I was listening to a Podcast from Animal Cafe the other day. It was a conversation between the excellent Kelly Dunbar from Dogstardaily.com 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.