001 002 003 004 005 006 007 008 009

Punishment: Pros and Cons

Posted on 04/02/10 16 Comments

Some great comments from yesterday’s post. Here is the kicker though, not all dogs that are trained with positive punishment will cower in fear or tuck their tail oreven dislike training.  The truth is, a very skill trainer that has brilliant timing can produce a seemingly happy working dog while using some pretty massive doses of violent positive punishment. One key to this puzzle is that the reinforcement the dog recieves from the work is also massively high. This is why large amounts of physical pain may be accepted by some dogs chasing ducks on the pond in comparison to the same dog working in the obedience ring.

However, even if the dog’s tolerate it, there is still a double edge problem with the use of positive punishment. First of all, there are so few trainers out that have such phenomenal timing, they do exist because I have seen them in action, however there are rare. So when people with poorer timing try to reproduce the punitive methods the resultant dogs work with in fear hence the stress response, cowering or tail tucking. But don’t blame the method, it is the poor application of the method that is the problem.

Not that I am here to sing the praises of positive punishment, I am just wanting the picture to be clear. If everyone had brilliant timing and criteria selection and balanced this violent punishment with massive amounts of reinforcement the dog would work with a great attitude and all would appear rosy except for one thing. The other side of the double edge problem with punishment is that there is always fallout with any form of punishment–even something as benign as a time out. The more punishment you use in your training the more anxiety you create for the dog. You won’t always know where or when but it will express itself somewhere else in the dog’s behaviour or performance.

Then there are the trainers that justify their use of physical punishment by saying “it’s just dog, he can take it” I tell myself when I hear those type of comments that I am pretty sure anyone possessing that kind of attitude towards an animal are going straight to hell when their number comes up. But hey, salvation is always waiting for anyone:).

Now before you positive-reinforcement-based-trainers go getting all self righteous on me, let me just point out that a trainer using only positive reinforcement but applying it badly can also create problem dogs. As Russ pointed out in yesterday’s comments there are many out-out-control poorly behaved dogs whose owners are all about the cookie or the clicker. In my opinion, both the overly cookied-dogs and the positively punished dogs live in a life of frustration (but perhaps the ones that never get punished enjoy their frustration slightly more:)). I have seen many “shut down” dogs with handers that would never so much as raise their voices to their dogs. You still need to study the habits of effective dog training to get results!

It all comes down to reinforcement. Knowing what is reinforcing to the dog and manipulating this value to create reinforcement for all you want the dog to excel at. It isn’t just about giving a dog a cookie– there is so much more than that. Yes I use punishment, negative punishment but I try to keep the application of (mostly in the form of a manipulating response cost or applying time outs) to no more than 15% of my training. Plus if I use punishment I have a strict set of guidelines to follow up the training (that is a another post of its own I am sure).

It is a life long journey for me to better understand the most effective use of reinforcment in dog training. I am not naive enough to think I have all the answers, but I certainly confident enough in my choices thus far to know I am on a peaceful path that creates brilliance through mutual respect and team work rather than imposed leadership and intimidation. Of all the things I don’t know, one thing I do know for sure is that neither my dogs nor I will be making that rip to hell.

Today I am grateful for the gorgeous weather we are experiencing here in March!


  1. how to delete google plus account permanently says:
    Saturday, February 1, 2014 at 6:39pm

    Hi! I know this is somewhat off topic but I was wondering if you knew where
    I could get a captcha plugin for my comment form? I’m using the same blog platform as yours and I’m having trouble finding one?
    Thanks a lot!


  2. Mike says:
    Thursday, March 15, 2012 at 3:09pm

    Well I understand how you could think that, but no. In obedience training the steps go teaching, compulsion, and proofing. In trick training they are required to perform the action for the pupose of amusement, there is generally no compulsion, if I ask my dog to play dead am I going to have him perform it until I say so, and if he refuses am I going to enforce it? Probably not. In obedience training sit means sit. It means you sit, until I tell you other wise. The terms generally have a different meaning in obedience. I can put my dog in a field, tell him to sit, and walk away. When I come back in thirty minutes I know he will still be sitting there. Sure your could call that a “trick” if you wanted to. Though in reality training at that level takes it beyond being called a “trick”. Im a fan of agility, but it aswell is just comprised of “tricks”. As hard, and complex as it is, it is much different then obedience training. Any one can teach a dog to sit. However not everyone can teach a dog that sit means sit (atleast not without being taught how). To most dogs sit means sit down, ill give you a cookie, and then get up whenever you want. That is a trick, and in the dogs perspective, much different then sit means you sit down until I say otherwise. Just my thoughts on it, I know there are many trainers that would agree with this. If tricks and obedience training were one in the same, then how come people pay good money to have people train there dogs? If it were that way, I know alot of people who would go out of business.


  3. Sanna says:
    Tuesday, February 28, 2012 at 1:28pm

    Hi Mike!
    I’m not quite sure I fully understand how you see the difference between training obedience and training tricks…surely from the dogs point of view they’re one and the same no?


  4. Mike says:
    Friday, February 10, 2012 at 1:36pm

    So long as you know what you are doing, have good timing, and use appropriate force (punishment should match crime), then there is nothing wrong with positive punishment. Though it may not be needed with every dog. If a sharp ah! is enough to correct your dogs bad behaviour, why use corrections? A different approach for each dog is usually best. The arguement I always find hysterical is that positive reinforcement is used to train an orca, so why would we not use the same method on dogs. Well, orcas have turned on there handlers. Hm how could this be they were trained with positive methods, how could they have killed there handlers if they were not abused? The answer is simple. They are WILD animals, and act on natural instincts. Besides, what they teach an orca is tricks. Sure I can agree when teaching a dog tricks to incorporate into obedience, or shaping behaviour a positive approach is best. That’s just it though. They teach the orca tricks, there not obedience training it. There is a huge difference between trick training and obedience training. Besides, dogs are not wild animals like an orca, or tiger, they are domesticated animals. To argue the same approach is necessary is a ridiculous arguement. But hey, if your dog responds well to positive only, then great, why use anything else. Chances are though majority of dogs wont, I have never had one that did, and not for a lack of effort. So I resorted to positive punishment, once they knew what was expected of them. The end results are always great, and my dogs are always happy. So what’s wrong with that?


  5. Elite Dogo Argentino says:
    Sunday, April 18, 2010 at 10:49pm

    great post! people need to learn the pros and cons about punishing their dogs! people need to learn about the right way to train their dogs

    dogo information


  6. Kelly E says:
    Thursday, April 8, 2010 at 1:36pm

    Knowing what is reinforcing to the dog and manipulating this value to create reinforcement for all you want the dog to excel at. It isn’t just about giving a dog a cookie– there is so much more than that.

    Susan how do you do it? You seem to have a sense of when one us needs our Ah ha moment. I work with Autistic children everyday and you think I would be able to carry this over to be a much more effective dog trainer…I have been obsessing with my new puppy (12mo now) and am finding shorter and shorter working periods before he checks out. Less and less often he is barking and jumping at me to go ‘play’. After reading the posts and the above line I realize I am not varying the reinforcer or the delivery enough. It is becoming more like drill- do- treat. Not enough fun!!! Thanks again for sharing your knowledge and insight with us.
    My only insight.. having both kids and dogs. Yes, the kids some times need to have their attention caught but have the cognitive capacity to understand the cause and effect relationship more than the dogs do. But I still find that double edge sword hunting me down with the kids. I have made a determined effort to change after trying to explain why we don’t hit after a swat on the butt, or why we don’t yell at our brother after being yelled at by mom… really need to try that journal thing 😉


  7. Sharon Normandin says:
    Monday, April 5, 2010 at 10:09pm

    Great post, Susan!


  8. Natalia says:
    Monday, April 5, 2010 at 8:03am

    Brilliant you can put this in words 😉


  9. Amy says:
    Sunday, April 4, 2010 at 3:03am

    The theory of positive punishment itself isn’t bad. It’s just a hard thing to fit into dog training. I think it works better for humans than dogs.

    For both ideas though, anything in excess will cause it to not be as effective. Using my own childhood as an example, there’s only so much negative punishment that can happen before you don’t really care. (I wasn’t bad at all growing up, my mother was just a psycho. Literally.) But when you have absolutely nothing, and nothing else can be taken from you, what else can be done?

    Obviously, most dogs will stop the behavior before they get to the point where there’s nothing else that can be taken away. But too much negative punishment will lessen the effectiveness.

    By the same token, the same would apply for positive punishment. If it’s used all of the time, it wouldn’t be very effective, either. At the very least, it will cause a lot of anxiety, like is stated in the post.

    One problem with positive punishment – and maybe I’m again just speaking for myself – sometimes it’s just a first reaction and you can’t help it. When I first met my boyfriend’s dog, he was a savage about taking food from your hand. The first time he snapped at me, he bit through my fingernail. My first reaction? I slapped him under his jaw. It was not a punch. It was not even a hard slap. To give you a comparison, if I slapped my grandmother with the same amount of force, she would not have been hurt. Surprised, I’m sure, but it wasn’t forceful.

    In general, I think that there are times when positive punishment is the best solution. There are other times where negative punishment is the best solution, and there are (of course) times when no punishment at all is the best solution. But I don’t think it’s possible to never use any of the above at some point.


  10. Mary Jo says:
    Saturday, April 3, 2010 at 8:34pm

    I would just make the comment that dogs trained even sometimes with high levels of punishment need not just be “seemingly” happy workers….they really *can* be happy workers. Doesn’t make the approach any more correct…but dogs are VERY resilient animals and as mentioned, when the activity itself is highly rewarding, it can overcome all the detriments of the type of training. I think back to some of my dogs that I trained with a fairly high level of correction and yet they still *loved* to work (and I definitely wasn’t that gifted a trainer in the use of corrections by any means!) I do think a lot of trainers that like using corrections often work with high drive breeds that are willing and able to work through corrections. It certainly makes it easy for them to show how you can train with corrections and still have a happy worker. But I know for myself that nothing has made me embrace positive training as much as having a soft, fearful shy dog that takes even a sigh of frustration on my part as a correction. The thing I notice the most with him and this way of training is that new stuff is not as stressful (he still stresses over everything in life, but I can’t imagine him learning as much as he has and having such a great working attitude if I had used corrections). In the past, my dogs did great once a behavior was fully learned, (my most enthusiastic retriever, for instance, was taught by force)….particularly since rewards were still very much a part of my training as well, but learning itself was also hugely stressful (in a negative way) for them (and often for me). I love that it doesn’t have to be any more. And it I think has helped make me a calmer person in life as well. It puts even more of the onus on me as a trainer, so I *can’t* be frustrated at my dog when he makes a mistake, I don’t get the option of saying he’s just being disobedient, because if I’ve trained everything correctly, I *know* he will always do it right. In a way, it’s a really freeing philosophy of training to follow, you always *know* where the problem lies and it sure isn’t with the dog. 😉


  11. Michelle says:
    Friday, April 2, 2010 at 1:43pm

    Love these posts.
    Yesterday on my walk my Springers pass an 18mth Blue Great Dane. Well they go mental. We met once before, same scenario but I explained to the owner that we met at the end of our street and they are possessive of our street. Well this time we had passed our street, so no excuse!! Given that I am away this weekend and hubby will be walking the dogs, I thought if he bumps into them, he may have a problem. Both my dogs are wonderful, get along with everyone, really. So I asked the man is your dog “really” friendly, and yes he said. So I trusted him and yanked Trudy the wild banchee back from her tight leash nuttiness. Sorry no loose leash was happening until they met properly. First I held Bob by the collar and told him to chill out. He was ready to take him down, geesh. So he sniffed, the GD was fine, Bob was fine, so that was overwith. Then Trudy seeing this realized he was fine and they sniffed, she submitted, and the man finally believed me that my dogs were not Freaks. I look forward to meeting him again so that we can have a normal meeting. I am sure this was a controlled not a cookies and cream greeting but I think it was what was necessary without taking a day to do it. Would I yank or pull my dog otherwise, no, but when the go lunging at a GD, maybe!! We meet a lot of dogs in our neighbourhood and I enjoy that so they cannot act nuts like that. Hope this makes sense

    I wish more people had skills and better timing to show top performance. My goal is to be the best I can be. There are more trainers around now that offer lessons to train positively. However, it can be a mix of the student not listening or the teacher not really honing in on a missed opportunity.


  12. Christine says:
    Friday, April 2, 2010 at 1:21pm

    I love the area about finding what is reinforcing for the dog. I’m not sure why it took me so long to realize that what is reinforcing to one of my dogs is not for the same for the other.

    After years of thinking food and clicker was ‘positive’ and working for my dog I realized they still stressed, still sniffed and sometimes even eliminated on course.

    So after learning one day at a SY session how to really motivate my BC through play I took those skills home and suddenly my other boxer was chasing me and TUGGING and performing on course….in the end it wasn’t the food, it wasn’t the clicker – it was the play, the interaction and the new partnership.

    So yes – I am the loud one on the line, smacking my boxer girl around and bringing out the ‘Claw’. Who thought ‘Smack da baby’ would be so much fun for them!


  13. Russ says:
    Friday, April 2, 2010 at 12:53pm

    “But don’t blame the method, it is the poor application of the method that is the problem.”

    My former instructor didn’t blame me or the method. He blamed my dog! He called her too soft, and I’d be better off investing my time and money in his e-collar class. While I’ve experienced the sensation from the e-collar, and don’t think it’s as cruel as some say it is, I decided to “find another way” – enter Crate Games and Ruff Love, my dogs are now obedient and happy, and I’m thankful.


  14. Kat L says:
    Friday, April 2, 2010 at 7:10am

    Raising a well adjusted/behaved dog is very much like raising a well adjusted/behaved child. You try to be as consistent and clear of important criteria as possible. No one is perfect and we all make mistakes and wish Do-Overs were possible. But the truth is most people and dogs get over the mistakes they do and those done to them pretty well when the basis of the relationship is love and trust.

    I have yelled at my dogs as I have yelled at my children… as I have also been yelled at. I realize, as a person, that I probably deserve some of that yelling and can reason on it and get over it. For my dogs, I realize they don’t have the depth of reason I have so when I’ve been stupid, an apology is not really understood by them so I ask them to do something I know they like to do and can do successfully. Then I reward the heck out of it and make it crystal clear that I think they are pretty darn clever and can always put a smile on my face. Which, in the end, is all there is really important – my dogs, me and smiles.


    • Janet Snazuk says:
      Tuesday, April 12, 2011 at 9:21pm

      Well, I am coming from a background of resorting to the e-collar. I joined Susan’s 5 MINUTE RECALL and for the first time today did not lock up the dogs or have them on the e-collar when I let my horses out to pasture today. As they rolled and bucked and frolicked, my Big Baby Bouviers (both under 3) were totally fine. I am bowled over and grateful, I almost cried from all the unjust punishment I have meted out. Thank you,Susan.


      • Susan says:
        Tuesday, April 12, 2011 at 9:23pm

        @janet when I read your post it grabbed at my heart. Thank you for sharing and thank you for working so hard to bring the “joy” to your dogs.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published or shared. Required fields are marked *