First off, The DogSmith does not advocate punishment, not when there are so many other more pleasant ways to decrease the intensity, duration or frequency of a problematic behavior.

In the scientific world a 'punisher' has to be an event that decreases the strength or likelihood of a behavior. So punishment does not have to be scary or intrusive or aversive. BUT punishment is so difficult to get right consistently and at the correct intensity that pet owning parents are best to stay away from using punishment to help them train their dogs.

If you are punishing your dog and after a couple of occasions the behavior has not improved then stop what you are doing and consult a professional dog trainer. If you continue on ineffectively applying punishment you will make the behavior worse and create other problematic behaviors as a result of your dog now being fearful or anxious about your actions towards them.

Punishment is very difficult to get right. Why? Well because:

  1. The effects of punishment are dependent on many variables. Like reinforcement, the degree of contingency between the punishing event and the behavior are an important variable. The level of behavior suppression achieved is determined by the degree of contingency.
  2. Contiguity, the interval between the behavior and the punishing consequence, is also a variable that affects punishment. The longer the delay is between the behavior and the punishment the slower the learning. A delayed punisher may not only suppress the desired behavior but also affect other behaviors. (Chance 2008 p213).
  3. Another variable that affects punishment is the intensity of the punisher. It is difficult and often impossible to know at what level the punishment will be effective (Chance 2008 p 213).
  4. Another variable that affects punishment is the presence of reinforcements that have maintained the behavior. The behavior will not be suppressed if the animal still gains reinforcements.  For punishment to be successful it helps if the animal can find an alternate way of obtaining the reinforcers (Chance 2008 p216).
  5. Other variables that affect punishment are an animal’s deprivation level and the qualitative features of a punisher.   Punishment has less affect when an animal is hungry if the reinforcement available is food. The consequence to the behavior has to be punishing for the animal, it must decrease the strength of the behavior (Chance 2008 p208).

So as you can see there are so many variables that affect punishment. In a real life situation and not in a laboratory it is very difficult to get each of these components right without creating 'fall out' behaviors. Badly timed punishment is ineffective and the wrong intensity of punishment can be harmful and very invasive to your pet.

You also need to consider before you use punishment;

Do  YOU do not want to be perceived as unsafe to your dog? Punishment will negatively impact your  dog-human relationship and bond.

Consult a professional dog trainer or dog behavior counselor if you have a dog behavior or training problem.