Punishment Facts Not Fancy
There is a lot of misinformation about what punishment is and how it affects dogs. This article seeks to educate on what punishment is and how it works to ‘change’ behaviour.
The use of punishment is unethical and has no place in modern dog training.
I have qualified up to a degree level in dog behaviour, but I have been told that I don’t understand ‘tools. I don’t know what I am talking about, by people who advocate the use of punishment on their dogs.
I understand punishment and how it works.
This article provides facts that can be backed up by evidence and years of scientific studies.
Organisations of dog training and animal health do not advocate the use of punishment.
I have asked people who advocate punishment for their thoughts on how it works so well and not one of them could give them to me.
The Survival Instinct
The survival instinct in animals, (including humans) is primal,
Self, preservation comes before everything.
It is a reflex response switching on and off during times of stress and threatening situations.
The survival instinct seeks to prevent harm, pain, and threats to life. If they don’t learn to avoid what can harm them they will not survive. This is not a choice, it’s life.
Understanding this helps you understand how punishment affects emotions and behaviour.
The Law Of Effect
In 1898 psychologist Edward Thorndyke developed the law of effect principle.
‘responses that produce a satisfying effect in a particular situation become more likely to occur again in that situation, and responses that produce a discomforting effect become less likely to occur again in that situation.’
Animals learn the consequences of their actions through pleasure/pain application.
Based on the law of effect American psychologist B.F Skinner through his experiments on animals developed operant conditioning.
Skinner identified three types of responses, or operants, that can follow behaviour.
- Neutral operants: responses from the environment that neither increase nor decrease the probability of a behaviour being repeated.
- Reinforcers: Responses from the environment that increase the probability of a behaviour being repeated. Reinforcers can be either positive or negative.
- Punishers: Responses from the environment that decrease the likelihood of a behaviour being repeated. Punishment weakens behaviour.
What is punishment?
Punishment in learning terms is classed as anything added to decrease behaviour. If anything is put on the dog, or experienced by the dog that has an immediate effect of decreasing the behaviour, stopping or modifying behaviour is punishment.
It is the dog that decides what is punishment, one dog may feel punished and the other may not.
Look back at the survival instinct. Animals avoid things that cause pain or threaten them in any way. Therefore the product has created avoidance. The behaviour has reduced or stopped because the dog wants to avoid the associated pain, for it to stop.
An e-collar is used to prevent predatory behaviour. (chasing) The timing of the electric stimulus (in theory) is added when the dog is running off with the desired effect that the dog will immediately stop chasing and return to the owner.
If the dog doesn’t do this it means that the stimulus isn’t bad enough for the dog to stop the behaviour. The behaviour itself has more value than the electric shock, meaning that it is a neutral stimulus.
If it has stopped the dog from chasing then the stimulus has caused the survival instinct to kick in so and the dog has avoided chasing to stop the adverse response to the stimulus (punishment)
Think about that!
I have been told that if I believe the above, then I am using them incorrectly (never used one) that I am wrong (this is evidence back from 1898 and not disproven over 100 years later) That they don’t hurt (then it would have no effect on behaviour as evidenced by Skinner) and adding food makes the experience pleasant (then it would increase behaviour)
What Skinner published about punishment
- Punished behaviour is not forgotten, it’s suppressed – behaviour returns when punishment is no longer present.
- Causes increased aggression – shows that aggression is a way to cope with problems.
- Creates fear that can generalize to undesirable behaviours, e.g., fear of school.
- Does not necessarily guide you toward desired behaviour – reinforcement tells you what to do, and punishment only tells you what not to do.
When applying punishment, how do we know what the dog is thinking and feeling when punishment is administered? Humans are putting their thoughts into animal behaviour and the brain of an animal is different to the human brain.
If the dog has seen another dog, or person at the time of punishment it can associate the dog with a negative feeling. We just don’t know.
That is dangerous. Because the dog doesn’t understand why the pain happened they just know that they don’t want it to be repeated.
When Skinner applied electric stimuli to rats and removed it when they pressed a lever, the rats learned to press the lever before the shock came. (avoidence)
Conditioning an e-collar involves making it associated with a pleasant experience. (usually food). Of course, this is possible, but then why bother, if you are making the shock less painful, it won’t stop the behaviour that you wanted it to do in the first place. You might as well just train your dog using food!
Prong collars – have painful spikes to prevent pulling – I have been told they are not painful – does it stop pulling? Yes – It’s painful No, then there is no point in using it as it will have no effect (see Skinners results)
E -collars – an electric shock controlled by the owner, including the depth of the shock
Vibrating collars – administering a vibration – at the very least they will have a startle response. Does it work? Yes – It’s painful maybe not, but then there is no point in using it as it will have no effect and if it has then it is punishing to that dog (see Skinners results)
Slip leads/choke/martingale collars – tighten to prevent pulling – Does it work? Yes – It’s painful maybe not, but then there is no point in using it as it will have no effect (see Skinners results)
Head halti/figure of 8/ nose lead – tightens to prevent pulling Does it work? Yes – It is painful, if it is not then there is no point in using it as it will have no effect (see Skinner’s results). Or the pulling is too valuable to the dog so its worth the [pain and discomfort. Although there are some incidents where safety people may need to use a product such as this whilst training
Tightening harness – tightens to prevent pulling Does it work? Yes – It’s painful if it isn’t, then there is no point in using it as it will have no effect (see Skinners results)
Hitting/shouting – Does it work? Yes – It’s painful if it is not, then there is no point in using it as it will have no effect (see Skinners results)
Forceful behaviour – Does it work? Yes – It’s painful if it is not, then there is no point in using it as it will have no effect (see Skinners results)
If a trainer has advised you to use any of these then find another that doesn’t. An ethical trainer.
If anyone tells you that the above is rubbish then don’t listen to them. They are not informed about animal behaviour and it is cruel.
Punishment works yes, but for all the wrong reasons. It is only for humans, it doesn’t work for dogs it creates anxiety, depression, and shutting down.
There are no circumstances when it is ok