Mark's Dog Blog



Many ask why are a lot of my posts about punishment? Well, isn't that the major issue we have now in regards to raising our dogs correctly, not understanding the appropriate application & the misrepresentation of "positive punishment" and "negative reinforcement" (P+ & R-)? Aren't these terms now synonymous with anger and aggression and therefore abuse, when in fact those emotional states have nothing at all to do with P+ and R-?

Those against administering punishment (they really have little understanding of its true meaning or application), will post photos like I have with this post to tug on emotional heartstrings, and use terms like beating and kicking dogs, aggressive alpha rolling, shutting dogs down, learned helplessness, fear based training, etc, etc. This is an extremists view of reality, its either ALL or NOTHING, its either FULL ON, or NOT AT ALL, there is no middle ground, no balance.

No balanced trainer accepts abusive training methods, however, we need to draw a line at where abuse starts, and not automatically assume the ALL punishment is abusive. If this is the case, that all punishment is indeed abusive, then how has life on planet earth survived for billions of years? We as humans have the advantage of verbal communication and are privileged with very evolved reasoning ability, that our dogs unfortunately are not capable of. We as humans can communicate instant discomfort with mere words, hence physical punishment is generally not required. However, try telling your dog that he is grounded for a week, or will lose toy privileges for a few days due to its current or past behaviour! Try telling a dog that if he bites you again, he will not get dinner tonight, or will need to move out of home due to his aggressive behaviour, if it doesn't stop!

P+, is nothing more than applying an unpleasant consequence (an aversive) paired with the current behaviour, at just above the dogs "current" threshold of "discomfort". It's instant and lasts for no more than a second. If punishment lingers on, or is taken beyond discomfort, its meaning can become lost to the dog, and will generally cause the dog to become overly confused.

A dogs current emotional state dictates its threshold of discomfort, and that is no different to us humans. The more aroused a dog is, the higher its threshold of discomfort, and the stronger its behavioural responses. This is why its important to always be aware of your dogs current emotional state, so if we need to punish a behaviour, its applied before the dog becomes overly aroused, hence lowering the level/strength of our punishment response. How much easier is it to punish a child when it is in a calm emotional state? Try communicating calmly with a child that is throwing a tantrum, or has become hyper-aroused. A dog is no different. Just as a young child doesn't fully understand emotional states, our dogs have no clue or understanding what emotional states are, they just act and react accordingly. Emotions drive the strength of a behaviour, we therefore need to be the barometer for our children's and our dogs emotional states, and jump in early, and not wait until the behaviour is out of control due to a hyper-aroused emotional state driving it.

Punishment is not abuse. However the incorrect application of it can make our response abusive. From the brains perspective, discomfort needs to be escaped from or avoided, whether it is psychological or physical discomfort. Causing pain in my opinion is taking the administering of discomfort to the next level due to not understanding the dogs current threshold of "discomfort", and working from there. When a dog is hyper-aroused the dogs threshold of discomfort increases way beyond needing to avoid what is considered "uncomfortable" discomfort when in a calmer state. When a dog is in an emotional calm state, what is perceived as "painful", would barely register as uncomfortable when in an overly aroused state of mind.

The administering of punishment is not for all intent and purposes to create "pain", its to create a level of discomfort that the dogs brain feels the need to avoid. When we push the dog way above its discomfort level and into pain, we have taken discomfort too far, and then the punishment does become abusive in many instances.

Its important to understand the principles of punishment in the way I have outlined above, and not listen to the positive only and force free extremism, as they are doing more harm to our relationship with our dogs, than the administering of discomfort could ever do.

It's never just about the dog

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