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The Only Time When Punishment Actually Works

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As you can assume by now, I am a big supporter of positive reinforcement training. The word punishment doesn’t exist in that type of training. Why is that? Because punishment is not sufficient. You cannot achieve what you want out of your dog with punishment.

That is unless you do not think about punishment. You think about redirecting and reconstructing. Now, let’s get something out of the way. I am not suggesting some cruel way of punishment.

But there are ways you can use a form of punishment to correct behavior.

Why is punishment not effective?

Simply said, punishment is not sufficient. Think about this for a second. What are you doing with punishment? Are you giving instructions to your puppy to do something you want? Are you teaching your pet a new behavior? No.

Punishment tools are not instructive. What your dog learns is that he did something wrong, but he doesn’t know the right thing you want him to do.

Here is a fact for you: Your dog will not grow out of any behavior. If you only punish him for bad behavior, he will ONLY learn he should not do it while you are watching.

Turn your back and your dog might succumb to the temptation. Training is something different. Something else. You are teaching your dog the meaning of words, and we use cues and commands.

You cannot educate your dog with a non-instructive command.

Another reason why punishment mostly fails is timing. You cannot have perfect timing. Remember, dogs have a short memory and attention span.

Even if your timing is perfect, all you can achieve is eliminate bad behavior. But you won’t teach your dog to do something good.

What you should do is try to follow a negative command like Stop and No with a positive command. Here is an example, you walk your dog and it tries to step on the street. You shout NO, but follow it with come to my side, right or left (depending on the side of the sidewalk).

The problem with punishment is that if your timing is off, your dog will not understand what you are punishing him for. You might even punish good behavior.

Here is a classic example. You try to call your dog to come. Your dog is running away, and at this point, you call him. And when your dog comes to you, you shout DO NOT DO THAT AGAIN. What have you done? You haven’t punished your dog for running away. You have shouted at him for coming back to you.

How to make punishment effective?

I said in the beginning that there are certain exceptions when you can use punishment. But as I said before, do not think about cruel methods. A gentle pull or leash correction might be enough.

If you want to make punishment effective, do not think about punishing. Think about redirecting and reconstructing a behavior.

In this sense, punishment is a stimulus that should make the behavior decrease in frequency. And it has to be immediate. If not, it will not work. There are three things you need to focus on with punishment. The first one is that punishment must be punishing, for example, you can punish your dog by taking away his favorite toy when he is playing rough.

Second, punishment has to be immediate. That means 0.5 of a second. If not, it will not work. And third, it must be instructive. What does that mean? Well, here is an example. As you walk your dog, he is trying to go run and chase a cat/squirrel. Your punishment with leash correction should be changing the direction and focusing your dog on you.

Punishment has to fit the crime

Now let’s talk about something a lot of people ignore. How can you punish a dog for something you haven’t taught him to do? It is not possible. Not to mention, cruel.

The punishment must fit the crime. You cannot punish a puppy for something you have not told him what to do. For example, back in the day, dog trainers would push dogs’ butts to get them to sit. Why punish a dog for not sitting, when you haven’t taught him to sit, right?

You must teach a dog what you want him to do, and only then punish him if he is not doing it. Just remember, punishment has to be severe enough to suppress the behavior, but do not make your puppy stop the training session. If you overdo it, your pup might not want to train and work with you anymore.

Difference Between positive reinforcement and balanced training

I want to finish the article with a quick difference explanation between positive reinforcement training and balanced training. I am NOT saying either is better than the other. It is a matter of finding what works for your puppy.

Positive reinforcement focuses on rewarding desired behavior. And the more you reward the desired behavior, the more your puppy is willing to do it. You have to understand your dog’s emotional state, environment, body language, and distractions around.

Because you are dealing with behavioral issues, you have to keep the animal under its stress threshold. This helps facilitate learning new habits and more appropriate responses to triggers.

Balanced training, on the other hand, allows the animal to do the wrong behavior, even might arrange an environment for wrong behavior, and then you correct the animal. It allows the animal to understand what the dog trainer wants. This method relies on confrontational training techniques, which might include physical and verbal correction.

Fun fact: you might now know it, but use balanced training. The simple cue NO, is a form of balanced training.

Both methods are effective when done properly. But it is a matter of finding out what works for you and your dog.

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