The use of punishment in dog training.

OK so now I have your attention let me explain the differences between Punishment and Reinforcement so that you can quiz a potential dog trainer and make an informed decision on the methods they are going to employ to train your dog.

Before we go further we need to understand what we mean by Reinforcement and Punishment.

A Reinforcement is something that when implemented by the dog trainer is likely to INCREASE the chance of a behaviour being repeated.

A Punishment is something that when implemented by the dog trainer is likely to REDUCE the chance of a behaviour being repeated

It is important that you understand the two concepts explained above.

Please bear with me and follow the step by step explanation as this is vitally important when trying to understand how to train your dog. Unfortunately there are many dog trainers that really don’t understand these concepts and can totally screw up a dog and potentially turn it into a ticking time bomb.

Now consider that we can add a reinforcement or we could remove a reinforcement in just the same way as we could add a punishment or remove a punishment. Remember the definitions of reinforcement and punishment as above. At this stage we are talking about a concept and I will explain how for example whacking your dog with a rolled up newspaper fits into this in a practical way a bit later.

If we are to add a reinforcement, this is called Positive Reinforcement (R+);

If we remove a reinforcement, this is called Negative Reinforcement (R-);

If we add a punishment, this is called Positive Punishment (P+);

If we remove a punishment, this is called Negative Punishment (P-);


Practical applications of these concepts.

So, if a dog trainer was to give something to a dog immediately following a behaviour, for example a piece of BBQ’d chicken, it is highly likely that the dog will repeat the behaviour to get another piece of chicken. In the terms explained above this is Positive Reinforcement (R+).

In ‘old style’ dog training a dog trainer would hold a dog’s collar and push down on its rump until it sat down. In these concepts this is negative reinforcement (R-), the trainer is applying an aversive (the discomfort of pushing down on the dogs rump) and the aversive is being removed when the dog sits. The behaviour (sitting) is likely to be INCREASED to avoid the aversive.

Positive Punishment then means to add a punisher that is likely to REDUCE the undesired behaviour. Again in ‘old style or dominance based’ dog training, if a new puppy had a toileting accident in the house the owner might be instructed to shout at or even smack the puppy to stop it from repeating the behaviour (P+). The puppy is (in theory anyway) less likely repeat the behaviour to avoid the punishment

If we remove something in an effort to reduce a behaviour this is negative punishment. For example, say a dog jumps up at people entering the house because he wants attention, if the guests turn their back on the dog to ignore him, the behaviour (jumping up) is likely to reduce – we have employed negative punishment (P-). If we then link this to a Positive Reinforcer – when the dog sits he gets a treat (R+) now when visitors arrive the dog runs to great them and sits in front of them.



Now you understand these concepts it is easy for you to quiz a potential dog trainer and ask them what training methodology they use and in particular what ‘Training Quadrants’ do they use. If they are unable to explain in terms as I have above, please do not use them. Old style dominance trainers use phrases such as ‘holistic training methods’, ‘balanced training’, ‘techniques vary depending on the dog’, all of these imply that they use Positive Punishment in some form.

Think – do you want your dog not to do things because they are afraid of the consequences or do you want them to do things because they love you?

One thing to seriously consider, Professor Stanley Coren a world renowned dog behaviour expert puts it this way, ‘if you use violence in your relationship with your dog you are letting it know that violence is OK, he is not likely to respond with violence to you as he knows he will not win – but what about your child, nephew, niece or the kid next door, he may just figure he can use violence against them and win. Surely it’s better never to introduce violence into the human-dog relationship’. This is why you should never ever use Positive Punishment or Negative Reinforcement to train a dog.

I practice Reward based ‘ Force Free’ dog training methods, please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or issues with your dog that I may be able to help with.

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