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Hi all,
in this thread, i like to talk about punishement in behaviour training ...

Punishment is a very emotive word. It conjures up many and varied images for people. Experiences that we understand as punishing stay in the memory and they stay there for a very long time. Of course there are variables. How bad was it? Were you frightened or just disappointed? Was the gain worth the pain? :wink:

But essentially it means bad news, right? After all, society has a wide range of uses for the term from deterrence to education. We lock up our miscreants and describe it as punishment with the aim of deterring future transgression. We use fines or expulsion to encourage compliance with civil regulation and if you are old enough to remember corporal punishment in schools or even to have experienced it, I'm sure that left its mark! Then there's the punishment that's an assault on your psyche with no physical contact being made or any tangible sense of loss. Have you ever forgotten a partner's birthday or an anniversary and been subjected to days of distance and silence? Ever uttered the words "How long are you going to punish me for this?"

In the world of dog training it's a confusing word; one that, more often than not, positive reinforcement trainers, like me, choose to navigate around with clients. You don't want anything muddying the waters when you've got enough to do as it is. Clients may not feel like they're getting value for money if you're spending half your time explaining the use of a term that appears to be completely at odds to the ethos they thought they were buying into when they booked you.

That's understandable. 'Punishment' in dog training is a word that has come to mean lead jerks, shouting, 'alpha rolls,' scruff shaking or beating. Often it's physical in its form and closely aligned with outmoded ideas of 'dominance' or 'pack hierarchy'. Reinforcement is good and punishment is bad, Isn't it?

Understanding the positive and the negative

But if that's how we understand the two words, then we've only got half the story. To get the whole picture we need to go a bit deeper into the science. Of course, as a dog owner, you may not want, or need to understand the complexities of learning theory and behaviour science but it's important that your trainer does.

So what's the whole story? In learning theory, reinforcement is anything that increases the likelihood of a behaviour being repeated. Punishment is anything that increases the likelihood of a behaviour decreasing in frequency or being abandoned, but it doesn't automatically mean threatening or physical. That puts a different complexion on things doesn't it? But, it's still not the whole story.

To get a more complete picture of what's going on we need the help of two more words: 'Positive' and 'negative'. Ok, so 'positive' good and 'negative' bad, right? If you mean positive=reinforce and negative=punish, then no, it isn't. Not according to the scientific definition anyway.

The easiest way to get to grips with it is to think of 'positive' as adding something and 'negative' as taking something away. If we add these two ideas to reinforcement and punishment, we get, in operant conditioning terms, to the four tools we have available to us for training dogs, should we choose to use them. But only two, in my view, are going to build the right relationship with your dog.

• Positive reinforcement: Offering a rewarding experience immediately following a behaviour which makes that behaviour more likely in the future. None of us, I suspect, would dispute the power of that. If you give your kid money for washing the car, they are much more likely to do it again next time you ask than if you just relied on them feeling good about themselves

• Negative punishment: The termination of a rewarding experience until an undesired behaviour stops. This is a bit like getting a parking fine. The loss of money and consequently of nice things you might have bought with it deters you from parking illegally the next time. Likewise, in dog training, your dog learns that the smart way is not always what appears to be the quick way. Negative punishment is frequently used in loose leash walking exercises. Dogs like going forwards. They have plenty of things driving them to move quickly- smells and people or dogs they want to meet to name but a few. They naturally walk faster than we do too so pulling on leash is a common problem. So, what happens if the consequence of pulling is to go in the opposite direction to the direction of travel? Well, if the consequence of not pulling on the leash is forward motion and the 'punishment' for pulling is consistently a 'fine' of lost ground, then pretty soon things are going to slow down. If used correctly negative punishment is always used together with positive reinforcement as the ultimate goal is to access good stuff. Great for dogs and great for owners.

• Negative reinforcement: The termination of an unpleasant experience once a desired behaviour is performed. This is problematic with plenty of potential for serious consequences that you might not expect. Imagine you have a dog who is afraid of other dogs and who, because of that fear, lunges at them in an attempt to get them to go away. Applying negative reinforcement would mean making the dog is stay near whatever frightens him - in this case the other dog - until the lunging stops. Then the calm behaviour is rewarded or reinforced by moving away from the scary thing. In human terms, just substitute the other dog for anything you have a pathological fear of and then imagine not being allowed to leave the room until you were calm.

• Positive Punishment: This is the application of an unpleasant experience following an unwanted behaviour, which results in the behaviour being less likely in the future. It's pretty straightforward to understand how that works and entirely to do with the application of any bad consequence following an unwanted behaviour. It can be verbal or physical and, while it will undoubtedly result in behaviour change, it has some serious implications in how your dog relates to you and his environment.

Unintended consequences - good and bad

These are the operant conditioning quadrants. Half of them are about motivating behaviour with reward and half of them are about motivating behaviour through the desire to avoid or escape. All can have classical conditioning side effects attached. What that means is that your dog can develop associations with actions or the environment that he has no influence over. Your dog may associate good or bad things happening with particular people, places or circumstances without you even being aware of the associations you are creating. Positive reinforcement often results in improved emotional responses to places, events, people or other animals, whether it was intended or not. Sadly, the same is true of positive punishment and negative reinforcement but the conditioned response is one of fear and mistrust. As techniques, they are dependent on a desire to escape or avoid and as such rely on fear, to a greater or lesser degree, to motivate behaviour. As a force free trainer I freely admit to a bias away from aversive methods and I would urge anyone to think carefully about the price of employing them before they do.

In the world of dog training, the idea behind the word 'punishment' is more complex than it seems and understanding it is important to your dog's behaviour and your relationship.
 

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Enjoy the above post for its entertainment value, if you like. The copy-and-paste spammer who posted it has decided not to remain with us here.
 

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Enjoy the above post for its entertainment value, if you like. The copy-and-paste spammer who posted it has decided not to remain with us here.
Does that mean its not accurate? I'm trying to educate myself as my trainer firmly believes anything except positive reinforcement is inappropriate, and i've never heard her even let us use the word "no". A search on "negative reinforcement" on this site led me to this post. I acknowledge that I know very little about training dogs, but some of my neighbors are counseling me to begin negative reinforcement as the concept of giving treats to distract when dog is engaging in bad behavior seems counter-intuitive. (to me, too, hence my self-education)
 

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Does that mean its not accurate? I'm trying to educate myself as my trainer firmly believes anything except positive reinforcement is inappropriate, and i've never heard her even let us use the word "no". A search on "negative reinforcement" on this site led me to this post. I acknowledge that I know very little about training dogs, but some of my neighbors are counseling me to begin negative reinforcement as the concept of giving treats to distract when dog is engaging in bad behavior seems counter-intuitive. (to me, too, hence my self-education)
Saying 'No' and physically correcting your dog is very different.
I'm all for positive reinforcement but if my dog does something wrong he does hear "No".

I'd probably just start a thread if I were you and ask for examples where someone might "punish" their dog and what sort of "punishment" the dog would receive (if any)
 
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