DSA Position on Punishment

Dog Scouts of America’s position is that force, fear and harsh physical corrections should not be used for dog training.

This includes but is not limited to: rough or inhumane use of any training aid such as choke chains, electronic collars, leash “pops”, alpha rolls, and other forms of training that cause fear or pain in the dog.  It is strongly discouraged for use by our members when they are in public.  It is not used by DSA staff (including Camp Staff, Troop Leaders, Scoutmasters or Evaluators) when teaching others.

To state it plainly:  Punishment-based training is not supported by DSA.  

Here’s Why…

Timing with Punishment

Timing with punishment must be perfect to bring about the desired change in behavior.  Many people are not skilled enough in their timing to impact the behavior they are trying to change.  This results in a dog who is confused and stressed. In order for punishment-based training to be effective, it HAS to occur every time the unwanted behavior is performed.  If the dog is only getting punished sometimes, then the times when punishment is not delivered could be seen as rewarding.  This is the “slot machine” principle in which occasional rewards makes a behavior stronger and more addicting, in this case, the unwanted behavior.

Strength of Punishment

To be effective, the punishment used must be strong enough the first time it is used to halt the behavior from repeating. If the punishment needs to be used repeatedly because the behavior keeps coming back, the dog may get used to it.  Then that level of punishment must become more severe to have the same effect.  Regardless of the level used, punishment-based training can cause physical harm and/or fear when the intensity is high enough to stop the behavior.

Training Aids

Collars that tighten significantly and/or suddenly around the dog’s neck can cause physical and lasting damage to the dog.  This includes, but is not limited to collapse of the dog’s windpipe, Horner’s syndrome (damage of the nerve to the eye,) sudden and life threatening pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs.)  Pressures by a collar on the neck have been proven to increase the pressure in the dog’s eyes.  This can increase the risk of broken blood vessels within the eyes and glaucoma.

Development of Fear Reactions

Regardless of the level of punishment used, it can cause some dogs to be very fearful.  This fear can then be triggered by other situations or objects.  The dog can develop a higher level of general anxiety than he would have if punishment-based training methods were not being used.  The dog may associate the punishment with unrelated things.  For example, if the dog’s leash is popped whenever another dog appears, the dog may associate the appearance of other dogs to pain in his neck.  This can lead to fear of other dogs or aggression toward them.

Increases in Aggression

The use of punishment-based training has been shown to increase levels of aggression in many species including dogs.  The aggression can be based in fear, anxiety or frustration.  If the dog does not understand what is causing the punishment it can lead to all of these feelings.  If the dog gets fed up with being punished, he may try aggression to get it to stop or to avoid it.  If a dog has a history of aggression, punishment can make that aggression escalate and become more severe or damaging.

Suppression of Natural Communication

Another possibility is that it may stop the dog from showing that he feels stressed while increasing the levels of stress.  If the dog learns that growling gets punished, he may stop growling.  This does not change why the growl was occurring.  It simply means that the dog will reach his breaking point and bite without giving a warning. Forbidding the dog from letting you know he’s uncomfortable or nervous or angry instead of trying to address why the dog feels the need to growl or bark can cause additional anxiety making the situation worse for the dog and a greater liability for the owner.

Damaged Trust Relationship with Handler/Family

The use of punishment based training can damage the relationship and trust the dog has with the human.  The dog might not know what to expect from a person who uses fear and pain to get the dog to comply.   The dog should love being with and working with the owner.  If the dog is more excited, happier or visibly relaxes once the training session has ended, then perhaps something is punishing about the methods being used.

THE MOST CRITICAL REASON that punishment-based training is not supported by DSA is because it is used on the symptoms and the underlying causes are often not addressed.  Punishment only tells the dog what it CAN’T do.  It does not focus on helping the dog understand what it CAN do instead.

DSA recommends that training should focus on:

When an unwanted behavior occurs more than once, it means that the behavior is getting rewarded in some way. By looking at why the dog is doing something, and focusing on how to redirect or prevent the behavior while at the same time, replacing it with something acceptable (that can be rewarded) training is more effective.  It tells the dog what he CAN do to get what he wants. Behavior that is rewarded, will be repeated.  The reward can be anything the dog wants.

  • Rewarding/reinforcing desired behaviors.
  • Re-focusing the dog or use prevention to reduce the chances of the unwanted behavior being practiced.
  • Recognizing and addressing the emotional state of the dog and the environmental conditions that are causing or encouraging the behavior.

Instead of thinking “how can I stop this behavior?”, ask:

  • “What behavior do I want the dog to do instead of this behavior?”
  • “How can I help the dog do that good behavior so I can show him it will be rewarded?”
  • “How can I prevent my dog from being tempted to do the unwanted behavior?”

There are plenty of humane methods for controlling an unruly dog without needing pain and fear.

But my dog is out of control or too strong!
  • Front attach type harnesses (when used and fitted correctly) are much more humane training tools that use physics instead of pain.
  • Teaching the dog the concept of indirect access can help the dog learn self control and to settle down.
  • Teaching the dog boundaries (physical and behavioral) and what behavior is acceptable and allowed will help the dog relax.  He doesn’t need to guess about the rules for the day or the location.  And harsh punishments are not needed for this process.
  • Consistency helps the dog learn from and trust his owner.  Once the dog understands that he can use his (good) behavior to get what he wants, the dog becomes easier to manage.

There are some trainers that have the skills to use punishment effectively, but even those trainers can cause the fall out and damage to a dog that is outlined above.  Any unwanted behavior that can be suppressed with punishment – based training can also be changed for the better using humane methods and reward-based training and does not carry the risks of physical and mental damage.

My dog is stupid, he can’t understand

Dogs that have had bad experiences with punishment or have had punishment based methods used for a long time or that have an abused past, may have a harder time learning to use problem solving skills.  They may also be hesitant to offer new behaviors due to fear of punishment.  The dog might think “it’s a test and if I move, mom’s gonna get me!”

So if you have a dog like this, be patient and give him time to realize he has a new trainer and that the training rules have changed. Training and teaching requires significant skill, effort and awareness from the trainer.  Timing and consistency is critical, regardless of the methods used.  Positive and rewarding methods allow for a greater learning curve without risk of harm for most behaviors.

For aggression problems, the help of a positive training professional is recommended so that the training can be most effective while reducing risk of harm as the dog learns good alternative behaviors.  Punishment based training methods that focus on stopping a behavior without addressing its cause can cause severe and long lasting damage to the dog.

For training daily manners with the average dog, positive methods can be learned and used by almost anyone. As the owner learns more skills, the dog benefits and so does the bond with the dog.  If mistakes are made, no harm is done and learning can continue.

If you need help understanding how to use positive methods to train your dog, please utilize the volumes of information found on the DSA website to help you free of charge.  If you do not find the answers for your situation, feel free to post the details of your training problem to the DSA talk list for friendly (non-professional) advice from people who have probably been in your situation and found positive ways to turn it around, or consult a positive trainer in your area for professional advice.

Additional Information:  The Problem with Punishment

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