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The Use of Physical Punishment in Dog Training: The Dark Half of Operant Conditioning

November 10, 2009

Had a call from a wonderful dog guardian today looking for a dog training class here in Ventura that not only uses “positive reinforcement” but that avoids the use of items such as prong collars and choke chains. Whoo boy did she come to the right place!!! I was happy that this certified professional dog trainer could offer her just what she wanted! I felt like contradicting Mick and telling this person “You CAN always get what you want!”

We had a nice chat about the types of training techniques I use to teach both the dogs and dog training students. She was thankful and relieved that my dog training classes use humane methods – so much so that she has pre-registered for my January 2010 dog training Good Manners class – This is something I find reinforcing!
She then told me that the first class she took her dog to talked about using rewards, but they also used aversives such as those icky collars I mention above. That type of equipment often includes other types of coercive methods such as collar corrections and alpha rolling. Yikes!!! That’s like someone slapping you then buying you flowers. Sorry – I wouldn’t learn much of anything, except to be afraid for my life.
This lovely person understood why the use of inhumane compulsive methods to teach another animal doesn’t make sense, but today I thought it would be useful to help educate those who are still unclear of what these intimidating, bullying, abusive methods can lead to. I have it written out very clearly in my dog training Manners Class workbook, but here is the gist:
  • What exactly is an aversive? An aversive is an event, or change in the environment that an animal finds unpleasant, and seeks to avoid.
  • Positive punishment is the start of anything the animal finds unpleasant, and negative reinforcement is the termination of anything unpleasant. In other words, something unpleasant either starts or stops. The animals motivation with either of these is prevention or cessation of something unpleasant.
For punishment to be effective, several requirements must be met:

  • Punishment must be immediate each and every time! Timing! (Gotta be Johnny on the spot!)
  • Punishment must follow each and every time the behavior occurs. Consistency! (Honestly, are you around every time to deliver the punishment for the behavior you’re trying to eliminate?)
  • Punishment must be severe enough for it to work the first time. (Are you really able to deliver something that severe? It needs to be in order for it to actually work!)
  • Punishment should change the dogs behavior. (Hey, if it didn’t work after one time it’s not working!)
  • Punishment must me doable by the owner. (Can you? Really?)

Damaging side-effects of using aversives:

  • Dog can begin to associate the aversive with the presence of the owner (or punisher).
  • Can lead to learned helplessness – stops trying anything for fear of being punished.
  • Punishment only tells the dog what you don’t want.
  • Punishment is inappropriate for dogs with underlying fear issues.
  • Punishment might not generalize the cessation of the specific behavior. If given the opportunity to perform the behavior in areas where the dog wasn’t punished, they may do just that.
  • Punishment tends to generalize the underlying fear towards any similar environmental situations.
Although this type of punishment can work, and often provide an immediate release of anger and frustration of the person delivering the punishment (there are better coping skills), there is often only a temporary toning down of the behavior the person is initially trying to change. Plus, they only focus on what you don’t want, and not the behavior you want the animal to perform.
Why not avoid all of this nasty stuff and stick to the KISS principle of dog training? It works, it’s easy, and it’s fun…for both the dog and the human! Plus, you end up getting what you want!

2 Responses to The Use of Physical Punishment in Dog Training: The Dark Half of Operant Conditioning

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