How hard is punishment? A reality check.

On almost every consultation there is something the client wants me to stop there dog from doing.  Many are normal canine behaviors while others are aggressive, anxious, or fearful  responses.  Regardless, corrections and punishment, which don’t fool yourself, are one and the same, are used to decrease the unwanted behavior.  What I want to impress on you is the difficulty of doing this correctly and why I first suggest you try your damnedest to learn to manage the environment and reinforce incompatible behaviors first and resort to punishment last.

Lets remember not all punishment is physical or vocal or scary.  With negative punishment we can remove something favorable to the dog and keep right along with a positive reinforcement schedule. We can step it up to negative reinforcement even and still I have not harmed the dog.  Lastly we have positive punishment which is adding an aversive/punisher to decrease the likelihood of behavior.

Now here come the hard parts. Timing, consistency, and degree of intensity.                                                                               No matter what kind of punisher you use you need to have all three criteria in order.  First your timing needs to be within half a second! Whoa.  How many times have you yelled at your dog or swatted them off of you after a few seconds of doing something like jumping or barking?  and do you sometimes let it go on longer or ignore completely?  Let me guess.  The barking jumping or lunging is worse that before.  That is because you failed to punish every time, within half a second and at an intensity high enough to stop.   How on earth can you succeed at punishment?  Truth is you will most likely fail and in turn cause the behavior to worsen and possible cause other unwanted behaviors depending on how you punish.  If you knew how intense the punishment had to be you would be uncomfortable and well you should.   Lastly if you want to get even more specific, the punishment should not be associated with you. Now that is a tall order that even I have trouble with.

This is why I love clicker training.  It takes no strength, cost $5, and although it requires the same timing( which you can practice) , you don’t have the same fall out if you fail to click or click wrong.  The intensity is alwaysthe same unless you use better treats or rewards and you don’t have to worry about nasty side effects like anxiety and fear.   Not only that but it doesn’t inhibit learning. It actually speeds up the process by nearly 50%.  Save your strength for the gym and your voice for the big game.  Leave the training smiling and excited to start again and not upset and tense from correcting so much. Punishment takes a tole on you too, more than you know.  More on that to follow.