Why we don’t use punishment

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Like any field, the science behind how animals learn has changed drastically over the years. Unfortunately, not everyone has kept up with the new information and some dog owners and dog professionals are still using outdated, abusive techniques to attempt to deal with problem behaviours in pets.

At COAPE International we believe in the use of positive reinforcement and force free training methods as well as the ethical treatment of pets on a daily basis.

Here are some things to consider before you decide to punish your pet:

  1. The very top of the list is that any form of punishment will severely affect your relationship with your pet. When you punish your pet, you become untrustworthy and someone to be feared in his eyes, instead of his safe place. That bond of trust is something to be protected and fostered, not shattered – which is what punishment does.
  2. A lot of the things we see as naughty are natural behaviours for your pet. For example, chewing only toys instead of your shoes, and not to dig in the flowerpots are things a dog needs to be taught. If you haven’t put in the time to teach your dog (in a force free and positive way) what is appropriate in your house, you can’t punish him for not knowing the rules. 
  3. Punishment may seem to work as it will often stop the problem behaviour immediately, but it doesn’t teach the dog how you would like him to behaviour in that situation in the future.
  4. Punishment may make your pet fearful, and depending on his character, he may resort to aggression to keep the scary thing (you) away from him. As the majority of people will back away if a dog growls or lunges at them all this does is reinforce to your dog that aggression works and is an appropriate way to solve dilemmas.
  5. The fall-out from punishing your pet will vary according to his personality. From aggression, fear and hyperactivity (he is constantly vigilant because he sees you as unpredictable) to complete shutdown (if he does nothing at all he won’t get punished) are the ways your pet  may react to punishment..
  6. Punishment does not deal with the cause of the problem; all it does is suppress the unwanted behaviour. As noted above, punishment will often increase fear and if a strategy like aggression has worked for him before in a similar situation, he will be far less likely to give as many warning signals as he may have done before – things like tucking his tail, licking his lips, trying to get away from the person punishing or growling. Dogs who have previously been punished tend to react faster and with greater intensity.
  7. In order for punishment to be effective it has to happen immediately, punishing your pet a few hours or even a few minutes after he has been “naughty” achieves nothing (other than his distrust of you) as he can’t connect the deed with the punishment.  He is more likely to connect the punishment with what he has just done such as coming to you when you called him.
  8. Punishment needs to happen EVERY time your pet engages in the unwanted behaviour. So with something like barking at bicycles, you can punish him when you are home but what about when you’re at work or even in the bath? So all he learns is not to bark at them when you’re around.
  9. If you are trying to change a behaviour by punishing your pet, one very important point to remember is that if the unwanted behaviour hasn’t stopped after you having punished him 3 times, then punishment is not working and to continue punishing is abuse. Rather contact a qualified behaviourist who can help you find the cause of the problem behaviour and work on modifying that.

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