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Is Negative Punishment Dog Training Acceptable?

By Dr. Jan Bellows

Those that understand dog training recognize that positive reinforcement is not only the most pleasurable form of dog training, but easily the most effective. Rewarding your dog for its good behaviors has time and again proven itself to be the only truly effective method for training dogs.

On the flip side, positive punishment (striking your dog for poor behaviors) is completely ineffective. Dogs that are hit or otherwise punished rarely understand what the desired behavior should be, so the end result is a dog that is now both confused and abused.

However, though positive punishment may be completely ineffective, “negative punishment” has its uses when it comes to obedience training your pet. It does not have the same results as positive reinforcement, but it is a good way to make sure your dog stays well behaved, and it is neither cruel nor painful to your pet.

What is Negative Punishment?

Negative punishment is when you take away something your dog likes in order to punish your pet. An example with children would be taking away your child’s dessert because they did not finish their vegetables. Dogs recognize when good things have been taken away from them, and they start to recognize the behaviors that they need to exhibit to continue to enjoy their activities.

Tips for Using Negative Punishment

Negative punishment is a useful tool for training your dog, but in order to work effectively it must be used correctly. Here are several tips for how to utilize negative punishment effectively in order to get the behaviors you desire.

  • Negative punishment is how you teach what “no” means. Before you perform the negative punishment action, say “no” firmly so that your dog recognizes that when it hears that command, whatever it is doing is an unwanted behavior and the object is likely to be taken away from it.
  • Negative punishment is most effective when an alternative behavior is immediately presented. For example, if your dog is chewing on your chair, it is likely enjoying itself. Move your dog away from the chair (negative punishment) and immediately provide it with something it CAN chew, such as a toy rope. Your dog will learn that chewing on the rope is a good replacement behavior.
  • You also want to try to combine negative punishment with positive reinforcement whenever possible. If your dog is on its leash and about to go for an enjoyable walk, and then it starts performing an unwanted behavior like barking loudly, you simply take the leash off and walk away (removing the good thing – going outside – from your dog). However, as soon as your dog sis silent again, then you can put the leash back on and take your dog for the walk, rewarding it for its better behavior.

Negative punishment is not the most effective training method alone, but dogs understand it quite a bit – especially with regard to obedience and reducing unwanted behaviors. Dogs will learn to understand the “no” command and what behaviors they can replace it with in order to enjoy themselves in an uninterrupted manner. While it still should be paired with positive reinforcement whenever possible, negative punishment is still a good way to get your dog to understand what is and is not okay in your household.

In addition, taking items away from your dog that it is enjoying continues to help your dog recognize that it is the subordinate in the pack, and at any point you can take away the good things in its life, helping establish yourself as pack leader.

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