In short: No
The word “punishment” refers to any consequence that decreases or eliminates a behavior, so the word is used by the general public in a different way than it is by professionals in the field of animal behavior.
“Punishment” As The Generally Used Term and the Reasons To Avoid It
If you are using the “generally accepted term”, this typically involves pain or something averse being applied to a dog during training. I do NOT apply an aversive because they:
- don’t teach the behavior you do want
- can impede learning
- can cause anxiety which can potentially lead to other problem behavior
There is no reason to force a puppy or dog to do a behavior and certainly not by using something they don’t like or even hate. This approach can unintentionally associate you with fear or pain or other negative feelings. This will undermine any training you do and slow it down.
In fact, your dog will learn much faster and retain information longer if they are thinking through the exercise to figure out what you do want. In addition, your puppy will gain confidence when they know they have nailed the exercise and made you happy. That will make them want to repeat it.
So if you think you need to use something uncomfortable or painful in training, then you may not understand your dog, have the ability to communicate with them and/or lack trust in your relationship. You may also need to rethink your strategy.
Instead, set your puppy or dog up for success to limit errors and then approach mistakes as learning experiences. If you communicate properly, train the behavior you want, and allow you dog to succeed, you raise a more confident dog who wants to please you. Bonus! This way is also easier and more fun.
“Punishment”, As A Technical Term
Now, if you go into the scholarly realm and discuss “punishment”, the terms “Negative punishment” and “positive punishment” are used to define two different types of punishment.
First, the term “punishment” identifies something that decreases or eliminates a behavior. The terms, “negative and positive” further categorize the type of punishment. Think of these as math terms. With negative, you are taking something away to decrease or eliminate a behavior. With positive, you are adding something to decrease or eliminate a behavior.
If you use “Negative punishment” in training, it means you are taking something away or preventing your dog from getting what they want until a behavior decreases or is eliminated. In other words, you don’t provide a reward or something desirable until a behavior stops. An example would be to withhold your dog’s dinner until your dog stops barking. Over time, your dog would learn that if he wants the food, he cannot be barking. Another example is keeping the crate door closed Ipreventing freedom) until your puppy stops pawing at the door or trying to charge through the door. A third example would be preventing your daughter from using the car unless her room is clean.
In all three examples, the punishment is not harsh. Instead, your dog or your daughter simply do not get what they want unless they stop behaving a certain way. The dog learns not to bark to get his meal, not to paw the door to get released from the crate and the daughter learns not to leave her room messy if she wants to use the car.
This type of “punishment” is NOT considered “force” as it gives the dog a CHOICE, so it is acceptable in training. The puppy needs to think and can learn from this type of exercise.
“Positive punishment” is what most people think of with the term “punishment”. In this type of punishment, you are adding something – an aversion – meaning something is uncomfortable, frightening, painful and/or causes suffering after your dog behaves a certain way so that behavior decreases or stops. This type of punishment could range from a loud noise, if that scares your dog, to a shock from a collar.
With the same examples, if your dog barked to get his food, you might yell at your dog to stop the barking. When your dog pawed to get out of the crate, you might kick the crate. And if your daughter left her room a mess, you might hit her. Those are positive punishments.
This type of punishment is unacceptable in training. You do not need to apply force to teach a dog what you want them to do.
Positive Punishment and Training
The only time fear, pain or force should be used with a dog is when the safety of your dog or another living being is in jeopardy. In that case, you could apply force or an aversion to prevent injury. This would be an unusual circumstance, such as preventing your dog from running into the road. You need him to stop and can apply whatever means necessary to prevent him from getting injured. But hopefully, that would be a one-time occurrence because you would then put measures in place to prevent it from happening again.
These are not training exercises but they could teach your dog not to run in the road in some cases, so if you get technical, it is “punishment” and in a rare case, may be needed.
In training, there is no need for “positive punishment”. It is counterproductive and can cause serious behavior issues. It does not help, it does not teach new behavior and again, according to scientific studies, it can create behavior problems by causing fear and anxiety in your dog.
If you think you need to use fear, pain or force with your dog, please, just ask for help! There is a better way.
Teach your dog the behavior you do want!