Archive for August 24th, 2009

What About Punishment?
Not only is it unnecessary to personally punish dogs, it is abusive. No matter how convinced you are that your dog “knows right from wrong”, in reality he will associate personal punishment with the punisher. The resulting cowering, “guilty”-looking postures are actually displays of submission and fear. Later, when the punisher isn’t around and the coast is clear, the same behavior he was punished for—such as raiding a trash can – might bring a self-delivered, very tasty result. The punished dog hasn’t learned not to misbehave; he has learned to not get caught.

Purely Positive Reinforcement
With positive training, we emphasize teaching dogs what they should do to earn reinforcements, rather than punishing them for unwanted behaviors.
– Focus on teaching “do” rather than “don’t.” For example, a sitting dog isn’t jumping.
– Use positive reinforcers that are valuable to your dog and the situation: A tired dog values rest; a confined dog values freedom.
– Play (appropriately)!
– Be a consistent leader.
– Set your dog up for success by anticipating and preventing problems.
– Notice and reward desirable behavior, and give him lots of attention when he is being good.
– Train ethically. Use humane methods and equipment that do not frighten or hurt your dog.
– When you are angry, walk away and plan a positive strategy.
– Keep practice sessions short and sweet. Five to ten minutes, three to five times a day is best.

Does punishment ever have a place in dog training? Many people will heartily insist it does not. But dog owners often get frustrated as they try to stick to the path of all-positive reinforcement. It sure sounds great, but is it realistic, or even natural, to never say “no” to your dog?
A wild dog’s life is not all positive. Hunger and thirst are both examples of negative reinforcement; the resulting discomfort motivates the wild dog to seek food and water. He encounters natural aversives such as pesky insects; mats in his coat; cold days; rainy days; sweltering hot days; and occasional run-ins with thorns, brambles, skunks, bees, and other nastiness. These all affect his behavior, as he tries to avoid the bad stuff whenever possible. The wild dog also occasionally encounters social punishers from others in his group when he gets too pushy. Starting with a growl or a snap from Mom, and later some mild and ritualized discipline from other members of his four-legged family, he learns to modify behaviors that elicit grouchy responses.
Our pet dogs don’t naturally experience all positive results either, because they learn from their surroundings and from social experiences with other dogs. Watch a group of pet dogs playing together and you’ll see a very old educational system still being used. As they wrestle and attempt to assert themselves, you’ll notice many mouth-on-neck moments. Their playful biting is inhibited, with no intention to cause harm, but their message is clear: “Say uncle or this could hurt more!”
Observing that punishment does occur in nature, some people may feel compelled to try to be like the big wolf with their pet dogs. Becoming aggressive or heavy-handed with your pet will backfire! Your dog will not be impressed, nor will he want to follow you. Punishment causes dogs to change their behavior to avoid or escape discomfort and threats. Threatened dogs will either become very passive and offer submissive, appeasing postures, attempt to flee, or rise to the occasion and fight back. When people personally punish their dogs in an angry manner, one of these three defensive mechanisms will be triggered. Which one depends on a dog’s genetic temperament as well as his past social experiences. Since we don’t want to make our pets feel the need to avoid or escape us, personal punishment has no place in our training.

Remote Consequences

Sometimes, however, all-positive reinforcement is just not enough. That’s because not all reinforcement comes from us. An inappropriate behavior can be self-reinforcing – just doing it makes the dog feel better in some way, whether you are there to say “good boy!” or not. Some examples are eating garbage, pulling the stuffing out of your sofa, barking at passersby, or urinating on the floor.
Although you don’t want to personally punish your dog, the occasional deterrent may be called for to help derail these kinds of self-rewarding misbehaviors. In these cases, mild forms of impersonal or remote punishment can be used as part of a correction. The goal isn’t to make your dog feel bad or to “know he has done wrong,” but to help redirect him to alternate behaviors that are more acceptable to you.

The Problems with Personal Punishment
– Personally punished dogs are not taught appropriate behaviors.
– Personally punished dogs only stop misbehaving when they are caught or interrupted, but they don’t learn not to misbehave when they are alone. Personally punished dogs become shy, fearful, and distrusting.
– Personally punished dogs may become defensively aggressive.
– Personally punished dogs become suppressed and inhibited.
– Personally punished dogs become stressed, triggering stress-reducing behaviors that their owners interpret as acts of spite, triggering even more punishment. Personally punished dogs have stressed owners. Personally punished dogs may begin to repeat behaviors they have been taught will result in negative, but predictable, attention.
– Personally punished dogs are more likely to be given away than are positively trained dogs.

You do this by pairing a slightly startling, totally impersonal sound with an equally impersonal and very mild remote consequence. The impersonal sound might be a single shake of an empty plastic pop bottle with pennies in it, held out of your dog’s sight. Or you could use a vocal expression such as “eh!” delivered with you looking away from your misbehaving dog.
Pair your chosen sound – the penny bottle or “eh!” – with either a slight tug on his collar or a sneaky spritz on the rump from a water bottle. Do this right as he touches something he should not; bad timing will confuse your dog and undermine your training success.
To keep things under your control and make sure you get the timing right, it’s best to do this as a setup. “Accidentally” drop a shoe on the floor, and then help your dog learn some things are best avoided. As he sniffs the shoe say “eh!” without looking at him and give a slight tug against his collar. This sound will quickly become meaningful as a correction all by itself – sometimes after just one setup – making the tug correction obsolete. The tug lets your dog see that you were right; going for that shoe was a bad idea! Your wise dog will be more likely to heed your warning next time, and probably move closer to you where it’s safe. Be a good friend and pick up the nasty shoe. He’ll be relieved, and you’ll look heroic. Later, when he’s home alone and encounters a stray shoe, he’ll want to give it a wide berth.
Your negative marking sound will come in handy in the future, when your dog begins to venture down the wrong behavioral path. The goal is not to announce your disapproval or to threaten your dog. You are not telling him to stop or showing how you feel about his behavior. You are sounding a warning to a friend who’s venturing off toward danger – “I wouldn’t if I were you!” Suddenly, there is an abrupt, rather startling, noise! Now is the moment to redirect him and help him earn positive reinforcement. That interrupted behavior will become something he wants to avoid in the future, but he won’t want to avoid you.

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