DON’T EVER Do This To Your Dog – “Bonking”

I have so many issues with this as a Canine Behavior Consultant that I almost don’t even know where to begin.

The Oxford Dictionary tells us that bonking is a verb defined as:

  1. knock or hit (something) so as to cause a reverberating sound.
  2. have sexual intercourse with (someone)

I was introduced to a trainer named Jeff Gellmen who uses the term “bonking” for rolling up a towel and hitting a dog in the head as hard as you can to “stop a behavior”.

I have so many issues with this as a Canine Behavior Consultant that I almost don’t even know where to begin. I’ll start with “stopping a behavior”. Jeff goes back and forth with his explanation in this video to say that you want to prevent a behavior, you want to stop a behavior, you want the behavior to happen and then correct the behavior – this tells me he doesn’t really know exactly what it is that he is actually trying to do aside from get the dog not to respond to the situation in that very moment.

That very moment brings me to my next concern. What happens to a dog in one instance can (and will) set it up for how it responds to situations in future instances. For example, hitting the dog in the head might make it so fearful in that instance to where his or her primary focus isn’t on their surroundings, rather on anticipating getting hit again at any moment. That makes it seem in the moment that this method is working when in reality – it is not. That is suppressing a behavior and that can lead to some serious consequences down the road.

Next concern: suppression is not modification. Let me repeat that – SUPPRESSION IS NOT MODIFICATION. Behavior modification is meant to change a behavior through learning techniques and reinforcement. Suppressing a behavior does not teach a dog and is not a form of communication – it forces the dog to hold back on a behavior that it still has the drive to exhibit and without the communication (teaching) piece, will not be modified, merely bubbling under the surface.

Physical punishment doesn’t work. Punishment measurably/statistically leads to an increased frequency of problematic behaviors. They may not present as the same behavior – which is important! Again the goal is to teach and provide clear expectations. Yes sometimes physical force is needed for safety such as if a dog were actively trying to attack and a physical intervention was the only way to interrupt that attack. The interruption doesn’t teach the dog not to attack – it’s a bandaid fix momentarily for safety until the real problem as to WHY the dog attacked can be addressed and worked with. Here are some resources (scientific resources – not my opinion resources) as to why aversive punishment, even if you change the act of slamming a dog in the head to “bonking” has to reverse of the desired effect:

Dog Training Methods Affect Attachment to the Owner
Does training method matter?
Punishment-Based Dog Training a Risk Factor for Euthanasia?
Do aversive-based training methods actually compromise dog welfare?
Dog Training Methods
Insular Cortex and Amygdala Lesions Induced after Aversive Training Impair Retention