Punishment in Dog Training

Hannah Ruess . Sunday, March 05, 2017 . Comments
Punishment in Dog Training

The use of punishment in dog training is an ongoing debate among animal trainers and experts. Despite positive dog training techniques becoming more common, there are still lots of physical force based training techniques in use by dog trainers and handlers around the world.

Some of the reasons being; dog training books, seminars and information found on the internet and TV, promoting punishing techniques to control the dog.

Let's define punishment:

Punishment is a consequence that weakens behaviour and may decrease the likelihood of a behaviour to occur again in the future. Punishment comes in two forms.

Negative punishment is done by taking or withholding something the dog values, therefore weakens the behaviour in the future. For instance, you withholding a reward (treat, praise, toy) for non-compliance.

Positive punishment is doing something to the dog, to decrease the likelihood of a behaviour occurring in the future. For instance, physical leash correction and psychological pressure.

Now having the knowledge; what punishment should you use to train your dog?

It is scientifically proven that the most humane and effective approach is a combination of positive reinforcement (not discussed in the blog but will be coming soon) and negative punishment (withholding an expected reward). 

If this is applied correctly there is no need for the use of harsh and aversive training techniques such as psychological pressure, harsh leash correction uses of aversive equipment, electric shock, shouting and grabbing the dog by the neck to name a few.

It is also proven that aversive punishment does not help the dog to overcome the root cause. For example resource guarding, anxiety, fear and aggression. It rather suppresses the undesired behaviour or makes it worse.

This could cause fearful learning. the dog thinks that the punishment it receives is for something other that the unwanted behaviour. This is especially true if the dog is being punished after the fact. This could also lead to avoidance behaviour because the dog does not trust the owner, certain situations and/or events. If the dog is living in an aversive environment with a lot of punishment training, it might give up. Not moving for fear of doing wrong thing and receiving punishment, equals being safe. If the punishment is severe it turns into abuse and the dog can suffer physical injury, which also leads to fear and aggression.

Punishment based training can also make your dog resent you. It is important to be able to read your dogs emotional state, so you will know if (s)he is uncomfortable. anxious or fearful. Here are some signs of those:

  • licking the nose (when no food nearby)
  • head turn
  • whale eye (whites showing, like in photo)
  • Brow furrowed, ears to side (see photo)
  • Yawning (when shouldn't be tired)
  • panting (when not hot or thirsty)
  • moving in slow motion
  • hypervigilant (looking in many directions)
  • moving away
  • cowering
  • pacing
  • freezing 
Punishment also has a huge effect on the punisher because they believe that his or her method works because the dog may stop his unwanted behaviour for short time and they may misread the change in the dog's emotional state as learning. the punisher also receives gratification due to the brief pause of the annoying behaviour. Punishment could also reinforce the unwanted behaviour especially if we deal with attention seeking behaviours, that's why so many people struggle to change jumping and barking behaviours.
If you choose to use punishment it should never be used without giving the animal further information so that learning can take place.

Although there are many negative effects,  positive punishment can be used. if there is threatening moment where you need to stop a behaviour to avoid danger or save lives. 

In conclusion, punishment is the infliction or event of an aversive consequence. It has far to many ramifications on the dog, the unwanted behaviour and the punisher. It could destroy your relationship with your dog and won't allow you to build a bond based on trust!
Copyright Pawsitive K9 Behaviour. Please seek our permission prior to reproducing this article in any way but feel free to link directly to this page if you wish to use this content - thanks!


Did you find this article helpful? We'd love to hear your feedback below

Back to Blog
Blog Home Page