If Your Dog Could Talk: Reward vs Punishment Dog Training

If Your Dog Could Talk, What Would She Tell You? Photo Courtesy of Cindy Staszak

There's a raging controversy in the field of dog training centered around dog training collars and methods--Reinforcement vs Correction and Treats vs No Treats. What's a pet parent to do? If your dog could talk, your dog would surely ask you to listen to the experts in animal behavior. As it turns out, it’s scientifically sound advice to be nice to your dog.

In a consensus article, Good Trainers: How to Identity One, the Journal of Veterinary Behavior (2006) states quite clearly; shock, prong, and choke collars should be avoided “because they increase fear and anxiety.” It specifically suggests, “no pop and jerk”. You can Google it to read the full article. These esteemed veterinarians-- experts in behavior-- outline the behavioral and psychological drawbacks of punitive methods and equipment: “There are many pitfalls of punishment: it ruins relationships, inhibits desirable learning, doesn’t tell the pet what to do, and increases aggression and arousal.” They recommend, “bite-sized treats, harnesses and praise” and name these as superior training tools.

Scores of animal behavior experts in the scientific community and humane organizations have spoken out on the Reward vs Punishment debate. Behaviorists from The American Humane Association to the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists concur that using intimidation and pain-based methods to prevent or manage behavior can actually WORSEN existing behavior.

So, why is punishment-oriented training so widespread and popular? Well, there’s a charismatic TV trainer whose sensation-driven show warns viewers, “Don’t try this at home”. Additionally, shock, prong and choke collars are marketed in every big box store assuring buyers that they’re safe, acceptable and “won’t hurt your dog.” The language of “stimulation” and “tickle” can mislead innocent pet parents. Shock collar training is still legal in the US and there’s a great deal of money to be made. It works in the moment, but doesn't create lasting change or address the underlying problems.

Shock collars were recently banned for dog training in Wales and are illegal in Italy, Denmark, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, and many parts of Australia. States, such as Connecticut, have banned their use by private trainers and severely restricted their use by facilities.

If you think of your pet as member of your family, think of your dog as "a two-year old for life." That's the truth of it. Reward-based learning is what we ought to use with our children and with our companion animals as well, if we want relationships built on trust and love rather than on dominance and fear.

Originally published in the Natural Awakenings Pet Magazine, San Diego.

Linda Michaels, “Dog Psychologist,” MA, and Victoria Stilwell-licensed Del Mar dog trainer and speaker may be reached at 858.259.WOOF (9663) or by email: [email protected] for private obedience instruction and behavioral consultations near Del Mar and the San Diego Coast. Please visit us at DogPsychologistOnCall.com

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Positively Expert: Linda Michaels, MA

Linda Michaels is a VSPDT trainer, dog training columnist, and owner of Dog Psychologist On Call in Del Mar, CA. Linda holds a Master’s Degree in Psychology with research experience in Behavioral Neurobiology. She is a Behavioral Advisor for the Wolf Education Project (WEP) in Julian, CA and Art for Barks in Rancho Santa Fe, CA.


7 thoughts on “If Your Dog Could Talk: Reward vs Punishment Dog Training

  1. Brenda Haggai

    Well. A beefy, healthy, boisterous boxer boy will pull your arm out of it's socket if he wants to. Just as you discipline a 2 year old child not to run into the street, I think you need to discipline your strong willed dog not to pull you into the street.
    I don't agree with overbearing punishing and harsh discipline, but you've got to get the bull headed dogs attention. I train in obedience and agility (not for showing--just for fun) and I walk and jog my dogs (on the bicycle) on a regular basis. In addition, they get lots of brain stimulation, lots of quality time with family and lots of dog play time. My dog has never been frightened of me because I discipline in a calm manner and praise with treats and pats and belly rubs. I have to have a prong collar on him just to keep my arm attached to my body. (The dog is 2yrs old and is still in training) He doesn't mind the collar at all, but I think you could hit him in the head with a brick and he wouldn't mind. 🙂 My point is, I don't see anything wrong with discipline. I think many more dogs (and children for that matter) could use it. Perhaps there is a happy medium between your gentle method and someone else's pop method. All I can tell you is that the tails stay up and they wag and wiggle a lot.

  2. BEX

    If he doesn't mind the collar then how exactly does it work to keep him from pulling your arm off? He must mind it to some degree or it would have no power over his behaviour. Also, for a punishment to work it must be aversive enough to stop the behaviour after only a few applications. If you are walking your dog with a prong collar every day then it is an ineffective punishment and you are doing no better than causing your dog chronic stress. If you are convinced that it doesn't hurt him then I challenge you to find ways to motivate him instead of hoping he'll be averse enough to the prongs to avoid it and stop pulling. I agree that dogs need discipline but it should come in the form of structure and clear communication and consistency, not through punishing them with physical or psychological pain for doing normal dog things.
    How do you get a bull headed dog's attention? You condition him to know that focusing on you brings good things. You start in low distraction locations and build up a reinforcement history for looking at you and being with you, then gradually increase criteria.
    Tails are up because dogs are stoic and look for the best in every situation. He is more motivated by the stimulation he gets on walks than he is by the pain he's feeling in his neck. Think how much happier they'd be if you could find ways to provide good consequences for good behaviours. Good consequences that will be more salient than things in the environment. My dog will focus on me while we're at the park. Even though the goose poop is really tempting she knows that the more immediate source of good things is me. In such situations I am liberal and frequent in my treat delivery. Perhaps your rate of reinforcement it not high enough.

  3. Leslie McGavin Clifton

    Why hurt your dog if you don`t need to? Yes people are misled by advertising and take bad advice, believing their trainer is the expert. I also feel some people are just of a certain mindset, where " showing the dog who is boss" is a way of life.

  4. Dawn Archer Pizzoferrato

    @ Brenda Haggai: Discipline and punishment are different things. And the best discipline comes through respect, which can only be earned through trust. Trust comes through clear communication with calm energy, consistent boundaries, environmental management and positive reinforcement. Punishment will only increase anxiety and fear, which in turn increases inappropriate behavior. I think your dog is getting mixed signals...On one hand the exercise and play are highly reinforcing and pleasurable and over-ride the discomfort of the prong collar....Have you tried an "Easy-Walk" harness? They too can help you gain control and deter pulling, but with no pain. That with high value, high frequency reinforcement for NOT pulling and you'll have a better behaved and much happier dog!

  5. Jane Chin

    It makes me sick to my stomach and angry when I seen prong, choke, shock collars on dogs. These are the same people who use them also say I love my dog. I say they are lazy people who have NO patience. Of course these people will get fast results from these dogs they are inflicting pain on them. Anyone inflicting pain is going to get a reaction. I would not want a dog to listen to out of fear. It is WRONG and unfortunately the dog suffers. Again these people piss me off and try to justify abuse then turn around and tell you, you're wrong. If a dog obeys you out of fear you are ABUSING this dog.

  6. Mark

    I'm curious to know what it is that you believe a "shock collar" is and why you state that they have been banned in the states that were listed. I have been searching for laws that say you are not allowed to use them, and all I can find is the exact opposite.

  7. Linda Michaels, MA

    Hi Mark,

    Thank you for being curious!

    Sorry, it's taken to long to get back to you. I believe the only state I mentioned was Connecticut--the other mentions were countries. Here's a report on what's happening in one of these nations: Hope this helps. I agree... it's a wide-spread problem, but overcome we shall!

    Here's a record of some legal activities on-going in a number of locations where government representatives are speaking up. http://www.banshockcollars.ca/alerts.php
    Thanks for keeping me on my toes. I make it a point to research my information, but folks are always welcome to ask for references.

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