Interesting explanation of punishment in dog training

I was listening to a Podcast from Animal Cafe the other day. It was a conversation between the excellent Kelly Dunbar from who is the host and Dr Roger Abrantes. They were discussing among other things, the definitions and uses of reinforcers and punishers.

Dr Abrantes defines reinforcers as something which increases the frequency, duration and/or intensity of a behaviour and a punisher as something which decreases the frequency, duration or intensity of a behaviour.

He further went on the provide this example. If you don’t like mayonnaise and you go to a restaurant and there is loads of mayo on your sandwich and this causes you not to come back again, then the chef has punished you into not coming back by putting the mayo on your meal. If you complain about it and the chef tells you not to come back but you decide to go back because you won’t be told what to do, he has not punished you, merely created an aggressive response in you.

How does this apply to dog training? We aim to punish the behaviour we don’t like, rather than the dog itself. If we punish the dog, and not the behaviour, by being abusive to the dog, the dog will start to fear us or see us as something he dislikes (the aggressive reaction in the above example). However, if we punish the behaviour (not going back to the restaurant in the above example), we will change how the dog acts.

We should always aim to punish the behaviour and never the animal. the behaviour is something which is “bad” i.e. undesirable, which needs to be changed rather than the dog.

2 thoughts on “Interesting explanation of punishment in dog training

    1. Thanks for your question, here are a couple of examples

      If your dog jumps on you when you enter the house, and you turn your back on the dog and this has the effect of the dog not jumping on you then you have punished the jumping i.e. it has decreased in frequency, duration and/or intensity by removing your attention. You then praise the dog for having all four feet on the floor instead by petting and verbal praise which then reinforces the four paws on the floor.

      If your dog barks at house guests, and you put the dog out of the room for a few seconds and then let him back in, and this has the effect of reduction in barking (it may need several attempts before the dog realises what is causing him to be removed from the room) then you have punished the barking but not the dog. If on the other hand, your dog barks at guests and you out him in another room and leave him there until the guest arrives, you have punished the dog and not the behaviour because the dog will have forgotten what he was removed for the next time the guest visits, and you will have merely excluded the dog and not given the dog a chance to learn.

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