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Motivation, restraint, and punishment  in dog training

Motivation

  • Puppies, as well as adult dogs, will assess any situation and engage in behaviors that pay off from their perspective. If a puppy has several options, the one with the greatest benefit will be chosen. Acts that are rewarded will tend to be repeated; those that aren’t will disappear.
  • Dogs are very social animals, thus attention and other forms of social interaction with people are powerful rewards. Attention includes petting, talking, affection, and eye contact. For many puppies all kinds of interaction, including being chased and yelled at, are reinforcing. 
  • Food is a powerful motivator for puppies (and most other animals too). Using a puppy’s regular food, or small amounts of special treats, will increase the pay-off while teaching the puppy to sit, lie down, etc. 
  • The best way to establish a new behavior is to pair the reward (food and attention) with the desired behavior every time. The best way to maintain a behavior that has been learned is to give the reward intermittently and unpredictably.

Restraint

  • We emphasize use of positive reinforcement to reward desired behaviors. If a puppy is engaged in unwanted behavior, first try redirecting the puppy into an acceptable behavior that can be rewarded. If the puppy persists, we recommend a humane method of restraint such as a flat buckle collar or headcollar combined with a leash or indoor lead. Headcollars fit like a halter and apply pressure on the neck or muzzle of the puppy like a mother or other adult dog.  

Punishment

We strongly discourage people from punishing puppies, or any dogs. There are many reasons why punishment is often counter-productive: 

  • Shy puppies may become fearful of people, and potentially aggressive.  
  • Assertive puppies may escalate their dominant behavior when punished, increasing the risk of bites. 
  • The puppy will learn to stop the behavior when people are present, but will still do it when alone. 
  • Saying “NO” may work the first time, but since it doesn’t physically stop the puppy, they soon learn to ignore it. Then you have to raise your voice or say “no” five times in a row to get the puppy’s attention. This teaches the puppy to ignore you until you really, really mean it and encourages the puppy to compete with people for leadership. 
  • Some adults, and most children, will not be able to effectively administer punishment. We teach techniques that everyone can use, so the puppy learns to respond to everyone. 

Using positive reinforcement to reward competing behaviors, using humane restraint, and preventing unwanted behaviors in the first place, punishment isn’t necessary. 

This material is copyright of Animal Humane Society and can only be used with written permission.

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