Ineffective Punishment pt3

Let’s keep looking at the mistakes people make when they try to utilize punishment.

Punishment does not teach behavior

Punishment alone does not build behaviors or teach dogs what TO do. The ONLY thing punishment does is teach a dog what is wrong. So what’s the problem with that, you might ask. Well, there are lots and lots and lots of things that are “wrong” that you would have to punish them for in order for them to offer what you do want.

Let’s look at dogs who jump when they greet strangers. There are a lot of people who want to use corrections to teach a dog not to jump but jumping isn’t the only unwanted greeting behavior. You don’t want your dog to jump, you don’t want them to bark, you don’t want them to urinate, you don’t want them to growl, you don’t want them to bite, you don’t want them to lunge, you don’t want them to spin in circles, and you don’t want them to barrel into the knees of strangers at top speed. Maybe after teaching all of these “do not want” behaviors your dog will guess at one you want.

It would take a lot of unpleasant punishments to finally run out of “do not want” behaviors. Why not just teach the dog a reinforceable behavior? Punishment alone, under no circumstances, teaches the dog what you want them to do, it only teaches them what not to do and that list is infinite.

When I’m teaching a dog not to jump I teach a desired behavior (sit) and I do add punishment (walking away) when the dog does any number of unwanted behaviors. With the dog on leash or tethered, a person approaches the dog and stops a few feet away and cues the dog to SIT (desirable behavior). IF the dog jumps/lunges the person immediately turns around and walks away. If the dog doesn’t jump but doesn’t sit, the human stays at the distance until the dog sits. When the dog sits the human approaches and greets the dog–if at any time during the greeting the dog jumps/lunges, the person immediately walks away.

This connects directly to the next topic.

Too much punishment, not enough reinforcement

I see it in my classes all the time, handlers ignore (or take for granted) their dog’s appropriate behavior for 5 or 10 minutes–never offering any type of reinforcement–but as soon as their dog barks, they issue a punishment. They ignore desirable behavior and wait for their dog to fail to issue a correction.

Punishment should never even come close to outweighing the positive reinforcement in a training plan. Many people struggle with their training because they wait for the dog to fail to issue a correction but dont’ realize that corrections alone to not BUILD behavior–corrections end very specific behaviors (of which there are often countless undesirable behaviors with maybe a handful of desirable ones).

Dogs whose training centers around corrections (specifically physical punishment), are often confused because they don’t know what behavior their handler WANTS. They have found out, the hard way, some of the behaviors that the handler doesn’t want but that doesn’t help them figure out exactly what the handler wants. They are also dogs who often are afraid to try new behaviors and are not willing to offer behaviors freely (for shaping or capturing)–in their experiences, trying new things and offering behaviors largely ends up with them being corrected and that’s certainly not what they want.

Using meaningful punishment (not physical punishment) is certainly a tool in my toolbox but it is often misused by people and it becomes quickly ineffective and actually can set sabotage their training efforts.

1 Comment
  1. Great post! This is what I always try to explain to people as well. It’s not fair to correct a dog who doesn’t know any better. Before there can be any expectation, the dog has to learn what you want.

    It also kind of breaks my heart to think of a dog too scared of punishment to offer a new behaviour. Trick training is my favourite thing to do with my dog and that’s because she is willing to try anything to earn her reward. We’ve come up with some hilarious tricks this way.

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