Mastering the Art of Positive Punishment (Pawsitive Punishment)

Whoa! Put down the pitchforks!

I know, this topic can be…controversial. This title seems a bit contradictory, but positive punishment is basically applying something unpleasant or aversive to your dog to reduce the frequency of or stop an unwanted behavior.

In positive motivational training this is a basic “no no”. Hence the bad rap. And I totally understand that.

I have always been a believer and proponent of teaching most behaviors in a positive way. Using praise, treats, or some other types of reward to change and adjust behavior. That has always had the most success.

This unfortunately doesn’t work when your dog is jumping on your kitchen counter and taking food. No amount of positive reinforcement is going to change this nuisance behavior. He is already getting rewarded with tasty treats.

What can you offer that could possibly beat that?

Yes, you can always try to redirect him onto an alternate behavior, but this is very difficult. Again, tasty treats are just a small jump away.

I find that in some rare cases, when managing behaviors that are self-rewarding, using positive punishment maybe the most effective way to stop them. The only other option is to try to manage the dog and the problem situation in a way that doesn’t allow him into get in trouble. Sometimes this can be a good fix. But you are not changing behavior, just changing environment. That is not a long-term solution, it’s a stopgap.

So positive punishment may be the path to take. Talk it over with your veterinarian to discuss possible risks.

If in the end you feel that positive punishment is the best solution, you need to go about it in the correct way. Your dog always needs to feel safe with you. He needs to see you as his “guide”.

Please read my other articles and training guides on how to achieve this relationship.

Because the relationship you have with your dog is everything.

When your dog wants to please you and “cares” what you think, he will be much more likely to want to follow your lead and stop what he is doing. Your corrections will then be less severe and many times a verbal correction will be all that is needed.

Positive Punishment Rules:

RULE # 1 DO NO HARM

Never do anything to your dog which would cause them any harm, either physically or emotionally.

RULE # 2 NEVER HIT YOUR DOG! EVER!

If you hit your dog, he is not going to trust you. You will destroy the relationship you’ve spent all this time building and he may even start to get defensive with you in the near future. When you lose a dog’s trust, they usually don’t forget, so you lose it forever.

He may even bite. Which, honestly, if your hitting you may just deserve.

So if you walk away from this article and think I am encouraging hitting your dog…

You. Are. Wrong.

RULE # 3 CLARITY

Re-read Rule # 1. The re-read Rule #2 for good measure.

Positive Punishment Tools:

Again, positive punishment is applying something aversive to your dog to stop an unwanted behavior. So – keeping the rules in mind – what is a good option for an aversive that does not do harm?

A spray water bottle may be the perfect tool. Dogs hate water sprayed on the top of their head and their ears.

Roll up a bath towel or washcloth (depending on your dog’s size) and toss it toward your misbehaving pup. Dogs absolutely hate things thrown right towards them. Of course, your goal is not to hit him with the towel, they are just going to hate it when the rolled-up towel comes towards them.

A pillow can work too. It just needs to be soft, in case it does hit him by mistake.

Now that we have a tool that will be an effective aversive, we need to understand the important principles on how to apply positive punishment correctly.

Positive Punishment Procedure:

One

Timing is critical when using positive punishment. The correction best comes “as” the dog is thinking about doing the bad deed. If you can’t figure out when he is thinking about it, then your second-best option is when he is in the act.

If you miss both this opportunity in your timings, then don’t do anything, as the dog will be totally confused and will have no idea why he is being corrected.

Bad timing will make the dog not trust you and can ruin your relationship.

Two

Using a “marker word” that means the punishment is coming (usually within 10 seconds) is the best way to deliver perfect timing.

I like to use the word “phooey” to mean that was bad behavior and the rolled up towel is now going to be thrown.

So, yell “phooey” when your dog is about to do the bad behavior, and then follow it with the aversive, either a squirt from the water bottle or toss the rolled up towel.

Three

Work on one behavior at a time. When the behavior is fixed, then add a second behavior to be fixed.

Four

It is best to “set up” the situation that you are trying to correct. If your dog is jumping on your friends upon greeting, then ask your friend to come over to the house to help train your dog.

Yes, this is entrapment, but all is fair in positive punishment training.

Five

If you say the marker word, you must always follow it up with the aversive, even if the dog stops the behavior after you say the marker word.

Six

If you have more than one dog, make sure you use a different marker word for each dog.

Seven

When the dog stops himself from doing the unwanted behavior and you “see” this thought process, make sure to praise your dog.

And now we can resume our regularly scheduled positive motivational training.

Using an aversive and positive punishment is sometimes the fastest and most effective way to stop an unwanted behavior, especially if it is self-rewarding. But using a positive reward to teach your dog the desired behavior should always be the first step.

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