Are You Puppy Police?

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When the subject comes up of scolding a puppy (or dog) for getting into something humans think it shouldn’t, chewing up something of value to humans, or going potty in the house, I want to remind you of this comparison I like to use.

You are in essence playing the role of the traffic cop who is watching passersby from the side of the road to pull over and punish (with a traffic ticket) them for driving over the speed limit. Think about that for a minute…if you have ever seen those flashing red lights in your rear view mirror, has that very irritating fine – and mark on your driving record – caused you to stop driving over the speed limit every time you get in the car. Or does that experience cause you to be more vigilant in looking for police when you want to get somewhere faster?

Here is the thing about punishment. It has so many potential negative ramifications, among them being that it can create apathy, fear, anxiety and even aggression; and if you are the punisher, then you will become associated with that aversive consequence. Punishment also does not teach your pet what you want it to do instead.

Why punishing your puppy for bad behavior won't stop behavior. Another thing to keep in mind is that, just as with any consequence, if you are scolding your puppy for a behavior that was done in the past, too much time has gone by for your puppy to learn that association between the unwanted behavior and the punishment so you could be simply teaching your puppy that doing whatever it was doing at the very instant just before you yelled (which could be coming to you) caused you to respond that way. I am sure that is not your intention.

So, here is the other thing, if are having the housetraining problem of your puppy peeing on the rug for example and you yell, spank or do something else aversive to it at that instant, think about it. Are you really teaching your puppy to never pee on the rug (What happens if his bladder is really full and he has to relieve himself?) or are you teaching your puppy that if he cannot wait and has to go, that he better find a spot that is out of view from humans (think about your lesson with the traffic cop)? If your puppy is bored and his teeth ach, and he really needs something to put in his mouth, do you think your punishment would teach him he should never chew on whatever happens to be available, or do you think you are teaching him to stay away from you when he has a human object?

One more point is that, once you have gone down that road of using aversives with a puppy who has had accidents in the house, it is so much more difficult to do effective housetraining since your puppy will be less likely to go potty in front of you (and you need to be able to see him go so that you can provide reinforcement immediately).

Lesson here: Set your puppy up for success with good management to prevent unwanted behaviors from being practiced while you are teaching your puppy the behaviors you want to see…with lots of positive reinforcement!

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