Water Bottle Woes
I frequently hear people giving advice to spray dogs with water if the dog is misbehaving. From barking to counter surfing and even dog-to-dog aggression, water spray in the face is regarded as an effective way to stop dogs from doing bad behaviors. But people who understand dog behavior and how dogs learn will realize that the spray method has its drawbacks. I do not advocate using it – ever.
Spraying a dog with water is a punishment for many dogs. It may cause the dog to fear you. Even if you spray the dog without the dog knowing that the spray came from you, it still creates a fear reaction in some dogs. The dog will associate bad things with the person or dog who is nearby, or with the activity that he is doing. Here’s an example: You have two dogs and one of the dogs continually attacks the other dog. You spray the aggressor with the water bottle and the dog backs off in fear. Now the dog has learned that being near you and the other dog brings about a punishment. The aggressor dog becomes even more aggressive to the other dog because of this negative association. In his dog mind, seeing the other dog makes bad things happen.
But some dogs are resistant to punishment. A very confident dog will not back off and will not become fearful when sprayed with water. The level of punishment must then be ramped up for the punishment to be effective. Sadly, this is often the reason why dogs are physically abused. They have strong personalities that are not affected by punishment methods.
If you know of people who recommend the spray bottle method, please encourage them to learn more about positive, rewards-based methods of behavior modification.