Humane Discipline

HUMANE_DISCIPLINE_FeaturedPositive does not mean permissive.

Discipline is an important part of the learning process, but the form of discipline used in positive training differs greatly from the types of discipline used in dominance training. Traditional trainers often argue that positive trainers do not believe in or effectively use appropriate discipline in training, but that is because the definitions of the word 'discipline' in the context of these two approaches are so wildly different from one another.

Of course effective discipline is an integral part of positive training, but discipline is used by positive trainers and owners to guide the dog into making the right choices and eventually thinking for himself. The concept of discipline in dominance and punishment-based training is used to suppress the dog's instincts and feelings through the use of force or fear – not to truly change the way the dog thinks and feels.

The Good: Humane Discipline in Positive Training:

  • Using constructive discipline to guide the dog into making better choices
  • Not inflicting pain or instilling fear in the dog
  • Influencing an animal’s behavior without the use of force.
  • Constructive disciplinary techniques such as removal, time outs, taking something of value away, ignoring behavior and interrupting negative behavior with a vocal interrupter.

The Bad: Dangerous and Ineffective Training Techniques

  • ‘Alpha rolls': when a dog is forcibly laid on his back or side and held down until he ‘submits’
  • ‘Biting’: where a person uses the tips of their fingers bunched together that are poked into a dog’s side in order to simulate a ‘bite’ that a dog would use to reprimand another dog
  • Foot pushes (where a person uses the side of their foot or heel to prod or kick a dog when it is misbehaving)
  • Hanging (where a dog is hung by his collar until his air supply is cut off)
  • Shock collars that deliver an electric shock when the dog misbehaves.
  • Leash yanks or jerks to the neck to curb unwanted behavior
  • Yanks or jerks to the neck via a choke or prong collar
  • Hitting the dog with hands or other objects such as a rolled-up newspaper

Why Are The Above Methods Bad?
Harsh punishments used by punitive trainers are not only cruel but also potentially dangerous and damage the trust between dog and human.

Punitive trainers often argue that these are effective methods of punishment because they stop dogs from repeating negative behavior. The punishment is most likely to work there and then, but the experience of the punishment can make dogs feel more insecure and wary of their owners and it is common for dogs that are punished in this manner to keep reoffending because they have not been shown another way to behave.

Harsh punishment relies on suppressing behavior but does not truly change it. The dog’s behavior might be suppressed for a time but he still feels the same inside and is likely to react again more intensely, sometimes without giving a clear warning if warning signals have been suppressed through punishment.

The only thing harsh punishment does achieve is to give the person an outlet for their frustration even if it means they have to hurt their dog or instill fear in order to achieve that reinforcement.

Anyone can get a dog to behave using punitive training but it takes a real understanding of dog psychology to use discipline effectively without inflicting pain or fear and to guide a dog into not repeating negative behavior while maintaining trust.

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11 thoughts on “Humane Discipline

  1. Melissa Knox

    As a positive trainer, my goal is to inform clients as to the difference between training methodologies and help them make an informed decision as to how they want their pet treated; using pain, fear, and intimidation, or not. Many e-collar trainers suggest to clients that if used correctly (spot-on timing/low level corrections), choke chains, shock collars and prong collars can be effective training tools. This is what they tell their clients. Keeping my emotional responses in check, I will often ask for a demonstration of successful training/learning *without* the application of the collar. 99% of the dogs cannot demonstrate what they've "learned" when the collar is absent. Then I ask the client, what do *you think* this demonstrates? I let them draw their own conclusions and we go from there. 🙂

  2. Ruth Kulmala-Repp

    One of the things about the shock collars, they have tone generators. You can train for a positive tone and a negative tone. I like them for this reason. Training the dog to respond to a negative tone is not about shocking them, it can be a warning that if the behavior continues they will lose their privilege. The collar itself has a remote that I can generate the tone over distance that the dog will hear, even if they are say at the very back corner of the wooded yard, barking at the neighbors. I have a very territorial herding dog and she loves to bark at the fence line. I have only to give her two quick negative tones and she remembers that I will bring her inside if I have to tell her again. She is a very happy dog and the collar is never a tool of fear. She gets it for me.

  3. Jeanie Todd Marvin

    Would like to read more about positive discipline, like how and when do you apply the things listed. Examples would be helpful.

  4. Wild Cat

    You can use a whistle to emit a tone........ two different whistles for
    different meanings...... and they will hear the whistle no matter how
    big your yard this whole "using the collar just for the tone" is a load of rubbish ...... there is no need to even own such a device of torture.
    These things can malfunction and shock your dog and hurt it even when you do not intend to shock them, so why even risk it?!?

  5. Chris Davies

    My name is Chris Davies and I am a veteran dog trainer with over 20 years experience. I use positive methods and am an advocate of humane, positive reinforcement-based training. If you'd like you can take a look at some of my class handouts. They should provide a good beginning for you... Here's the link:
    This is the whole Basic Obedience Course which I recommend as a start for all dogs over 6 months. I have a Puppy class for dogs under 6 months.

  6. Scottieb12203

    Your example is fairly baseless. If you train a dog to heel using a no pull harness and then remove the harness and try off leash heel, you'll probably get the same result as your example of 99% ineffectiveness ...conditioning a dog to respond without using the training tools takes A LOT of time.

  7. Lindsay Pevny

    Your handouts say "Positive Paws" at the top, but mention using a lot of punitive methods, like squirt bottles, and pulling the leash up to teach a sit. 🙁 Sad to see. Even if those methods don't seem very painful, they can be very distressing for an animal, and they're totally unnecessary.

  8. Kirsteen Niven

    A halti is a good safety measure if you have a powerful dog which has a tendency to bolt, but it shouldn't be used to train the dog. It is a negative thing, which will make matters worse if the dog is fearful. You need to train the dog to walk calmly alongside you with a loose lead, regardless of whether it's wearing a harness or a collar. Build a relationship with the dog. chat to it on walks, work on socialising it, distract it when it gets over-stimulated and reactive, etc. and make it feel safe and happy when it's near you. Always praise the dog for walking near you when it is on the lead, and have treats in your pocket to reward if you have to call the dog closer. Very quickly it will be happy to stay close. Give it freedom to run around off the lead in safe places and that will help to consolidate the difference between the behaviour expected on the lead and the freedom it's allowed off the lead. It's hard work training dogs, but the difference you can make in a a matter of weeks can be miraculous.

  9. Kirsteen Niven

    I foster dogs, and maybe I have been lucky, but I find dogs just want to please you, so you just need to be clear from the outset what is allowed, and be consistent. If a dog gets hold of a shoe or whatever, I calmly take it away and give the dog a toy. If the dog might not want to relinquish it, I'd offer a better item, and quietly tidy the other thing away. They learn that way what they're allowed to play with and chew. Positive training could also involve rewarding for compliance with a command. e.g. If the dog is chewing a cable, you can call him over and reward for that with a chew toy and some attention. Or you could say "Leave it" and offer a tempting treat, and he will stop chewing the cord. He then gets the treat for compliance. However, you can avoid a lot of problems by giving the dog attention, sufficient exercise, stimulation and toys.

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