Dog Training Fundamentals - The Problem with Punishment

Dog Training Fundamentals

Dog training fundamentals are really not as common knowledge as one might think, especially when it comes to use of punishment in training. All of the time people call me and tell me about how they’ve been using a squirt bottle, or a shake can, or a choke chain with XYZ problem they have with their dog and how the problem just won’t go away. Punishment doesn’t work, to put it simply, and in many cases it might be making real training harder, getting you even farther from your goals. 

Dog training doesn’t require you to be “alpha”, to use fear or intimidation, to have to deepen your voice, yell, hit, or otherwise be unpleasant to your dog.

There are several problems with punishment training. All of them contribute to it being a tactic that fails spectacularly when trying to teach a dog, or any creature for that matter. 

Think back to when you were in school. There was probably a teacher you liked more than the others, or one who taught you something that was inspiring or life changing. Maybe they listened to you or treated you like an adult. Maybe they made learning fun or had entertaining stories. Maybe they believed in you and supported you despite your struggles with the subject they taught. There was something about them that stuck with you and a reason why even now they are in your thoughts and memories. 

Now think about a teacher you disliked. Maybe this teacher yelled at students, made fun of you, shamed or belittled you in class. Maybe they were just a stern or grumpy person. Maybe they were unpredictable with how they would react to something at any given time. It’s highly likely that you didn’t do well in their class either and probably disliked going. I’m willing to bet that you remember them just as clearly as the teacher you liked. It’s also probably true that right now even thinking about them gives you bad feelings. 

Punishment training - Who do you want to be for your dog?

If you own a dog, you are that dog’s teacher. You have a choice of who you want to be. A teacher that your dog is eager to learn from or one that they dread and dislike? The fact is that if your dog doesn’t like working with you, doesn’t want to work with you, how effective can the education we give them be? And if you’re also using tactics that don’t work, like punishment training, the cards are stacked extremely high against you. 

Breaking down Punishment - Why doesn't it work?

  • Punishment doesn’t teach the learner (in this case the dog) what the correct thing to do is
  • Punishment is inherently demotivating – Imagine if every day of your life you had to deal with that teacher you hated!
  • Punishment relies on very good timing – it must occur within 0.5 seconds of the unwanted behavior for the dog to make the connection
  • Punishment training relies on YOU to catch it and dole out the punishment each and every time
  • Punishment must be an actual deterrent – too little and the learner won’t care
  • Punishment often becomes a crutch – if no one is there to stop the learner, he does the thing anyway
  • Punishment that is too punishing will destroy the learner’s outlook on life
  • Punishment or the threat of punishment ALWAYS adds stress to a situation
  • Punishment erodes trust and confidence in the learner
  • The learner will not view the punisher in a positive light
  • It has been scientifically proven to be ineffective and cause unnecessary trauma and stress in the learner
To put it bluntly punishment just doesn’t work. Ethically speaking it raises questions as well. If there’s a better way (there is) why would one choose to use methods that don’t work and cause harm?

Dog Training Fundamentals

Using rewards in training, making training fun, turning it into a game, and knowing how to leverage your dog’s desire to be your companion are all that we need to capitalize on when training our dogs. Knowing how to do this isn’t common knowledge, and punishment methods are still extremely pervasive. Which is why getting help from a trainer is invaluable when it comes to navigating your way to better behavior with your dog. 

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