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CANINE PUNISHMENT

Punishment is the application of a stimulus that decreases the chances that a behavior will be repeated. It must be timed to coincide with the undesirable behavior, and must be unpleasant enough to deter the dog from repeating the behavior Keep in mind that you are punishing the behavior not the dog. Punishment should never be considered unless the pet is capable of and able to achieve the correct behavior For example, the chewing dog should be provided with appropriate exercise and appealing toys to chew on, before any attempts to punish undesirable chewing are initiated. If however, we can train our pets to do what they are supposed to and provide outlets for their needs, then it will seldom be necessary to punish inappropriate behavior Many people are concerned about punishment and believe that it is cruel. Animals are naturally geared to learn by punishment in the same way that they are adapted to learn by reward; punishment per se is not cruel but its misuse can be. For this reason it is important to understand the principles of its use.

How can punishment be used to correct behavior problems?

The key to successful punishment is to associate an unpleasant consequence with the undesirable behavior Remember that punishment must take place while the behavior is occurring, not after. Physical or direct interactive punishment from the owner is likely to lead to fear of this person and fear of the hand. Therefore the use of remote punishment products may be more appropriate and more effective. They are less likely to be associated with the owner, and are more specific and immediate than owner intervention whether verbal or physical. Most of these devices actually serve to interrupt or disrupt the inappropriate behavior, so that the dog can be directed to perform an appropriate behavior For example the dog that is barking could be interrupted with a shake can and immediately taught to approach the owners to play with a favored toy.

Punishment should never be used alone to train a pet. The pet can be taught what we want using lure reward methods, rewards and shaping or prompting and rewards. It is illogical to wait until the pet misbehaves and then administer something unpleasant. There are many more ways to get something wrong than there are to getting it right, and so encouraging the right behavior is a more efficient way to train. If punishment is effective it can at best stop the behavior from recurring in that location. However the dog is likely to continue to perform the undesirable behavior (chewing, elimination) in virtually every other location. Ultimately with continued punishment the pet will inhibit the behavior in the owner's presence (and continue the behavior in the owner's absence). In some instances punishment may serve as an inadvertent reward for a behavior in the form of attention. Finally, in some cases where the pet is punished then immediately rewarded (as used in some training techniques), the punishment can actually become a reward, once it has been consistently paired with rewards. Therefore the only indication for punishment by the owner is for those behaviours that only occur in the owners presence. In addition, if the pet continues the problem behavior after one or two applications then it is ineffective and should be discontinued.

Punishing the dog without an association with the owner is a better way of teaching the pet to avoid the behavior altogether. "Remote punishment" is administered by an owner whilst remaining out of sight and takes a great deal of preparation, time and forethought in order to manage effectively. Booby traps (sometimes known as "environmental punishment") can be used so that the dog is punished even in the owner's absence.

What is 'direct interactive punishment' and how does it work?

If you catch your puppy engaging in an incorrect behavior, try a loud noise such as clapping your hands, or a loud "uh-uh". Remember, reprimands need to occur while the behavior is happening, preferably just as it begins, and not afterwards. Often puppies will be startled when they hear these noises and temporarily stop the behavior At that time you need to quickly redirect the puppy to a more appropriate task.

Another way to interrupt your puppy is with various types of noise devices. One such device is a "shaker can". This is an empty drinks can that has a few pennies or small stones inside and then is taped shut. When given a vigorous shake it makes a loud noise which will often interrupt the puppy's behavior Other devices that make loud noises are air alarms, like rape alarms and certain commercial dog training devices.

How does remote punishment work?

For remote techniques to be successful there are two key elements. The first is that the owner must monitor the dog while not appearing to attend to the dog and preferably out of sight, a video camera may help at this point. The owner must know when the problem begins. The second element is that the punishment must be delivered while the inappropriate behavior is occurring (while the owner remains unassociated with the punishment).

As soon as the dog enters the area or begins to perform the undesirable behavior, a noise device, water pistol or some remote control device can be used to chase the dog away. A punishment device (hair dryer or alarm) can be rigged up to a remote control plug in the problem area. Then, as the dog enters the area or begins the inappropriate behavior, the device is activated by remote control. If the dog cannot determine where the noise or water is coming from, it should quickly learn to stay away from the area whether the owner is present or not. The dog could also be monitored and "corrected" from a distance by leaving a long, remote lead attached, and pulling as soon as inappropriate behavior begins, but this is only likely to control the behavior in the owner's presence. If the dog comes to the owner after avoiding the area, it should be rewarded.

How can I booby trap the environment to punish the pet?

Punishing the behavior remotely, with the owner out of sight, is impractical if the dog cannot be prevented from performing the undesirable behavior when the owner is not available to supervise and monitor. Booby traps are a way of teaching the pet to avoid the area, or stop the behavior itself. The most practical devices are those that are unpleasant enough to deter the behavior and reset themselves or remain active should the pet return to the area. When they are introduced they should be paired with a clear signal, often a novel smell such as an essential oil may be used. This teaches the dog that this smell means that there is a booby trap. With time the smell alone may be a sufficient deterrent to control the behavior One of the simplest ways to discourage a dog from entering an area where an undesirable behavior is likely to be performed e.g. dustbin would be to make the area less appealing by placing balloons set to pop, a pyramid of empty cans set to topple, or a bucket of water set to fall as the pet enters the area.

Taste deterrents might also be helpful for destructive chewing, provided they are unpleasant enough to deter the behavior Products such as bitter apple, bitter lime or Tabasco sauce are often recommended, but many dogs do not mind, or learn to enjoy the taste. A little water mixed with cayenne pepper, oil of eucalyptus, any nontoxic mentholated spirit or one of the commercial anti-chew sprays often work best. To be effective, the first exposure to a product must be as repulsive as is humanely possible, so that the dog is immediately repelled whenever it smells or tastes that product again. Never leave any objects or areas untreated until the dog learns to leave the object or area alone.

What should I do if I find the problem after it has already occurred?

If you find something that your puppy or dog has done (destruction, elimination), but you did not catch him in the act, just clear it up out of sight of the dog. Do not get your puppy and bring him over to the mess and yell and physically discipline him. Remember that you need to punish the behavior you wish to change. If you did not see your puppy chew up the object, all you are doing is disciplining your puppy for being present at a mess on the floor. Since that makes no sense to your puppy, your reprimands could create fear and anxiety, which could lead to aggression, owner avoidance or its other behavior problems.

If I must not punish my dog after the problem has occurred, what can be done?

Other than designing appropriate environmental booby traps, you can avoid undesirable behavior by carefully supervising your dog when you are around. You should prevent access to potential problems when you are not available to supervise, for example by cage training your pet. This is not a punishment area but a protective enclosure in which the animal is safe, like a child's play pen. Another option, when you are at home, is to keep a remote lead attached (preferably to a head collar) to prevent wandering off and getting into mischief. If a problem begins to emerge while the puppy is on a lead, a quick pull on the lead will immediately interrupt the behavior, and if a head collar is being used, will immediately turn the head and mouth away from the problem area. Remember that problems such as chewing and other forms of destructiveness are part of a puppy's normal curiosity and development. Always provide suitable play objects designed to entertain your puppy so that he will not want to destroy your possessions.

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