Puppy dog training has come a long way in the last few years and, quite rightly, most good dog trainers and dog training manuals now promote the benefits of positive training methods, where the dog is rewarded for its good behaviour. The use of punishment, on the other hand, is often frowned upon and owners are admonished for even talking about such a thing. However, a correctly administered punishment is often the most appropriate way to teach your dog what’s required and stop bad behavior. But first, we need to understand what we mean by ‘punishment’.
First off, there are punishments that involve physical pain, such as the use of choke collars, spike collars and shock collars. Such punishments are very severe and should only be used by qualified trainers in extreme cases, such as persistent sheep chasing and killing. Hitting your dog is never advisable as this will only serve to create a dog who is hand shy and may even cause aggressive behaviour.
An action that startles your puppy and thus interrupts his bad behaviour can act as a punishment. A carefully aimed squirt with a water pistol, a loud shake of an empty plastic bottle filled with stones or coins, a whistle, or even a harsh voice are all forms of aversion therapy, or fear punishment. You create an unpleasant association in the dog’s mind and so he ceases to continue with that activity.
However, such methods will only work if you are consistent and get the timing right. The fear punishment must take place at, or within one second of, your dog’s misbehaviour.
Whether or not this type of punishment will work depends entirely on individual circumstances and individual dogs. The intimidation takes the form of a shake of the scruff of the neck and a hard stare, or the rolling of your dog onto his side and back and momentarily holding him down. These are physical displays of dominance that mirror the behaviour of an alpha male wolf in the wild who will pin down any subordinates who get out of line.
Intimidation should only be used by someone who has a good understanding of dog body language and is generally only successful with more submissive or smaller dogs. Intimidation should never be attempted with dogs who exhibit dominant aggressive behaviour.
Dogs are incredibly social animals who crave our attention. To withdraw your attention, then, is one of the severest forms of punishment your dog can receive. If you completely blank your puppyg as soon as he misbehaves – preferably moving to another room – and give him at least five minutes ‘time out’, you should find that your puppy is so surprised at your reaction that he stops what he is doing and quietens down. This method of punishment works particularly well for teaching bite inhibition or for tackling issues connected with hyperactivity and over-excitement.
As you can see then, punishment – or negative reinforcement – can play an important part in puppy dog training. However, whichever method of punishment you use, you must remember that your timing is critical. Your dog must associate the unpleasant result with his own behaviour. Punishment after the event – such as rubbing a dog’s nose in its faeces – is completely pointless and counterproductive.
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Filed Under: General Dog Training