive expression towards a given stimulus (e.g.- prey drive towards a cat) then you need to work doubly hard at encouraging expression of that same instinct towards a more appropriate stimulus(e.g.- prey drive expressed towards a tug, hessian sack or decoy).
Where expression of instinct (e.g.- drive) needs to be disrupted or curbed then we need to be sure to be considered, effective and minimal in the way that we do so. This is even more important in very young dogs and pups, where what you don’t do is at least as important as what you do.
With each new context, situation and environment the dog is introduced to where he is able to express and satiate that instinct the desired concept is reinforced in the dog’s mind and we are helped towards our training goals. With this body of experience we create the general mindset in the dog that where he is chastised for an inappropriate expression of instinct he can easily avoid that situation in future – and it will immediately seek another way to satisfy it’s instinct in an fashion it knows or suspects will be considered appropriate.
Teaching an animal to express it’s instinct towards multiple key stimuli (ball, tug, decoy, etc.) works in both your favour and the dog’s favour as the dog learns that not only that there are many opportunities to feel instinctively satiated, but that appropriately expressing that instinct (or set of instincts) is frequently successful in multiple contexts and towards multiple key stimuli.