Punishment vs. Interruption: Properly Managing Your Dog’s Behavior

“No! Get off the table!” “No! Give that here!” “No! Quit pestering her or I’ll spray you!”

All my life I’ve been round individuals who inform their canines, “No!” – and I’ve completed it loads myself. I assumed it was punishment. But was it? Punishment is a puzzlement:

■ The phrase has various and contradictory definitions. 

■ People who assume they’re punishing their canines usually aren’t doing so. They are merely interrupting the present habits.

■  We people have a powerful urge to reply in a punitive technique to perceived wrongs. It doubtless comes from having a fast-moving, intuitive mind course of. We are wired for retribution!

All this could mix to get us confused and caught in unproductive habits patterns with our canines. But earlier than we are able to do something about this, we have to perceive and agree on some definitions.


The time period “punishment” is outlined otherwise in frequent utilization and in habits science. This causes many issues of communication and understanding. 

Two dictionary definitions of the normal (frequent) which means of punishment are: 

• The infliction or imposition of a penalty as retribution for an offense.  

• Suffering, ache, or loss that serves as retribution. 

These point out that punishment is an motion taken in opposition to somebody who has dedicated some sort of offense. In this sense of punishment, there is no such thing as a point out of rehabilitation, and extra importantly, no reference to future habits. Punishment is solely the deliberately disagreeable motion the punisher takes in opposition to the offender. 

Now distinction this with the definition in habits science. Miltenberger (2008) lists three elements to the definition of punishment:

1. A selected habits happens.

2. A consequence instantly follows the habits.

3. As a outcome, the habits is much less prone to happen once more sooner or later. (The habits is weakened.)

Parts 1 and a pair of are associated to the frequent definition of punishment, or it looks like they’re. But Part Three is totally different and significantly arduous to bear in mind due to the normal which means.

In habits science, punishment has solely occurred if the focused habits decreases sooner or later. That implies that on the prompt of taking motion (Part 2 above), we are able to’t know whether or not a habits has been punished or not. We will solely know by observing the animal’s habits over time.

Making issues much more complicated, there are two varieties of punishment outlined in habits science. 

Negative punishment: Something fascinating is eliminated after a habits, which leads to the habits taking place much less usually.

Positive punishment: Something aversive is added after a habits, which leads to the habits taking place much less usually. 

Both punishment processes are aversive, and so they each carry dangers of negative effects. But the usage of detrimental punishment is suitable to some optimistic reinforcement-based trainers. An instance is closing your hand round a deal with if the canine tries to seize it when you’re attempting to show him to “leave it.” 

“Positive punishment” is the method extra folks really feel aware of. An instance is jerking on the leash when a canine pulls forward, with the intent of lowering pulling sooner or later. This sort of punishment, which includes the usage of an aversive stimulus, carries an awesome danger of fallout. Positive reinforcement-based trainers search to not use it.

This is the kind of punishment I’ll be discussing in remainder of this text.


It’s frequent to listen to beleaguered canine homeowners say issues like, “I tell my dog ‘NO’ and shake him by the scruff but he keeps jumping on my guests!” 

An individual who says issues like that is attempting to punish her canine. She is probably going not merciless and he or she doubtless loves her canine. But she is following the mores of our tradition quite than the science of habits. She is taking instant retributive motion when the canine does one thing “bad.” 

But what she isn’t doing is lowering the canine’s leaping sooner or later – the canine would possibly even reply to the scruff shake as an invite to play! Her actions don’t qualify as “punishment” within the behavioral sense if the canine retains on leaping. 

What such motion usually achieves is interruption. If you yell at your canine when he barks on the mail service, it’s possible you’ll interrupt his barking. This is reinforcing . . . to you! “Whew! He stopped barking!” But the following day, he’s at it once more! So though what you need is to your canine by no means to bark on the mail service, what you get is a cycle of bark/yell/aid. 

It’s tough to appreciate that such actions will not be efficient in the long run. Stopping the annoyance reinforces us within the quick time period. And it’s straightforward to confuse the interruption with coaching since we’re altering the canine’s habits within the second. 


Let’s discuss that urge to take motion in opposition to one other being. 

Psychologists who assist the twin course of principle (Evans, 2009) state that there are two typical human cognitive processes. 

“According to dual-process theories, there are two distinct systems underlying human reasoning: an evolutionarily old system that is associative, automatic, unconscious, parallel, and fast; and a more recent, distinctively human system that is rule-based, controlled, conscious, serial, and slow.” 

Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman popularized twin course of principle in his e book Thinking Fast and Slow (2011). He refers back to the “fast” system as System 1 and the slower, extra considerate system as System 2. 

There is a variety of analysis exhibiting that System 1 – the knee-jerk system – governs retributive punishment. 

John M. Darley, an American social psychologist and professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton University, writes: 

“When a person registers a transgression against self or others, the person experiences an intuitively produced, emotionally tinged reaction of moral outrage. The reaction is driven by the just deserts-based retributive reactions of the person to the transgression rather than, for instance, considerations of the deterrent force of the punishment…. I suggest that these desires to punish are often the product of intuitive rather than reasoned processes.” 

Is this sounding acquainted?

If an analogous inner course of happens in people when a canine “misbehaves,” it might clarify why retributive punishment can really feel so mandatory in that state of affairs. (And not simply to the proprietor; ask anybody whose canine has “misbehaved” in public how many individuals pressured her to do one thing about it!) Our outraged ethical sense misfires on a creature who doesn’t have the identical cognition or morals as we do. 

But whether or not or not our urge to punish canines is linked to the phenomenon Darley and lots of different scientists have studied, we all know that stopping a habits that’s bothering us is reinforcing (to us). Even if there is no such thing as a future lower of the annoying habits, we’ve discovered find out how to relieve ourselves within the quick time period. We find yourself doing it repeatedly.

It could be devilishly arduous to alter the sample of repeatedly yelling, jerking, or hitting canines, even when we don’t need to harm or scare them – and I imagine most of us don’t. If the phenomenon Darley describes is concerned, we’re doubtless wrestling with an previous and powerful a part of the mind once we attempt to break the behavior.


We assume we perceive “positive punishment” as a result of the motion of doing one thing disagreeable to cease a habits comes naturally to us people. But it seems that it’s not that straightforward to make use of an aversive stimulus to cut back future habits, even when that’s the specific intent. 

To start with, you have to go massive. You should do one thing that actually hurts or scares the canine, not simply one thing disagreeable. (Dogs, like people, will tolerate an aversive stimulus if there may be sturdy competing reinforcement for the habits.) Here’s the catch: If you obtain sufficient depth to lower habits, you danger putting in long-term concern in your canine.

There are a number of different standards to satisfy earlier than the canine’s “bad” habits will lower by way of this course of. Consistency and timing of the aversive stimulus are essential. Also, the stimulus should be disassociated from the human if the purpose is to suppress the habits usually. In different phrases, the canine must be taught that one thing unhealthy occurs when he tries to get within the trash even when the human isn’t there. Those who haven’t studied habits science don’t have the knowledge to plan this out. And it takes a System 2 response, quite than the knee-jerk, System 1 response, to make that plan. I’m not condoning punishment, deliberate or unplanned; I’m simply saying that usually when folks assume they’re punishing habits, they aren’t.

So we might repeatedly “punish” a canine within the cultural sense of the phrase with out attaining punishment within the habits science sense. Even although we’d get short-term aid from doing it, the cycle will not be enjoyable for the human. Who needs to yell at their canine or spray them with water or threaten them on a regular basis? And for the canine, this cycle could be anyplace from annoying to terrifying. 

So what Does Work?

Effective optimistic punishment is way harsher than we’d ever need to be with our canines. Unpleasant interruption does little about future habits. So what are we left with?

There is a simple, humane technique to interrupt habits in actual life whereas additionally making a long-term plan for habits change. A well-trained and practiced “positive interrupter” can cease harmful or undesirable habits in its tracks. It’s an consideration/reorientation cue educated with optimistic reinforcement. And if the interrupter is mixed with a plan to take away alternatives for the undesired habits, the undesirable habits will lower.

Note that “positive interrupter” will not be a time period from habits science; it’s only a cue that’s educated with optimistic reinforcement. But some folks prepare a particular cue for this quite than calling the canine away with their recall or “leave it” cue.

I educated a particular optimistic interrupter with two of my canines whose play was intense. Even although they by no means harm one another throughout play, they might ramp up, and I felt like the potential for aggression was all the time there. 

I used the phrase “Cool it!” given in a nice, sing-song voice. I labored with every canine individually at first. I educated it identical to I’d prepare any cue to reorient to me: I paired the phrase with treats. I began in a super-easy surroundings, educating them that the phrases predicted one thing yummy. Then I began utilizing it in straightforward real-life conditions, for example, in the event that they had been in the identical room with me however listening to one thing else, or in the event that they had been one room away however trying my means. They would wish to reorient or come to me to get the goodie. 

When I began utilizing it in play, I used it during times the place they had been having a breather, then labored as much as interrupting full-intensity play. It labored fantastically and had the general impact that they realized they might interrupt themselves when issues acquired intense. 

I used to be studying, too. It could be counterintuitive to say one thing nice to your canines and provides them a deal with when you’re nervous and need to yell, “Stop it!” The course of helped me escape that System 1, knee-jerk response, and do one thing that was win-win as an alternative. 

It’s greatest to make use of an interrupter in an surroundings the place the canine has loads of methods to entry reinforcers, equivalent to getting on a mat, sitting properly, or taking part in coaching video games. In an surroundings the place there are simpler methods to earn reinforcers, the undesired habits will doubtless fade over time as an alternative of accelerating. Also, in a richly reinforcing surroundings, there may be much less probability of the canine studying the sample of “Be naughty so I can get called away and get reinforced.” 

Positive interruption is a greater methodology than each precise punishment, with its unpleasantness, fallout, and countless cycle. And calling such a cue an interrupter will help people who find themselves new to habits science have a particular title for an motion that they need very a lot – a technique to get their canine to cease doing that! 

This article was first printed in Clean Run – The Magazine for Dog Agility Enthusiasts.

Dog coach Eileen Anderson writes about habits science, her life with canines, and coaching with optimistic reinforcement on her weblog (eileenanddogs.com). She can also be the writer of Remember Me? Loving and Caring for a Dog with Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. See web page 24 for info.


Darley, J. M. (2009). “Morality in the law: The psychological foundations of citizens’ desires to punish transgressions.” Annual Review of Law and Social Science, 5, 1-23. 

Evans, J. S. B., & Frankish, Okay. E. (2009). In Two Minds: Dual Processes and Beyond. Oxford University Press.

Kahneman, D., & Egan, P. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Miltenberger, R. G. (2008). Behavior modification: Principles and procedures. Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.


Source link

Leave a Reply