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
Page Eleven of a twelve-page section

Go back to page ten of the basics of dog training section

Go to the basics of dog training index

Keep Punishment as Brief as Possible

When the circumstance dictates that you must dispense punishment to your dog, do it and be done with it. Then immediately, instantly, let it go, as though you have forgotten the incident, as though it had never happened.

When one human attempts to influence the behavior of another through the dispensation of aversives, it is common for the hard feelings to linger for hours, as one person stretches out the payback on the theory that making the offender squirm a bit longer will serve as a better deterrent to future transgressions than would a rebuff of shorter duration.

While stretching out a punishment procedure may sometimes be a reasonable strategy for dealing with certain humans, it is the absolute kiss of death when it comes to training your dog.

Happy dogs are easier to train, and punishment will always be more effective if the dog was in a good mood before you dispensed the punisher, as opposed to the dog having already been upset because he was already agitated over the continuous cold shoulder that he has been getting from you since his last transgression.

That is why when you must punish your dog, you should dispense the punisher immediately, with a level of intensity sufficient to upset him enough to make him regret the wrongful thing he did. But then - let it go. When he's paid his debt you just forget, and go right back to doing your best to make sure that your dog has a delightful time, at least until his next faux paus, when you will need to once again make him briefly upset all over again - before you instantly pop back into an apparently wonderful mood, and again go back to acting like it never happened.

Your punishment procedures should be just long enough and just intense enough to make your dog just upset enough to turn his misbehavior into an unpleasant experience. Then, you need to immediately get back to showing him a good time - as though it never happened.

If you don't seem to remember the slip up and you are obviously just as pleased with your dog as can be, then it is not going to matter to him that for just an instant there you became agitated and expressed your displeasure with something he did. So keep it brief.

The only time you would ever want to stretch out a punishment procedure is when your dog engages in potentially catastrophic behavior.

The Definition of Continuous Punishment

The term continuous punishment does not refer to punishing your dog all the time, no matter what he does. Rather, punishing continuously means to punish every instance of the behavior or behaviors that you have targeted for change.

Strive for Continuous Punishment

Everything about punishment has been researched to death. As a result, we know what the factors are that determine how much punishment it will take to get any given misbehavior stopped.

Based on that research, we know that if you sometimes punish a problematic response and other times you just let that same response go, it will take much longer, require a lot more punishment, and take a great deal more effort on your part to get it stopped than it would if you punished that same behavior continuously.

The general rule, then, is that the longer a problematic response is allowed to continue, the more resilient it will grow and the more resistant it will become to your interventions.

For that reason, you should always punish every instance of any behavior that you find unacceptable. And you should make it a point to never allow your dog to enjoy misbehaving, by making sure that it is always an unpleasant experience.

We know continuous punishment to be maximally effective. It will shorten the phase of training involving punishment and save both you and your dog a lot of aggravation.

Avoid Situations that Might Force You to Punish Too Often

Up to this point I have explained why it is essential that you always immediately punish your dog for every instance of misbehavior. On the other hand, I have also stressed the importance of keeping punishment at a minimum as you focus on making sure that your dog has such a good time working with you that he absolutely falls in love with the training process.

At first, the two statements may seem at odds with one another, since I am urging you both to keep punishment at a minimum while simultaneously telling you that you need to punish every undesirable response, every time that it is emitted.

The trick to punishing continuously while simultaneously punishing minimally, is to take meticulous care not to place your dog in any situations that he can't handle until after you have worked him up to it.

Let's say, for example, that you are working with your dog, teaching him to obey obedience commands while he is off the lead.

For an activity like that, you need to be in a location like your living room or a well-fenced yard. That way, if your dog does not instantly obey a command, you can simply reach down, gently place your hands on him and move him into position.

In that sort of situation, in the worst case scenario, you would just need to give your dog a quick burst of your unsettling voice, should his conduct make that necessary.

In comparison, if you were to carry on that same training procedure out somewhere in public, with dogs and cats and who knows what else around, your dog would have the leeway to force you to punish him. For example, if your dog sees another of his kind across the way, he may sprint away from you and run off into the distance after the other dog.

Running away from you, off into the distance while ignoring your command to return is a serious matter. If that happens you will have to punish him immediately.

If your goal is to make training an overwhelmingly enjoyable experience for your dog, you are going to be hard pressed to make the animal as upset as he needs to be for doing something that serious, and still make the training session in the park an overwhelmingly enjoyable experience.

Thus, in your quest to punish continuously while simultaneously punishing minimally, you will need to give careful thought to where you take your dog and where you work with him.

As is often repeated in this workshop, once your dog learns to behave and obey commands in your living room or some other carefully controlled setting, you should then begin the process of preparing him to function in more challenging environments.

However, that needs to be done in a slow, systematic fashion using fading procedures number five and six.

In the meantime, if you cannot control your dog in a given setting, then he probably should not be there.

On the Intensity of Your Punishment Procedures

Punishment can sometimes be so slight that it is almost non-existent, and still be effective.

For example, speaking the word no to your dog definitely can be a form of punishment, depending on how and when you say it. However, you can also deliver the word in the form of a discriminative cue that lets your dog know that a new set of contingencies have just come into play in which what will happen next, now depends on what he does next.

Imagine that I am out walking with my dog when we come across a water source of uncertain purity. As the dog bends forward, clearly about to drink, I softly tell him no, which causes him to walk on without taking a drink.

In that example, did my telling the dog no, constitute a punishment procedure? Or, in that instance, did speaking the word merely comprise a discriminative cue?

Who knows? The point is that punishment can sometimes be so subtle as to defy recognition, and still get results.

There are seven relevant variables that come into play to determine how much punishment and what intensity of punishment will be needed to bring any problem behavior to an end.

Sometimes all you have to do to get a problem stopped is to punish your dog for making that response but one singe time. But then sometimes, to get something stopped, you need to apply a variety of punishers in a number of settings, through time, over the course of many trials. It all depends on how many and which of the seven variables are in play.

Research tells us that the more intense a given punishment procedure is, the more likely it is to quickly eliminate the response being punished.

The problem is that the more intense your punishment procedure is, the greater is the likelihood that you will also end up with a seriously traumatized dog, along with more undesirable side effects than any sane person would ever want to deal with.

That is why it is better to use mild aversives, even though they may need to be applied many more times before they bring about results. That is why we speak of turning your dog's misbehavior into a somewhat unpleasant experience, rather than urging you to make it a nightmare that he will never forget.

Align the Intensity of the Procedure with the Magnitude of the Offense

If you overreact to your dog's shenanigans by dumping a mountain of punishment on a mole hill of misbehavior, the animal will quickly come to perceive you as an insane tyrant. You can bet that the training will not go well, and your dog won't be much fun to be with after that.

For that reason, you need to gear the intensity of any given punishment procedure to the magnitude of the offense, with the more intense interventions reserved for the more serious transgressions.

The general rule is that you should punish your dog's problematic responses with just enough intensity to get results, and no more, with the most extreme and the most stubborn transgressions being the object of the most intense interventions.

Go forward to page twelve of the basics of dog training section

Go to the basics of dog training index

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