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Dogs: punishment and negative reinforcement

We often use the term punishment to encompass all unpleasant and painful actions for your dog, and consider punishment to be an integral part of dog training. This makes it difficult for many to accept that punishment is ineffective in the education and training of dogs and that there are other, more humane and effective methods, such as negative reinforcement.

Let us therefore first clarify what is meant by punishment.
Punishment is the unpleasant or painful action we take towards our dog after the dog has done something that is not good for us or that we consider wrong. This means that there is a time lag between the dog’s transgression and our action.

This is the main difference in punishment. And if an unpleasant action on our part is performed immediately after or during the dog’s offence, this action is called negative reinforcement.
For example, we come home in the evening to find a terrible mess and are greeted by a happy puppy. From the point of view of the average statistical owner, the dog’sWe will punish him, which we do.

This will be considered a punishment because of the time that has elapsed since the dog’s transgression. This is not helpful at all, as you will see for yourself after a while. At the same time, however, it can be seen as a ritual of negative reinforcement when greeting your puppy. You will notice this when your dog stops being happy at your return and increasingly greets you in a submissive posture (he will be ashamed of himself for making such a mess, but he will continue to make it anyway!).

Or if your dog has picked up something in the street and runs up to you, chewing gently, in obedience to the command Come here!. You are, of course, punishing him and this is considered as a punishment for the choice of food (which is useless, you know) and also, from the trainer’s point of view, as negative reinforcement. The behaviour described above can lead to the dog not wanting to come near you after such situations, but just to chew something quietly by the side of the road.

Why is punishment usually ineffective? Because as a consequence, it is far removed from the cause (eitherImagine yourself punishing a dog an hour after it has eaten your slippers. In the course of this hour, the pet has committed about ten other mischiefs. How is he to know which of his actions has led to such unwanted consequences? Nature has made it so that the dog associates the consequence with the last action he performed in time, which he does.

Punishment does not teach or inform the animal about what is considered to be right behaviour. On the contrary, punishment usually only teaches the animal how not to give up, not how to do the right thing. It is very difficult for a human being, and almost impossible for an animal, to change future behaviour to avoid its consequences later.

Negative reinforcement is an unpleasant event or feeling that can be stopped or terminated by changing behaviour. The difference between punishment and negative reinforcement is that negative reinforcement, like positive reinforcement, occurs during the behaviour, not after it, and can influence the change in behaviour.

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