Friday, February 25, 2011

Dog Behavior Part 3: Punishment

Please note: I am not an expert on this subject. As noted by readers of my last post I defined classical conditioning incorrectly. Many of you are more experienced in the field of animal psychology than I am so feel free to correct my views. I hope that you enjoy these posts.

 Last time I went in depth on reinforcement. Today I'm going to focus on punishment. What do you first think of when you hear the word punishment. I think of some terrible consequence for wrong doing. Punishment is often associated with pain and hardship. Punishment is not necessarily terrible! Punishment is anything that decreases the likeliness that a behavior will occur again. To decrease the likeliness that a behavior will be repeated you can add an aversive stimulus (something unwanted) or remove an appetitive stimulus (something wanted). When you remove something that a dog wants it's called negative punishment. When you add something that a dog dislikes it's called positive punishment. I'm going to give an example and then resolve it using both positive and negative punishment. Let's say that you come home from work and your dog jumps up on you. If your dog is a full sized 70 pound lab you probably don't want him jumping. You can correct this behavior in a lot of different ways, but I'm going to give two examples. Number one you can take away what your dog wants (your attention) and ignore him until he settles down or, number two, you give a voice correction and push or knee the dog off. Some dog trainers like Sophia Yin and Patricia McConnell say that it is most affective to train a dog that instead of jumping on you he should sit calmly to get attention. As far as I know this is an example of counter conditioning. So here are your choices: take your attention away from the dog, vocally & physically correct the dog, or train your dog that instead of jumping he needs to sit to get attention.

I'm first going to discuss taking your attention away from the dog. When your dog jumps you remove the appetitive stimulus (your attention). That makes this way of correction negative punishment. Sometimes negative punishment is unideal. If your dog wants to run and play with another dog you can't necessarily remove the other dog. I use negative punishment very often!

Now lets talk about the second option. You can physically correct the dog by pushing him off of you or kneeing him off. At first when you the word kneeing your dog off of you, you probably think of slamming your dog in the chest and sending him flying. This is not what I'm implying. I have used kneeing in the chest on very confident dogs who constantly jump. You might now be thinking that I'm a dog abuser. I'm not. I personally do not believe it is wrong to physically correct your dog. I'm not advocating abuse or "domination". Physical correction is an example of positive punishment. Overall I think that using voice corrections and negative punishment is ideal. Though dogs aren't wolves they are dogs and they communicate much differently than humans. Many modern dog trainers suggest saying "Ouch" in a high pathetic voice when your puppy mouths you. Though many do not suggest this they are using dog communication. In dog communication high pitched sounds are either sounds of approval or fear/annoyance/pain. When you say "ouch" to a puppy when they bite you, you're indicating that the puppy has gone to far and is hurting you. When you use a deep threatening voice to tell a dong "no" or "don't" your mimicking a dogs growl or snarl that says to stop. If you ever watch a mother dog and her 6 week old puppies you'll notice that she corrects her young by growling at them and grabbing them by the scruff of the neck. The mother dog is using positive punishment.

Once again I would like to recommend reading "How To Behave So Your Dog Behaves"by Dr. Sophia Yin. It's an excellent book! I have read it three times and have used it as a source for these posts. I would also like to suggest reading "Dog Talk"by John Ross.

Hope this was interesting,
~Eijah & Dembre 


  1. Hi Y'all,

    My Human uses "ignore" and "growly" noises too.

    She broke me of jumping on her by accident. One day I raced across the room toward her and she sidestepped just as I leaped. My collar made a mark when I crashed into the wall. I've never jumped on anyone since!

    Y'all come by now,
    Hawk aka Browndog

  2. That's not counter conditioning, it's more in line with Pavlov's theory. For example, you ask the dog to sit and the reward is getting to go outside. Sitting to be greeted rather than jumping is a conditioned response but it's not counter conditioning. Counter Conditioning is changing the Emotional response a dog has to something. i.e. a dog is fearful of the car so everytime you're around/in the car they get something amazing like vanilla ice cream. Over time being around the car equals a good feeling since the pathways in the brain are rerouted.

  3. We gave your blog an award at Raising Rob We'd love you to come by and check it out!

  4. Oh, I hope you don't think I was taking a swing at you yesterday. That wasn't my intention at all. :/ I was just hoping to help you better understand why we use it as a training tool. I'm very, very sorry if I caused any offense.

    We had to teach my 75lbs Golden to "jump up" only when we got the hand command of me tapping my shoulders. I love it when she jumps up on me but no one else does. This worked for awhile, but apparently after I left for school no one was keeping the training up and she got very excited one day when a person came through the front door. Unfortunately, that person was a 70-yea-old lady. *wince* Just for evidence that training needs to be kept up and worked on everyday...oops.

  5. If you are thinking that a person's tone with a "no" correction is all that matters to a dog, and that a bitch's tone of growl for corecting a pup is what really matters, you are missing the point of dog communications. Dogs don't rely nearly even 1/8th as much as humans do on verbal for communication. What a dog is more cuing into when a bitch growls at her pups is the bitch's very clear body language, the growl is not as important as the body language cues. The same goes when a human says "no" to a dog in a low growling tone. The dog sees the person generally body language get tense, the person leans over into the dog's space, the person widens their shoulders, making themselves look larger, the person generally moves thier hands to point at or get into the dog's space, etc. All of these body lang cues mean more to the dog than the acutal "no" word. After time the dog associates the human verbal "no" with the associated body language and "no" begins to have an effect without the necessary degree of body language. If a bitch just growled at her pup with no body lang cues going along with it, the growl would mean nothing to the pup. Get ahold of Brenda Aloff's Canine Body Language book. It has lots of photos to go with the explinations and does a good job of explaining dog body lang cues to the novice.

  6. Erin, no I wasn't offended!Please don't take it that way. I'm excited to be learning so much! Part of learning is being corrected by others. I put the note with the last post so that people will know that my views aren't necessarily correct.

    Katrin, once again I agree. Body language IS the main voice for dog communication. Dogs are very good at reading people's signs. When a dog sees that we're angry that he chewed up something people say he acts "guilty". Really the dog is confused and isn't sure what your trying to get across. I was not indicating in my post that voice is the only way that dogs communicate, because it is certainly not. Patricia McConnell says that you must associate your voice with a treat in order to give the dog a link between praise and something that the dogs wants (a treat). I once again disagree. Sure if you say "good dog" with no enthusiasm or happiness and do not have a smile on your face your dog probably has absolutely no idea what your talking about. If your dog sits on command you don't always need to give him a treat you give him satisfaction by praising him and giving him vocal approval. Thanks again for your input.

    Ally & Eclipse,
    Thanks for correcting me. That's why I put I thought that it was counter conditioning. I didn't have enough time to research more when finishing the post so I just put that "I thought" it was right. Your description was very helpful. So basically if your dog is a rescue dog and she has a bad association with men then you could have a man feed her treats and praise until she associates him with food and praise. Very interesting.

  7. You are correct, once a dog has learned the behavior, you absolutely want to go to a random reinforcement schedule to have the behavior continue, you do not want to make the dog dependent for life on having a food reward each and every time he sits.

    Sorry I have been so blunt in my comments to you. I have a difficult time with tact, I do not mean to come across as upset or offensive. My appologies if I have. I think it is great that you are throwing yourself out there and trying to gain clarity and learn more on this topics. Again my appologies if I offended.

  8. Katrin, You don't have to apologize. I'm not easily offended. Your views on dog training are very interesting. Do you believe that using physical correction is inhumane and unneeded?
    Thanks for your thoughts and insights,
    Elijah (& Dembre)

  9. No, I do not believe that using physical correction is by definition inhumane and unneeded. I use body pressure and space quite often to correct dogs and that is physical correction to a dog. I occasionally do lead corrections on a martingale collar, though not very often. I am not a very verbal person so I don't actually vocalize to my own dogs very much, we spend most of our days communicating through body space, pressure and body language. When James was my SD he and I communicated mostly through body lang and hand signal cues, he and I had a silent "language" that worked very well for us. He knew what my subtle cues meant and I knew what his cues to me meant, we never verbally talked much to him no matter where we were. Compared to most humans, I verbalize very, very little and that has never seemed to negatively impact my relationship with dogs.


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