Punishment, Does it Work..?


If there is one thing you should take away from this post is that punishment should never be used as a first-line treatment for behaviour problems. Punishing your puppy comes with many side effects such as: learning inhibition -your puppy just shuts down and does not behave as he/she should behave naturally-, increased fear related and aggressive behaviours, and goes without saying, a pretty poor relationship between you and your puppy!

When we think of punishment we tend to picture someone jerking a choke chain or pinch collar to stop a dog from pulling (something I am totally against of!). But punishment would also involve slapping your puppy’s face with a rolled newspaper (a very old school method) and yelling at him/her when toileting in an inappropriate area.

Bad Dog...

You see, we tend to label our dog’s behaviour or even our dogs as “good dogs” or “bad or problematic dogs”. I disagree for many reasons, the first one is that there’s no good or bad/problematic behaviour, problematic..? according to whom?. Our puppy doesn't poop indoors on a Persian carpet just to spite us, she/he’s not being “BAD” nor the behaviour is a “bad” behaviour, it is simply an INAPPROPRIATE one according to that particular puppy’s mother/father’s standards. A dog may behave inappropriately for some people while being considered an angel for others...but I digress.

So, coming back to punishment. For punishment to even be remotely “effective”, you need to have extremely good timing so your puppy understands what it is that you consider the inappropriate behaviour, and also you must be out-of-this-world-consistent since it is quite common that we humans tend to punish the inappropriate behaviour some of the time, while inadvertently reinforcing (ie. rewarding) the inappropriate behaviour at other times. That sort of inconsistency will drive your puppy crazy, not to mention confused!

This means that our puppy will find it very hard to predict the outcomes of their behaviours, which will lead to higher levels of stress and anxiety, plus the harm that this does to your bond with them.

What to do instead

Therefore, an alternative approach at managing those inappropriate behaviours should be to focus on REINFORCING the ones we consider to be appropriate.

Whenever your dog is "misbehaving" try to reinforce an alternative AND appropriate behaviour instead. For example, is your dog toileting indoors? Give your puppy plenty of opportunities to do so outdoors and reward him/her for doing so. Is your dog jumping up on people? Ask your dog to sit on command and reward. Is your dog pulling on the lead? Have some tasty treats with you and reward your dog when he/she is walking right beside you on a loose lead. Is your dog chewing on your furniture? Give him/her plenty of chewing toys to keep them entertained, etc.

What you need to look for is a communication channel between you and your puppy, based on an understanding of his/her motivation and the use of humane, reward-based training methods. This will in turn lead to a better understanding and relationship between you and your puppy.