Dogs are brilliant characters, each and every one of them boasts their own unique personalities. Whether they're a pedigree pooch, a mixed breed, a large and powerful canine or a tiny miniature pet, the one thing they all have in common is the joy and laughter they bring into the home. However, there are instances when a dog will do something that's not that funny or behave in a way that makes their owners want to run away and hide – especially when they are out on a walk in a public park!
Many dog owners get confused at how they should respond to their pets when they're naughty or when they display bad or aggressive behaviour towards other dogs. It can be hard when you call your dog back and they have their "deaf ears" on. This results in them totally ignoring you no matter how you call out their name or usual "come back" command. When they do eventually come to you – the question is whether you tell them off or reward them?
If you find your dog just won't come back to you which means you have to chase after them, when you do catch up with them – do you punish them or reward them for letting you put on their lead? It can be confusing as to how you should react after all you're probably a little annoyed with them which naturally they will pick up on anyway.
You may have heard of "negative punishment" and you would be forgiven for thinking this is a harsh way to treat a dog as both words have such bad connotations. As such you would not want to use this type of training technique on your dog but in reality this is one of the best ways to train and react to a dog's bad behaviour. However, on the flip side "positive punishment" is a method where you would tell your pet off for their bad behaviour in the hope the "tell off" would be enough to stop them from repeating this kind of behaviour – but in truth this often does not work at all because it's all in the timing.
One example of where positive punishment does not work with dogs is a classic one and which typically involves puppies when they are at play with their owners. Puppies as young as 2 months old can be boisterous, there's nothing they like better than playing rough. The problem is they boast needle-sharp teeth which are more than capable of breaking through the skin of anyone play fighting with them.
To tell them off by shouting at them or to tap them on their butts with a rolled up paper, is the type of positive punishment which makes the puppy even more boisterous and you may well find they will then growl at you if you attempt to tell them off again. This is because puppy sees and understands this as part of the "rough" play fighting they really enjoy and that owners are just joining in the game!
For positive punishment to be effective, it has to be administered at the right time and in the right way which is very hard to achieve at the best of times especially as it has to be consistent. Another problem is that positive punishment has to be unpleasant if it is to stop any unwanted bad behaviour yet it cannot be so unpleasant that it scares, causes pain or invokes aggression in your dog. If a dog does something and reacts because they are scared then positive punishment should never be used to correct the behaviour either. Add this all up and it's easy to see why positive punishment rarely works or encourages a dog to be well behaved.
On the flip side negative punishment although the term sounds pretty drastic, does work because the technique removes something a dog values and all due to the fact they behaved badly. Using the same example of the puppy scenario, instead of shouting at the puppy when they played far too roughly, if owners simply walked away and then proceeded to ignore their little canine friend, they have in effect, taken something of value away from puppy – namely their attention.
If every time puppy is left on their own and ignored when they play too rough, they are smart enough to get the message that if they play nicely, the things they love stay and play but if things get too rough, they end up on their own.
One of the main reasons for using negative punishment rather than positive is that if you get it wrong and misinterpret an action or behaviour and yell at your pet or smack them only to then realise they were in fact about to do something "good", you cannot take back the "tell off" whereas if you use negative punishment it is much easier to give back to your dog what you have taken away from them so the impact is far less dire.
The Right Balance
It goes without saying that punishing bad behaviour in the right way is crucial but praising and rewarding good behaviour is far more important. Dogs crave their owner's attention, they are never happier than when they have you all to themselves whether you're playing interactive games with them or just having a cuddle. The most important thing is to let your dog know how happy you are when they are well behaved and then make a note of how that good behaviour then repeats itself in the future.