Why Punishments don’t work

Of late, a few people have been asking me questions about punishing dogs. I’m touched by their honesty on the matter. Many of us cringe at the thought that we punish our dogs. So, we sometimes slip into denial about punishments. This is perhaps because of the ethical issue that surrounds punishments. While, ethically, I don’t subscribe to the idea of punishments, today, I want to put that aspect aside and look at punishments from another aspect. I argue that punishments are poor training tools that backfire often and hence should be avoided in behaviour modification, training and the everyday life of a dog.

Let’s look at this issue objectively. Punishments are defined as infliction or imposition of a penalty – “Infliction of pain, or infliction of fear”.That means that understanding the effect of punishments on dogs will be relevant even if you yell out “NO” at a dog when you perceive a dog’s behaviour as naughty  or come back home to a mess and stand hovering over a dog and say in a low threatening voice, “Who has been a bad boy? Huh?”

Now, I am not suggesting that one does not reprimand a dog at all. I certainly hope people will try to get there consciously. I am purely focusing on discussing the downside of punishments. Once aware of it, I believe a loving pet parent always knows how to do right by their dogs.

Talking of punishments, one of the first things to remember is that the timing has to be precise. If not, it’s easy to get a dog to believe he is being punished for some other action all together. For example, if a pet parent came home to find that their dog has pooped, punishing him can lead the dog to believe that he is being punished for leaving poop behind; and he may pick up the habit of eating it. No evidence, no punishment! Now, one might have inadvertently punished a dog, without meaning to do so, by walking in on the mess and letting out a cry and saying, “What did you do Buster? You have really messed up! You dirty dog!” 

Another example is when walking on a collar/choke chain and leash. When a dog sees another dog and we pull on the leash, the collar/choke can hurt the neck and the dog associates the pain with the other dog. So he starts expecting punishment and pain when he sees another dog and decides to react before the pain starts. So he gets aggressive.

The other problem with punishments is that we tell the dog what not to do, but not what to do. So a dog who is trying to get your attention by barking at you, if punished, may resort to mouthing or jumping as an alternative behaviour to barking. The problem with punishing him is that we have not really taught him how to ask for attention.

Punishments are also dangerous to the punishers themselves. Irrespective of whether we realise it or not, punishments cause us to punish more and more. If our punishment has the effect we expect, we get positive reinforcement from it and continue to punish more and more frequently. If it does not have the effect we expect, we start to escalate punishment. It goes up from a verbal punishment to a time out to a light tap to a smack to a slap to a hit to a beating. It requires some serious effort on our part to catch ourselves in time and reverse. The problem with this escalation is that at the end of it all, the relationship is entirely ruined, unpleasant and we might not like what we have become. Just having a dog turns to be very stressful, instead of the loving relationship it can be.

So, you see it’s not just an ethical issue. It’s really a practical issue and an issue of our well being to seek methods to communicate with our dog that does not involve punishments. Punishments in every form harm the recipient and the punisher.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s