by Amanda Mullins, RVT, BSc. (Animal Sciences)
(as adapted from Dr. Sophia Yin's “Handling, Restraint and Behavior Modification of Dogs and Cats”):
It is our responsibility to not only ensure the physical health of a pet but also their mental health. We strive to the enhance the human animal bond through keeping pets healthy, but by also placing an emphasis on keeping the client and pets everyday relationship healthy and happy.
Here are nine reasons why punishment, dominance and force are not the best methods when training or interacting with your pet. 1. The punishment must be strong enough to be effective.
The intensity of the punishment must be strong enough to suppress the undesired behavior completely. Often owners or trainers begin using a low level of punishment (ex. A low level of shock on a shock collar) and then find
themselves needing to increase the intensity when the pet becomes habituated to the previous level of punishment. Eventually you will reach a level of punishment that is physically dangerous to the pet. For example, shock collars can cause burns and choke and prong collars can cause wounds, tracheal damage, collapse and temporary airway obstruction. Even if you reach a high enough level of intensity the effects are only temporary. 2. The punishment could cause intense fear, which may be generalized.
If you find a level of punishment effective enough to suppress the behavior, the animal may become overly sensitive or fearful to the object, person, place or other environmental surroundings. For example, if another dog is always around when you punish your dog, your dog may begin to associate other dogs with an incoming punishment. 3. Punishment can increase or cause aggression.
Early in the 1960's it was well established that punishment can cause aggression. A recent study (2008) showed that using punishment (kicking, pushing, hitting, alpha rolling, shocking etc) elicited an aggressive response. Subtle stress signals often go missed and the animal reacts to a stressful, confrontational or painful encounter with aggression. 4. The punishment must occur at the exact time the undesirable behavior occurs.
Research shows that punishment is not effective if it does not occur at the exact time as the undesirable behavior. If you come home and your dog urinated in the house while you were away, some people may use the old “rub their nose in it” method. This only sends the message that when you come home something bad will happen and your dog will begin to avoid you rather than greet you. A study in 1967 showed that even a delay of 2 seconds has ineffective results. 5. Immediate rewards may outweigh the future possibility of punishment.
Even if your pet does associate the punishment with the behavior, the immediate rewards of the behavior may outweigh the effects of a possible punishment. Animals often still perform the undesirable behavior because they are unsure of when/if the punishment will happen (usually due to a lack of consistency or timing on the owners part). For example, my dog will still counter surf because it usually takes me a while to notice he is in the kitchen doing something naughty. 6. Punishment can strengthen the undesirable behavior.
The punishment has to occur every time the animal performs the undesirable behavior. Often owners have the punishment on a variable schedule (it only occurs sometimes and it rarely occurs during the undesired behavior). Behaviors happen most frequently when rewards are on a variable schedule. Animals tend to work harder and offer more behaviors when they don't know if a reward is coming or what the reward will be. Using the counter surfing example again, the reward of eating what's on the counter is on a variable schedule. Sometimes there are good food items on the counter and sometimes there is nothing on the counter. If I only punish my dog when I happen to find him on the counter, the variable of a food reward up there outweighs any potential punishment. 7. Punishment can suppress some behaviors while masking the underlying emotional state.
Often people will use punishment to eliminate the outward signs of a behavior we deem unacceptable. For example, a dog may be punished every time they growl or raise their lip because the owner dislikes the aggression. Outward signs can be eliminated but the underlying cause is often forgotten. Which may lead to teaching the dog to suppress his warning signs and later immediately bite because he was punished when trying to communicate his emotions. 8. Punishment can lead to a poor bond.
The human animal bond is weakened every time you punish your dog. If training sessions are associated with the shock or prong collar and impending pain the dog will begin to dislike training and shut down emotionally when you try to work with your dog. The unpredictability of if a punishment is coming or not can keep dogs in an anxious state and chronically fearful of the punisher (often the owner). 9. Punishment fails to show the animal the appropriate behavior.
If all the conditions are ideal and the punishment is delivered at the right intensity and time, we still fail to show the pet the correct behavior. In the end we teach them what not to do and leave them wondering what to do.
The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior frowns upon the use of punishment and dominance in training. Their position statements can be found here: http://avsabonline.org/resources/position-statements
Halifax Veterinary Hospital Inc. does not promote or condone the use of punishment, force or dominance when interacting with your pet. It is our promise to you that we will never use these methods while your pet is in our care.