Many owners are uncomfortable with the very idea of disciplining their pet. This may be in part due to the growing prevalence of the all-positive community, which often advocates for a punishment-free approach. However, the truth is that proper correction — when applied appropriately and with proper timing — can work wonders in preventing poor behaviour. This is because as a species, dogs think in black-and-white and do not do well living in the grey area. They need direction, consistent structure, and healthy boundaries.
In fact, punishment is a natural part of how dogs (and humans too, for that matter!) learn. Take this for example:
A dog is feeding her puppies. The puppies’ milk teeth have begun to come in and one in particular is nursing roughly. The puppy bites, and the mother reacts to the pain with a swift nip. From this correction, this puppy quickly learns to be gentler and more careful.
Not punishing your dog when they misbehave does them a disservice in the long run. Do not feel guilty for giving your puppy the boundaries and structure that they need. Otherwise, you can inadvertently reinforce unhealthy mental habits and behaviours.
Therefore, we believe that fair discipline should be part of all dog training programs, regardless of age. Finding the right mix of punishment and positive reinforcement can be difficult and you should consult a professional if you are ever unsure of any of these practices. With this being said, punishment should NEVER be the result of an emotional reaction from the handler. The safety and well-being of your dog should always be of the utmost importance.
There is a reason that all-positive trainers can only achieve so much with their dogs. They are limited in the improvements they can make, especially when it comes to dealing with behavioural issues. At iTK9, we believe in a reward-based, balanced approach that utilizes all four quadrants of operant conditioning.
The removal of a negative action on your dog once the desired outcome has been achieved (eg. teaching a dog to walk with leash pressure).
A reaction to an undesired action performed by your dog where you remove something desirable (eg. withholding a treat when asking a dog to “sit” and they lie down instead).
The inclusion of an unwanted action towards your dog after an undesired action has been performed (eg. a leash correction for jumping up).
The introduction of something positive for your dog after a desired action has been completed (eg. giving a dog a treat when they perform “sit” successfully).
NOTE: Whether you are praising OR correcting a behaviour, you must react immediately so that your puppy understands. If you wait even a few seconds too long, your dog will not understand the correlation between your actions and their behaviour.
Simply put, the use of negative punishment should be understood as the act of taking away something. For example:
Your puppy excitedly greets you when you come in the door. You know that this behaviour is not healthy for them and can easily lead to further issues. To discipline them using negative punishment, you would simply turn around and deny them your attention when they jump up. The thought here is that your puppy will quickly modify their behaviour once they make the association in their mind that jumping up does not earn them praise. Negative punishment will work on a few selected dogs. Positive punishment is usually the more effective choice when looking to stop behaviours.
In contrast to negative punishment, positive punishment is adding something as a consequence for an unwanted behaviour. For example:
You take your puppy on a walk, and they begin to pull on the lead. To discipline them using positive punishment, you would give a firm and quick leash correction. Your puppy thereby learns to stop pulling on the leash, as doing so results in an unpleasant experience.
Unfortunately, this form of punishment is often misrepresented as “cruel”. However, when done in a humane way and paired with the other quadrants of operant conditioning, it is crucial in helping to solidify your dog’s learning.
A great tool we recommend for this type of punishment are cans of Pet Corrector. These work by letting out a harmless hiss of air which interrupts a dog’s attention, giving you an opportunity to take control of the situation.
At iTrainK9, we use all quadrants of operant conditioning to help ensure that our clients’ puppies have the best chance at a happy and obedient life. Often, we have owners come to us after trying other trainers that have provided little to no improvement with their puppy’s behaviour. This is because these other programs are not designed with a well-balanced approach in mind. If you are having issues with your puppy or need help training, please don’t hesitate to reach out!