Why using punishment and negative methods may not only fail to
work, but may actually make your dog's problems a whole lot worse...
Many owners almost
instinctively use some negative means to "train" their
dogs in the belief that this will help to encourage the dog to follow
commands, behave better or resolve behavioural problems. In reality,
it is relatively easy to intimidate a dog into suppressing a behaviour
that we don't like. However, there are often undesirable and often
far-reaching consequences to doing so.
And this is not
just a matter of one opinion against another. A weight of scientific
evidence over the past 20 years supports this, and none of the major
welfare organisations, veterinary bodies or insurance companies
now condone anything other than reward-based methods, and no qualified
behaviourist will use punitive methods because of these dangers.
Use of reward-based methods does not mean that there are never any
negative consequences for getting it wrong, just that these negative
consequences should remove of or lack of a reward, rather than be
walking. Whenever the dog pulls (ie tightens the lead), stopping
walking immediately (or walking backwards) while rewarding him for
walking on a loose lead (initially with treats but ultimately with
progress where he wants to go) will show him that when the lead
is tight on his neck, progress towards his goal (eg the lamppost
he wants to sniff, a person or dog he wants to greet or progress
towards the entrance to the field) stops or, worse, gets further
away. However, when the lead is loose, he gets progress AND possibly
a food treat! For most dogs it is usually only a matter of time
and consistency before he learns that it's in his interests to keep
the lead slack. On the other hand, jerking the lead not only probably
confuses your dog (because, in order to jerk a lead it is necessary
to let it go momentarily slack immediately beforehand) and is probably
painful or at least highly unpleasant. Where there is pain there
is the potential for forming negative associations. But those negative
associations probably won't be with pulling on the lead (remember,
the lead was loose immediately before the jerk) but it MIGHT be
with something else in the environment (perhaps the person or dog
he was pulling towards) and as a result lead jerks, choke chains
and slip leads are very often contributory factors in the development
of aggression towards unfamiliar people or other dogs.
With all training,
learning happens most quickly and accurately if "getting it
wrong" is avoided as much as possible, while getting it right
is made rewarding.
1. Due to absence
of language skills and the slightly different way that a dog's mind
learns and forms associations, dogs often do not make the intended
association between deed and punishment and are likely to be confused
as to why their owner has become "aggressive" - even if
the reason for the punishment seems obvious to the owner. Worse
still, dogs very often form a negative association with the wrong
thing and thus may feel an increased fear (and therefore, potentially,
aggression) towards that thing in future.
2. Almost all aggression has its roots in fear. Using methods that
instil fear or anxiety, or inflict pain often result in some form
of (further) aggressive defensive behaviour from the dog through
fear and feeling under threat. Aggression may or may not be directed
to the source of the punishment, and is often directed to something
the dog has learned to associate with the punishment, like the presence
of another dog or a child, rather than with their "misdeed".
3. Using punishment or negative means almost always has negative
impact on owner-dog relationship and the bond of trust.
4. If a dog learns that he cannot trust his own owner, he is much
more likely to be suspicious and afraid of other people.
5. Human timing is usually not good enough - punishment usually
arrives (just) after dog has stopped actually exhibiting the behaviour.
6. Punishing a dog for exhibiting a behaviour does nothing to address
its cause. If timing IS correct, it may cause a behaviour to be
suppressed but, if the root cause has not been addressed, problems
usually re-emerge - sometimes in another (and almost always more
7. Punishing or reprimanding a dog does nothing to show him what
behaviour you actually WANT him to do.
8. Dogs are not capable of complex emotions such as guilt. Owners
that use negative methods almost universally believe that their
dog "knows he has done wrong". A dog's apparent "guilty"
look is merely a manifestation of the dog's anxiety in response
to the owner's aggressive body language (or even a learned pattern
that aggression often follows a certain behaviour), and an attempt
to appease and prevent further aggression. A recent scientific study
showed that dogs are most likely to be assessed by the owners as
looking "guilty" when the owner believed that they had
committed the "crime" but when, in fact, they had not.
9. The more times a behaviour (any behaviour) is repeated the more
likely it is to be repeated in future. This is a basic fact of learning
theory and is the basis of most training. Therefore, allowing a
dog to do a behaviour we do not want him to do (whether or not he
is punished) may actually result in the behaviour becoming more
ingrained - even if he is also punished for it.
10. A dog that is always being "nagged" or scolded may
simply learn to tune this out and will probably not try to please
the owner. This effect is even more pronounced if the dog's name
is used in association with negative training.
11. If part of a dog's motivation for doing or not doing a behaviour
is caused by anxiety over negative consequences (eg his owner might
be cross), the resulting "learning" will not be as reliable
as when the dog learns to control his own behaviour to try and earn
12. A recent study has shown that owner reprimands and discipline
increases a dog's blood cortisol levels (a hormone that rises as
a result of increased stress), while interacting using more "affiliative"
behaviour (cooperative, praising) actually decreases it.
13. Punishment is not a reliable means of stopping a behaviour from
being repeated in the future. If it were, the 70% of prison inmates
that reoffend after their release would not do so, nor would motorists
who receive a speeding ticket. With dogs, this is even worse as
we cannot explain to them why they have been punished!
14. Punishment is innately rewarding to the punisher (although few
people will admit this to themselves) and punishers are likely to
escalate punishments over time - leading to ever increasing chance
of behaviour problems developing. Most people don't like to admit
this to themselves as it makes them uncomfortable, but it is unfortunately
15. Punishing a dog for growling (which is a warning of further
aggression if the warning is not heeded) or for showing other warning
signs often leads to dogs skipping the warning step and going straight
to more decisive aggression ("biting without warning").
16. Most dogs or people will - sooner or later - use aggression
to protect themselves if they feel threatened or are under attack.
Using punishment inevitably pushes your dog a few rungs further
up the "Ladder of Aggression".
17. If the wrong behaviour is met by a negative response the dog
will feel anxious (because, by nature, most dogs want to please).
If this is done habitually, he may become frightened to try anything
for fear of getting it wrong. In contrast, dogs that are trained
using reward-based methods really want to get it right to earn a
reward and will try hard to do so. This is unwillingness to try
is called Learned Helplessness and makes training much harder in
future as fewer behaviours are offered (through fear of the possible
consequences if the wrong behaviour is offered) in any given situation.
18. Treating aggression with punishment and aggressive interventions
often results in aggression being redirected onto something or someone
else - often an easier target- the owner, a child, another animal
- or something in the environment at the time.
19. Dogs, like people, learn and remember best when they are relaxed,
confident and in the mood to learn. A dog that is anxious and confused
is not a good pupil and even moderate anxiety can make a marked
difference to the amount a dog learns from a session.
20. Dogs and people belong to different species. While dogs do sometimes
use "corrections" with puppies, the vast majority of their
communication and teaching is non-aggressive. Plus, as human beings,
we do not "speak dog" and trying to speak a language we
don't understand is very dangerous and our "words" can
easily be misunderstood by the dog. There are far more effective
ways of teaching your dog to behave as you would wish than by "dominating"
Whether a dog
is showing aggression, or simply not obeying his owner, there are
much safer and more effective ways of dealing with problems than
or shouting at a dog for attacking or lunging aggressively at another
dog. Normally, the owner's aggression arrives after the dog has
finished lunging at the other dog (because, while the aggression
is actually being displayed, most owners are - quite rightly - preoccupied
with ending the incident). Although the lesson the owner is trying
to teach seems obvious to them, the most likely lesson the dog will
learn is that the presence of another dog results in his owner getting
aggressive. As the original cause of the dog's aggression (most
commonly fear-related in the first place) has not been addressed,
the dog now has even greater motivation to fear other dogs and try
to keep them away, meaning that aggression is likely to increase,
rather than decrease. Moreover, the dog now also trusts his owner
less, as he will not understand why his owner suddenly became "aggressive"
instead of protecting him from a perceived threat. As the punishment
is not having the desired effect, the owner starts punishing more
and more harshly in an attempt to "teach the dog a lesson",
"show him who's boss" or simply to try and stop the behaviour,
and the dog becomes progressively more and more keen to get rid
of whatever prompts this horrible behaviour in his owner.
et al (2008). The relationship between training methods and the
occurrence of behavior problems, as reported by owners, in a population
of domestic dogs Department of Clinical Veterinary Science, University
of Bristol, United Kingdom.
Blackwell, E.J. and Casey, R.A. (2009) Dominance in domestic dogs
- useful construct or bad habit? Journal of Veterinary Behaviour,
Clinical Applications and Research, Volume 4, Issue 3, Pages 109-144
Rachel A. Casey,
Bethany Loftus, Christine Bolster, Gemma J. Richards, Emily J. Blackwell
(2014). Human directed aggression in domestic dogs (Canis familiaris):
Occurrence in different contexts and risk factors. Applied Animal
Behaviour Science, 152, 52-63
Herron, M.E et
al (2009). Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and
non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing
undesired behaviors. Department of Clinical Studies, School of Veterinary
Medicine, University of Pennsylvania. Applied Animal Behaviour Science,
2009; 117 (1-2)
Horowitz, A (2009)
"Disambiguating the "guilty look": Salient prompts
to a familiar dog behaviour". Behavioural Processes, Volume
81, Issue 3, Pages 447-452.
Kovary, R., (1999).
Taming the dominant dog. American Dog Trainers Network: 23 http://www.inch.com/~dogs/taming.html
2000. Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training, Volume 1, Adaptation
and Learning. Iowa State University Press, Ames, Iowa, p. 12.
Mech, L.D. (1999).
Alpha status, dominance and division of labor in wolf packs. Can.
J. Zool. 77, 1196-1203.
Mech, L. D. (2008).
What Happened to the Term Alpha Wolf? International Wolf, Winter
2008, pp. 4-8. http://www.4pawsu.com/alphawolf.pdf
Mech, L.D. and
Boitani, L. (2003). Wolf social ecology. In: Mech, L.D., Boitani,
L. (Eds.), Wolves: Behavior, Ecology and Conservation. University
of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, pp.1-34.
Á. (2007). Human-animal interactions and social cognition
in dogs. In: Jensen, P. (Ed.), The Behavioural Biology of Dogs.
CAB International, Wallingford, UK, pp. 205-222.
(2003). Wolf behavior: reproductive, social and intelligent. In:
Mech, L.D., Boitani, L. (Eds.), Wolves: Behavior, Ecology and Conservation.
University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, pp. 35-65.
Pal, S.K., Ghosh,
B. and Roy, S. (1998). Agonistic behaviour of free-ranging dogs
(Canis familiaris) in relation to season, sex and age. Appl. Anim.
Behav. Sci. 59, 331-348.
Pal, S.K., Ghosh,
B. and Roy, S. (1999). Inter- and intra-sexual behaviour of free-ranging
dogs (Canis familiaris). Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 62, 267-278.
J. and Muñoz-Serrano, A. (2009). Factors Linked to Dominance
Aggression in Dogs. Journal of Animal and Veterinary Advances, 8
Van Doorn, G.S.,
Hengeveld, G.M., Weissing, F.J., (2003). The evolution of social
dominance. II: Multi-player models. Behaviour, 140, 1333-1358.
W. (2004). A fresh look at the wolf-pack theory of companion-animal
dog social behavior. J. Appl. Anim. Welf. Sci. 7, 279-285.
Welfare in Dog
Zimen, E. (1975).
Social dynamics of the wolf pack. In: The wild canids: their systematics,
behavioral ecology and evolution. Edited by M. W. Fox. Van Nostrand
Reinhold Co., New York. pp. 336-368.