Popular PGAA Pages
PGAA Home Page
Dog Health Care
Dog Web Links
Pet Financial Aid
Poison Control Web or 888-426-4435
PUNISHING DOG BEHAVIORS
Punishment comes in two forms: positive and negative. Sounds odd, and its certainly NOT intuitive.
Positive punishment results from action that is ADDED to the context or environment affecting the dog. It "gives" the dog something the dog doesn't like. Examples: verbal reprimand, scruff-shake, leash-pop, yank on the leash, hanging, alpha-rolling.
Negative punishment is REMOVING something from the dog that the dog expected, or wanted. Examples: removal of expected treat, removal of toy, removal of owner from dog, removal of dog from owner.
Negative punishments are safer than positive ones, and except to save a life or prevent injuries, they are sufficient. Dog-owners need to understand that the removal of the owner's (handler's) attention to the dog is one of the most powerful punishments that any normal dog could possibly experience. That's because dogs (like people) are social animals. Also, the owner has incredible power over the dog - the dog's well-being depends entirely on the owner - on the owner's decisions, on the owner's handling.
Owners need to learn the basics of natural dog behavior. Owners should observe their dogs carefully enough to be aware of what behaviors are normal for that dog. Understanding what is typically normal dog-behavior gives the dog-owner a chance to modify UNWANTED natural dog behavior using the most effective possible cues and actions.
In our current world dogs must be restrained and confined, but the dog should not see confinement or restraint as punishment. Dogs are denning animals and can be taught to enjoy their crates. While its not natural for dogs to be left alone, they can be taught, slowly and gradually, to accept time alone. (Read Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson (January 1997)(Click on the title to order through Amazon.com).
Restraint comes in the form of leashing. This also can be made very acceptable to dogs, teaching gradually, starting with no distractions, and increasing distractions only slowly. For special problems, such as bite-inhibition, dogs should be introducted to halters or muzzles slowly and gradually. Due to the immensity of the owner's power, dogs can be taught to look forward to wearing halters or muzzles.
Time spent teaching dogs to accept the conditions they must endure as companions of humans is time very well spent.
The purpose of punishment is to REDUCE unwanted behaviors. In general, negative punishment is quite safe to apply, though the owner needs to attend to the dog's general behaviors. A dog who begins to withdraw from interaction with its owner may not be being given enough of a job to do for which it can be rewarded. Rewards are much more that little tasty treats. They are social feedback from the owner, confirming the symbiosis of dog and owner -- affirming to the dog that it has a place in the owner's life. This should be reaffirmed many times a day.
The first choice for obtaining the behavior you like in a dog is to reward the behaviors you like. Behaviors you don't like can be ignored - are BEST ignored - unless they pose a serious or immeditate threat. Behaviors which have NO CONSEQUENCE will extinguish.
The exception is - behaviors the dog automatically finds satisfying (self-rewarding) such as, eliminating, barkng, chewing; and behaviors that get reinforced in the environment where the owner cannot control the reinforcement; i.e., chasing cars, other animals. These can be reinforcing to some dogs, even when they may be injured.
For most natural, unwanted, dog behaviors, it's usually easy enough to find an alternative action the dog can do and be rewarded for. But, we need to move from the traditional "positive" punishments to the more effective, and gentle, "negative" punishments. Difficult to do in the face of 100 years of positive reinforcement of positive punishment for behavior control.
In summary. If punishment is necessary make sure you understand what behavior you're punishing (timing is an important factor), and understand that the purpose of the punishment is to DECREASE the likelihood that the behavior will occur again in the same context. Understand the complexities of the situation, including the dog's medical, physical and mental state of mind.
This article is from postings by Carol Whitney, who has graciously consented to the use of her material. Carol was recently recognized for her contributions to a Dog Aggressive Behavior Internet List, and was awarded a membership in The Association of Pet Dog Trainers. Carol can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgCopyright 1999 by Carol Whitney. Right to publish on www.pgaa.com granted to Pet Guardian Angels of America. Contact the author for permission to reprint elsewhere.