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Dr. Ps Dog Training

Positive About Punishment
by Martin Deeley (cdawgs1@airmail.net)
Copyright © 1998

Punishment is a hard description for what is often required to tell a dog you are displeased with what it has done. In most cases a tone of voice, a body posture and a glare of the eye is enough. It is more the way you say the words than what you say. A growling aggressive tone denotes displeasure and a staring eye with your head position showing your 'hackles' lets the pup know you are not a happy person.

Punishment however should be kept to a minimum. Remember it is a pup that is learning and full of the joys and innocence of childhood. It needs to be shown what is right or wrong. Try to be positive, encouraging the pup to do right and avoiding where possible the situations which are wrong, so bad habits are not learned. If you put the pup into a situation where it can only do right then you are able to praise it. By good management in your training this is possible. If you put the pup in a position where it is tempted to do wrong or because it knows no different, and you cannot be there to guide it right, then you have only yourself to blame. And I wonder who should really be punished in this instance?

Punishment can vary in intensity and you should always get to know your dog and what level to go to if required. If a physical reprimand is required a light shake of the fur around the neck may be the maximum that is needed, link that with a growling tone of voice and very quickly the pup will be responding to the growling tone without the shake because it has linked those together from past experience. Harsh physical punishment may do you some good in relieving your temper but will do the pup no good at all and certainly physically hitting a young pup will bring about nothing other than making it cowed and resentful. Get to know your pup's temperament and read it's reactions. Only in this way will you be able to learn how far to go with punishment. It is much better to show the dog what is required and then praise it for doing right. Punish the dog incorrectly and you could create a problem that will last a lifetime. So learn to count to more than ten and think again on how to approach the problem.

Punishment may also form part of a correction. A dog that has learned certain commands may decide for whatever reason not to do what you require. In many instances it is because the dog is not focusing on what you require, it may have been distracted, it may decide that it will refuse, or it may just have had enough training and be bored. In the latter, even though you now know you have gone too far or for too long a time, it is advisable to encourage and guide the dog into what you want even though you may now simplify it. The dog now succeeds, knows you will follow through and you can praise to finish on a good note. I am of the belief that a correctly administered positive punishment whether it be by voice, leash or even physical means brings that focus back onto you. The punishment should not be so harsh that it frightens the dog to a stage where it cannot think but sufficient to bring back that focus. Once the focus and concentration is there, then you can immediately put the dog in a position where it does do what you require and praise for doing it.

I have a theory here which may sound a little far fetched. In my mind this punishment is a little more than creating the focus, I believe that the "attention getting" and in some instances even mild stress that you create through the punishment actually clears the cells that are concentrating on something else or refusing your request. Almost immediately or within a few short seconds, this makes those cells now open to learning - it creates a clean focusing 'sheet'. These cells now suck in the right behavior to get the rewards - to meet the basic needs of the dog. It also establishes you as the senior partner. Now to get it to do right after a correction a trainer may lure with treats or toys (something very pleasurable) or guide into what is required by environmental means, hands, body, leashes or long lines. If the method of now getting the dog to answer your request is positively reinforced, it becomes even more positive in relation to the punishment previously administered. The pleasure, reward gap is widened. Now that does not mean that a trainer should punish before every request. Far from it, and I would always encourage every trainer to look not only for using positive reinforcement (rewards) as much as possible to get what is required but also minimize punishment even to the stage where it is virtually eliminated. If an 'Ah' or "Oy" or "No" or even a look now stops the dog doing wrong and gets the focus back onto what you require, is that voice or look really a punishment. Theoretically yes, but morally I would not feel in any way cruel or inhumane giving it. In fact in many instances by learning to read your dog more, this 'punisher' can now be used to warn the dog that what it is thinking of, or just starting to do is not what you want. It avoids the necessity of a correction or stronger punishment.

I always encourage a trainer to put a dog in a position where it can do right. Creative and innovative trainers find ways of putting their dogs into such a position. But when focus wanders, resistance appears and a dog begins to decide to rebel (what I call dishonest) then I have no doubt that punishment (applied and timed correctly) in every day training situations can be used to advantage and the lessons more firmly embedded within the dogs mind. The level of punishment does have to be right, as does the timing for it to be related to the 'crime'. That is where many feel the ordinary owner can never get it right. They lose their temper or get the level and timing of the correction wrong. This concern I can understand, but as trainers we are there to show them what is and what is not, correct and acceptable. If I was to err I would err on the side of not showing them, but some punishers are so mild and so easily given with only an attention grabbing effect on the dog, cetainly not cruel or inhumane. If we can teach owners to time their praise and their rewards, we can teach correction and punishment for when it can benefit changing a dogs behavior. Sometimes even if rewards are incorrect the dog can learn some very bad habits. I have seen dogs that have trained their owners very well during the use of treats and, at the same time, they have learned some very poor habits. So if we can teach reward timing and intensity we should be able to teach punishment timing and intensity . Yes, maybe we have to take it a lot easier and slower, as an error with this can be far more memorable than an error with rewards (and that is debatable in some instances), but we are avoiding our responsibilities not to do so. Most people, even though we say they should not, will punish anyway, whether we show them how or not, Many times they do not even know they are punishing. Some dogs will require the smallest amount of punishment and some will require more. Generally, clients will apply it whether you tell them to or not. In many cases they will say they do not, sometimes denying it in their own minds, sometimes telling us untruths and sometimes not even recognizing it for what it is. But whether they deny giving it or not, it is our responsibility to inform them of when, where and how and if they are unsure or uncertain, don't. Give the dog the benefit of the doubt - just count to ten and start again. But let us not avoid our responsibilities to the dog and the owner.

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