The Difference Between Corrections and Punishment
The Difference Between Corrections and Punishment

THE PROBLEM

Many modern dog traineres call themselves “purely positive”.

Whether or not that’s a good characterization (I don’t think it is, since most endorse the use of things dogs hate like head-halters (Gentle Leader), “time outs”, and crating), the name sticks because they’re vocally against “corrections” of any sort.

Yet corrections can be very helpful, even essential, to raising a calm, peaceful, happy trusting, friendly dog.

The root of the problem is that the following aren’t often distinguished:
1. Punishing your dog
2. Correcting your dog.

If you understand what corrections are, and can practice and use them properly, you need never punish your dog again. Instead you can avoid and prevent future bad behavior, promote calm peaceful good behavior, and reward reward reward REWARD the dog until they’re a giant mush ball of sweet happy obedience. 🙂

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WHAT’S THE DIF?

Here’s the dif between correcting and punishing:

  • Punishing is trying to avoid your dog’s PAST mindset/behavior/actions.
  • Correcting is preventing FUTURE EFFECTS OF those mindsets/behaviors/actions.

If you study the foundations of operant conditioning (e.g. Thorndike and Skinner), punishment is defined in terms of reducing the likelihood of future repetitions of the preceding/punished behavior.

With dogs, this kind of punishment is well known not to work. Rub a dog’s nose in the pee they left on your expensive rug, and they start to fear you but keep messing the rug. Yell at your dog when he runs away in the dog park, and he’ll only avoid you more. Etc.

Corrections, at least as I use them, are warning signs that snap a dog’s increasingly disobedient/reactive/aggressive mindset BEFORE it erupts into full-blown bad behavior.

You’re walking on leash, and your dog sees another dog. His ears perk up and hackles rise . . . NOW a correction snaps him back into calm submissive peaceful obedient following. Then you’re able to pass uneventfully, or even go meet and greet nose to butt.

You drop a piece of chicken on the kitchen floor, and both dogs run up . . . NOW a correction snaps both of them back into respectful non-aggressive non-guarding distance. Then you’re able to send them to their beds, toss them both chicken, and have peaceful harmonious cohabitation around extremely high-value resource-guarding triggers.

And so on.

Punishment leads to erosion of relationship, frustration, fear, and aggression. Corrections (properly done) pave the way for trust, respect, calmness, peacefulness, and happiness.

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THE UPSHOT

Don’t believe the hype, that anything other than throwing treats at your dog is “punishment”. Also don’t believe the hype that whatever methods and tools currently in-vogue dog trainers use and employ are non-punitive.

Remember that your goal, as a dog lover and owner, is to creat a happy pet. Sometimes this requires warnings in language they can understand — i.e. corrections. But it never should get to punishing, which makes dogs less happy and erodes your relationship.

Learn to correct before a misbehavior (then redirect and reward; more on this in a future post). Don’t wait for bad behavior, then try to punish it out of existence.

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