What are corrections? What is punishment? Are they different? One and the same? The answer might surprise you.
A quick Google search on aversive dog training methods will yield a plethora of results from self-proclaimed ‘pet professionals’ all claiming that corrections are meant to “startle,” or “snap” the dog out of an undesirable behaviour, so the trainer can redirect. In and of itself, there is nothing wrong with this method. Interrupting a behaviour in order to redirect to a more appropriate behaviour is a solid technique.
Punishment is defined (by these people) as something excessively aversive, something unacceptable: hitting, or otherwise harming your pet.
The only logical conclusion would be: corrections are humane, punishers aren’t. Right?
I’d like to shed some light on this, because I feel it misrepresents some key terms used by dog trainers.
Corrections are a form of punishment!
Here’s the thing: the definition of punishment, as it pertains to animal behaviour, is any stimulus that decreases the likelihood of a behaviour repeating itself. Sure, that means that hitting your dog is likely punishment (albeit an unacceptable form), but it also means ignoring your dog when he whines for attention, for example.
Just like for reinforcement, what your dog considers to be punishment depends on the individual. There are certain punishers that are pretty much universal, such as pain, thirst and hunger, but there are some that are not. Yelling, for instance, can be a successful punisher for a sensitive dog, while only encouraging a more exuberant dog (I wouldn’t suggest yelling in either [or any] case).
The level of motivation the dog has to exhibit the undesired behaviour is also a factor when considering the efficacy of a punisher/correction.
For more on reinforcement and punishment, click here.
Punishment has a very negative connotation, but it really shouldn’t be a taboo word!
The term correction gained popularity among animal trainers due to the need to explain forms of punishment without using the P-word. Dog owners don’t like the idea of punishing their beloved pets, but are more accepting of correcting them. The truth is that if it lowers the likelihood of the behaviour repeating itself, it’s a form of punishment, otherwise, it’s either neutral or reinforcement.
Good luck, and happy training!
Because of how unregulated the field of pet training is, anyone can call themselves a dog trainer, even with little to no experience. Always check out reviews and qualifications before hiring a pet professional, and don’t hesitate to ask questions. Google reviews are a great place to start!