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
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
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
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
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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