What Is Positive Punishment?

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Hey, it’s Tenille here from Dog Matters, and today we’re talking about another quadrant of operant conditioning. And we’re talking about the most controversial one, positive punishment. Please don’t attack me, or I’ll use my dogs as a shield. Now remember, when we say the word positive, we’re talking about adding something into the situation. And when we’re talking about punishment, it means to decrease a behavior. So if you’re using positive punishment, it means you’re adding something into the situation or to the dog to decrease a behavior that you no longer want to see. Now, it’s important to point out here that using positive punishment does not necessarily mean that you’re using any pain or abuse.

However, unpleasant experiences is part of life for animals just as it is for us. An example of positive punishment being effective in a situation where humans aren’t involved would be a puppy sniffing a thorn bush and getting pricked on the nose. It is unpleasant, it hurts, and the puppy learns I’m not going to go near that type of bush ever again. Did the puppy have an unpleasant experience? Yes. But they learned something that’s going to stick with them for life that could protect them and even save their life in the future. Using punishment isn’t pleasant for the trainer or the dog at times, but we should minimize its use and aim to use positive reinforcement as much as possible. But at the same time, not ruling out positive punishment as something that should never, ever be done. Just like when you choose a reward, choosing a punishment has to mean something to the individual animal, and it will differ from dog to dog. Some examples of positive punishment is using a noise, anything that startles the dog, using a leash correction, not that I would recommend it, but hitting the dog or whacking the dog with a newspaper.

All of those situations involve adding something that the dog finds unpleasant to decrease a behavior you no longer want to see. But if it’s just something like yelling at the dog, if the dog bounces straight back to that behavior over and over and the behavior isn’t decreasing, it means that’s not actually technically a punishment, ’cause the dog doesn’t care about it. The dog isn’t finding it unpleasant enough to stop. So it’s better to choose something that’s going to be effective straight away and get it over and done with than to be nagging at your dog, and annoying them, and just frustrating yourself over and over without seeing any change.

Like all training, timing is crucial. So punishment needs to happen right on the moment the dog does the unwanted behavior if you’re going to do it. So if you come home and find that your dog has dug a hole, and you take them over, and you show them, and you punish them, they’re not going to understand what that’s for. Now, some people will argue that punishment doesn’t work at all. Is this true, and where did this come from? Well, there were some studies that were done that showed that, versus reward, punishment was ineffective. However, you need to look at the punishment that they used. It was something that was very mild; the dog was unlikely to find it aversive. And so it was the type of punishment that didn’t work. In the study I have in mind, the punishment was a 30-second time out, which is a lot less likely to work than something that’s more startling and instant to the dog.

So are there negative effects of positive punishment, such as damaging the trust in the relationship that you have, or causing aggression? Only if applied excessively and incorrectly, and that’s where we would be bordering more into the lines of actual abuse. So like many things in dog training, unwanted effects are going to happen when people misuse it or apply it incorrectly. All humane trainers will try to minimize the use of punishment. It doesn’t make sense to be a hundred percent punishment-based. That wouldn’t be very effective or humane training. But there are times where positive punishment is warranted, especially times where we can stop a behavior quickly and effectively, and it’s a behavior that could’ve put either the dog or other people at risk or even in danger of their lives. For example, chasing snakes.

So I hope this video has given you some further understanding about another one of the four quadrants of operant conditioning being positive punishment. And remember to use it sparingly and always focus on setting your dog up with alternative behaviors. And know your dog. Just like a reward, different types of punishment will work differently depending on the dog. It all depends on the individual, so know the dog you’re working with, adapt to work with that dog, make it as fun and enjoyable as possible with the goal of only using positive punishment sparingly and in the right manner, and you’ll be on the right track. Happy training, and I’ll see you in the next video!

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