This page on Dog Training Basics is part of the Beginners Course of the
D.S. Dog Training Workshop, and an element of the Dog Science Network

Comprehensive Behavioral Conditioning for Dogs
Section One of the Beginner's Course

Dog Training Basics
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The Definition of Punishment

On this website, whenever we speak of punishing your dog, we just mean that immediately after he does something that you want him to stop doing, you should take some non-injurious action that will be just upsetting enough to ensure that all in all, your dog will view the entire event as having been an unpleasant experience.

The Science of Transforming Misbehavior

As someone new to the behavioral construct, you may well find that the single most difficult task you face as you step into this learning environment, is getting over the notion that the word punishment refers to somehow abusing your dog. As the term is used on this website and in the behavioral community at large, it most certainly does not.

When we speak of punishing your dog, we are just saying that when the animal acts out, you should insert yourself into the situation, and through your interactions with him, transform his misbehavior into an experience that is unpleasant and therefore, potentially, at least somewhat upsetting.

Surely you can see that it is possible to be unpleasant without being brutal. When we urge you to punish your dog, that's what we mean - be unpleasant. That's all we ever mean.

By being unpleasant when your dog misbehaves, you can transform his misbehavior into an abrasive event that he will want to avoid experiencing again in the future.

Punishment = Being unpleasant

Punishment ≠ Brutality

A Word About Brutality and Severe Punishment

Inflicting pain and injury on a dog is in no way useful as a teaching tool. Far from causing your dog to learn more quickly, it will retard his progress and foreclose any hope you might have had for a decent relationship with an animal you could depend on.

Exploiting the Disparity Between Pre- and Post-Punishment Conditions

Research tells us that punishment is more likely to be effective if there is a great disparity between pre- and post-punishment conditions. What that means in practical terms is that your dog is more likely to be moved by your unpleasant display and respond by changing his ways if he was happy when you punished him than he would have been if he was unhappy at the moment that you punished him.

Hence, keeping your dog in a continually good humor throughout the entire time you are working with him is a key component of any successful training regimen.

Using Reinforcement to make Punishment More Effective & Less Necessary

The more reinforcement your dog gets for doing what he should, the happier he will be. Also, the happier he is when you punish him, the more effective the punishment will be. Hence, the more rewarding you make your dog's life, the stronger will be the effect on him when you dispense a punisher for engaging in some forbidden behavior.

Therefore, you can minimize the need for punishment while maximizing its effectiveness through the liberal dispensation of reinforcement for correct behavior.

Thus, the more quality reinforcement your dog gets for correct behavior, the less you will need to punish him for incorrect behavior.

Big Fun

You need to make sure that training is always big fun for your dog. In fact, it needs to be so much fun that the occasional, brief correction can't begin to put a damper on his good time.

Getting Down to Specifics

Whatever it is that you do to punish your dog, it should not be painful and it certainly should be far short of what would be required to inflict any sort of injury. To be sure, there is no point in brutalizing your dog. It will not cause the animal learn any faster, and the product of such abuse will not be the kind of joyful, emotionally stable animal that you can feel good about having as part of your family.

On the other hand, whatever punishment procedure you employ does still need to be significantly aversive to your dog, because if he doesn't mind what you are doing enough to want to avoid experiencing it again in the future, then your intervention is simply not going to work.

The degree of emotional upset you inflict on your dog should be proportional to the severity of the offense. Potentially catastrophic transgressions like a supposedly well-trained dog who should certainly know better, who runs out into traffic against an express order to return, or any dog that bites someone without perfect justification, should immediately result in you taking steps to ensure that the animal will become greatly upset.

In contrast, little things, like a fully trained dog who is a trifle slow to execute a command in a safe environment, should be punished with a subtlety that reflects the slight nature of the offense, so that if your dog just screws up a little bit, he only ends up in proportion, feeling a little bit upset.

However, until now, we have not yet gotten down to talking about just exactly how it is that you should go about being unpleasant in order to unnerve your dog when that proves necessary. There are three techniques recommended by this website for that purpose.

The three punishment procedures recommended by the Dog Science Network:

  1. The unsettling voice

  2. The corrective tap

  3. Spray mist

The Human Voice as a Punisher

The human voice is an astoundingly expressive instrument with the power both to soothe and agitate in equal measure.

You can see that reflected in the reaction of very young children, pretty much all of whom can be made either to cry or to coo with joy, depending on the tone of voice you use when speaking to them.

I don't recommend it, but if you pick the right person, you can get somebody to punch you out, not for what you say, but just for the way in which you say it. In fact, I can take you to neighborhoods where people will kill you just for speaking to them in the wrong tone of voice.

While at my house, there are some commercials where the pitch man's voice is so abrasive that my wife and I become almost frantic trying to mute the television set before our heads explode.

That's just how it is. You know what I am talking about. There are some ways of speaking that will absolutely set everyone off every time, because there is some innate characteristic embodied by that tone of voice that somehow just drives us all beyond the pale and on beyond to the wild side of agitation, be they canid or some vague approximation of a humanoid.

The Unsettling Voice

That tone of voice that your dog simply cannot stand to hear is called the unsettling voice.

You can reduce the frequency of a problematic response through punishment delivered by way of the unsettling voice. In other words, over time, you can get your dog to stop doing something forbidden by speaking the word no to him in an abrasive and upsetting manner every time he engages in the targeted response.

The unsettling voice is by far, the one, single best punisher that you have available to you as a dog handler. In fact, it is so effective that we recommend that you always use it every time you punish, and that you never use either of the other two procedures without also simultaneously employing the unsettling voice to tell your dog no, just an instant before you deliver either a nose tap or spray mist.

The unsettling voice has several advantages over the two other recommended procedures.

As stated previously, you should adjust the intensity and duration of any given verbal punishment procedure to ensure that it is in proportion to the offense. Your goal should be to see to it that potentially catastrophic blunders are met with higher levels of intensity, while the most minor offenses bring little more than a hint of irritation. In that way, you can let your dog know just how serious you think any given transgression might have been.

When punishing your dog with your unsettling voice, the word no should be the only thing you ever say. If your punishment procedure lasts for more than an instant, you can simply fill the time by repeating the word over and over again, in an agitated fashion.

By pairing the word no with the physiologically-based distress triggered by the use of your unsettling voice, over time, you can set in motion a paradigm of classical conditioning in which your dog will eventually come to find the word no to be almost as distressing as the sense of agitation he experiences when you speak to him in an unsettling tone.

By following the procedure just outlined, you can transform the word no into a conditioned punisher, which you can then use to further accelerate the conditioning process.

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This page on Dog Training Basics is part of the Beginners Course of the
D.S. Dog Training Workshop, and an element of the Dog Science Network