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Last updated: Mon, 21 Jul 2008 03:41:13
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It is never necessary to punish your dog!

Truly! Never, ever!

First draft, Saturday, 12 July 2008; 13:37

I spent many years studying and testing and practicing, before I finally learned that truly, it is never, ever necessary to punish your dog.

Punish? my definition

I am using the word "punish" here solely in the colloquial sense. I am reaching out to all humans who keep companion dogs, whose human concerns are that the dog should be safe, healthy and comfortable, in that order, who also hope their dogs will stay safe, healthy and comfortable, and allow other living creatures to enjoy the same benefits.

I mention my definition (a relaxed one), because the theory and practice of operant conditioning, which I mention, for instance, in Click! Training an animal using a clicker, uses the term punishment in very specific ways that do not have at all the same meaning as the colloquial one most of us grow up with.

The terminology of operant conditioning uses the word "punishment" to mean a consequence for behavior that tends to lessen later recurrences of that same behavior in the same environment, or in the same conditions.

What I'm talking about here is anything we do that in any way scolds or reprimands the dog, as well as anything we do that administers correction, or pain, in ways that do not easily connect with how dogs demonstrate their emotions and thinking work.

No Nos!

If we say to a dog, "No!" - that is a form of punishment, at least in the colloquial sense, and often enough, it also fits the definition of punishment as used in operant conditioning.

It surely must seem odd to some humans that a dog would not understand what you mean by, "No!" But when you exclaim, you usually stop a dog short. It will usually stop what it is doing, and perhaps look at you. If it's had bad emotional experiences, it may turn tail and run away from you. If it has had too many bad experiences, from too many sources, it might turn toward you and attempt to bite you. None of this is necessary.

Of course, plenty of people "rescue" dogs. They adopt strays, or take in dogs from rescue organizations. These are dogs whose histories often remain unknown. We have no control over what has happened to them in the past, and we can only do our best with them.

Care and Management

Taking good care of a dog is the first requirement to help us avoid punishing a dog (in the colloquial sense). Elsewhere, I cover a dog's Real Needs , and add some related information you can use. A well-cared-for dog doesn't need to get into danger, nor endanger other creatures, to meet its own needs, because the human is doing the job!

But then also, dogs, like humans, have wants, which may extend well beyond their real needs. And, given the opportunity, a dog will naturally take what it wants. So how do we teach the dog to stay safe, healthy and comfortable, if, for instance, it hasn't the capacity to distinguish entirely what really is safe for it?

There is a very simple answer to that, though it's not necessarily easy to implement. That is, we keep the dog out of harm's way, to the very best of our ability. We can use gates and crates, leashes and fences. I use fences indoors! I also have crates, but use them only for two purposes. First, for indoor, at-home, hospitalization, if the dog must be restricted for healing. Second, I now use them to feed my dogs, so they can eat in peace, very close together, but not seeing each other.

Otherwise, because of how we live, I have no need to use the crates, and apart from eating-times, the crate-doors are tied open. My dogs are small and clean, and permitted on all furniture they can reach to get onto. Therefore, they and I have Our Bed, Ah; what delightful luxury! Kumbi was crated too much as a pup, before he became my dog, and it was many years before he began to use his own crate - on his own! I was pleased and surprised when he chose it to rest in. Kwali soon adopted her crate as a preferred resting-place, though she has others as well. So has Kumbi!

So what else can we do instead of saying No, or punishing a dog?

A few useful techniques for helping dogs learn


We humans will make mistakes. We will leave things that could harm a dog where the dog can get at them. Or we will leave our favorite things in similar places.

I've heard many a story of dogs rushing off with undies, and parading and trophying them around the living room in the presence of honored guests, probably usually The Boss And Her Husband.

And sometimes, dogs will grab spilled food, or get into something truly dangerous, such as chocolate.

We can keep really attractive treats in the fridge - some plain boiled chicken breast would be perfect for most dogs, even for diabetic dogs such as Kumbi. If a dog shows up with something dangerous, and we have taught that dog before to "trade up," it's a simple matter to offer a very much valued treat, which has the dog dropping the forbidden item, and reaching for the treat instead.

We do have to be reasonably quick about it, still without pouncing on the dog or the Treasure. Pouncing scares a dog. But with a little thought and practice, we can offer chicken (sorry, Bob Bailey, and you too, Kate), and pick up the forbidden object.


We can re-direct the dog to a different activity. When I was tired of shepherding Kumbi through his Popcans invention, I put the popcans away, and took both dogs for a walk.

If a dog is rushing out the door, we can call it to come to us instead. If we have properly reinforced the dog coming to us, the dog will usually come with great delight. I always reinforce my dogs, rewarding them in some way, for coming when I call them. So "Come" has, for my dogs, become a greatly valued cue from me. They are very reliable Come-ers.

I will undoubtedly be adding to this page as I get time. I'm sure Kwali and Kumbi will delightedly help me do that.

Dogs Are Emotional

If you punish a dog verbally, the dog will first feel an emotional response. Bob and Marian Bailey knew this well, and wrote of it in an article entitled Pavlov On Your Shoulder. Right there, you have already lost the dog to the worry and pain of its emotions. A scolded or reprimanded dog first feels threatened. A threatened dog goes on the defensive, just as a threatened human does. It is not necessary to threaten our dogs. Instead, we can find other ways to cope.

Here's to King Boo Boo Bravo Bravito, who is teaching his humans that he feels defensive if they scold him. Oh, King Boo Boo Bravo Bravito, you are surely a good teacher. Thank you. And thank your human family for learning so well from you. Your family is of highest quality and ability, and surely, they do take really good care of you.

I'm sure King Boo Boo Bravo Bravito is also assisting his humans with learning to give painless injections. Kumbi did that for me. Kumbi and the King share the feature that both have diabetes, and require twice-daily injections.

More to come.

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