Dogs have been considered mankind’s best friend for thousands of years, and to this day they hold many important roles in society in a wide variety of public service, military and other government positions like the police force. Of course, the most common role dogs play is being brought into the homes of people as companions, and often treated as family – in which case, they should always be treated with patience and understanding. This is important when it comes to training.
There are many methods available to train dogs and with every dog comes a unique personality that may require different approaches. Three main types are positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement and general punishment. In the context of dog training, words like positive and negative do not translate to good or bad, only the addition or subtraction of a consequence.
Positive reinforcement is a reward-based system where praising, treats and added liberties such as more play time, are some of the only tools used to teach commands and encourage desired behavior. More often than not, if positive reinforcement is not enough to guide a dog’s behavior to the owners desire, then it is the owner that is likely doing something wrong.
Adopting a dog, whether as a puppy or an adult is a huge commitment. It will require a great deal of patience to understand what works best for the owner’s wants and the dog’s physical and mental well-being. The main reason why a positive reward system is best for the dog is because it supports their mental happiness and strengthens their bond of trust with the owner.
On the other hand, when it comes to positive punishment, the dog’s mental well-being is at stake. It is all too easy to miscommunicate with an animal that doesn’t and never will speak a human language. Just because a dog can understand simple words and phrases does not mean they can properly translate their owner’s frustrations.
For example, think of a scenario where a dog goes to the bathroom indoors and the owner’s response is to show the mess to the dog and scold them. What that tells the dog is that going to the bathroom in general is a bad thing. I have witnessed this with a childhood dog of mine and the result was that he was ashamed to go to the bathroom at all, even outside. It took years of giving him praise and treats every time he went outside to get him to not try and hide it.
Sometimes it can be difficult to determine if certain actions are poorly affecting a dog’s mental state. Actions such as yelling, hitting, abruptly upsetting noises, physical restraint, choke collars and electric collars should never be used. That being said, there are certain negative punishment tactics that are safe to use and it only becomes abusive if the owner oversteps boundaries.
For instance, when a dog barks for attention and the owner chooses to ignore and look away, this is considered to be negative punishment. Another example would be to turn one’s back to a dog that jumps to greet people. This way the dog knows that if it jumps or barks it won’t get the attention it seeks. If a dog gets yelled at when greeting people, it may get confused as to what exactly is wrong.
The resulting consequences of using punishment will ultimately lead to the dog experiencing feelings of fear and mistrust towards their owner, which will lead to a range of unpredictability in behavior. If a dog feels threatened it may act rashly and become aggressive and territorial. I have seen this occur time and time again. The worst outcome is when the owner can no longer handle the dog’s behavior and chooses to surrender the dog to a shelter, where the possibility of the dog getting put down is high.
Dogs process cause and effect in a very different manner than humans do. While humans can process the consequences of their actions and understand the full scope of the situation, dogs don’t have the same understanding the scenario. To own a dog means that their health and happiness must be made a priority.