Dogs learn in much the same way humans learn. They respond to praise and encouragement much more readily than they do to punishment.
Punishing a dog
The basic idea of punishment is to inflict pain to try to get a dog to do what you want it to do. Punishing a dog, like punishing a child, is more of a reflection of the person doing the punishing. It also reflects an underlying belief that pain is the best way to change behavior. It is based on a strong desire to control and provides an emotional outlet for irritation, frustration and anger. Although it may let off steam it only instills fear in the dog, it does not show the dog what it did wrong. The dog, like the child, quickly learns to avoid pain. The motivation to change their behavior is fear. Punishment is a negative form of correction.
Punishment is always physical since a dog cannot understand an explanation as to why the behavior was incorrect. The problem with punishment is that the dog associates the punishment with whatever he has just done and not necessarily with the behavior for which he is being punished.
Let’s say you are working on the “Come” command. The dog is sitting in front of you, on leash, about two feet away, and you tug at his leash while saying, “Come!” The dog doesn’t move. You try it several more times with the same result. Then you literally drag the dog toward you using the leash, and when he arrives close enough for you to reach, you clout him on the head and shout at him. What has the dog learned? Being near you will get him hit. Has he learned to “Come?” No. After several more practices using the same tactics, the dog will learn to associate the “Come” command with being hit. You now have a dog who doesn’t want to get near you for any reason. Teaching him to ‘Come’ will become even more difficult.
I once lived in a neighborhood where I would walk my dogs. At one house we passed, a very friendly dog would come out and join us on our walk. One day I walked the dog back to his house where the owner was standing. The owner immediately began hitting the dog. The dog, of course, had no idea why he was being hit. All he knew was that he had run to his master and then got hit. Dogs learn only by immediate association. In this case, the dog only knew that if he approached his master he would be hit.
Correcting a dog
The basic idea of correction is to point out mistakes. Unlike punishment, correction is unemotional–it has no emotional overtones.
Using the “come” command again, you might try a different tactic if the dog sits like a statue when you call, Come! One method might be to get out of your chair, walk up to the dog, and grasping it firmly by the collar, back up slowly repeating “dog’s name, Come!” in a happy, cheery voice. When you are back in your chair and the dog is in front of you, gently push her rear to the floor. Then, calling her name, praise, praise, praise. You can treat, give her a rub, or tickle her tummy. Anything that gives you both pleasure. She is sitting right in front of you, which is where you want her to be. Repeat three to five times every day. Don’t overdo it. Too many repetitions of a good thing can become boring for both of you.
Another method is to stay where you are and pull gently on the leash while calling “dog’s name, come!” in a happy, cheery voice until the dog arrives in front of you. Bend down, push his bottom to the ground, then praise, treat, and pet.
The idea you are trying to instill in her head is that when she comes to you and sits in front of you, she will get lots of praise and rewards. Since she cannot possibly learn this behavior in one lesson, calm repetition is necessary several times a day and as many days as it takes her to learn. Dogs, like children, do not learn at the same rate.
You have decided it’s time to start leash training. You put a collar and leash on the dog to walk outdoors. Unless the dog is familiar with the collar and leash, you may get some reaction from your dog as pulling away, shaking his head, or refusing to move. Let’s assume the dog knows about a collar and leash. You take him outside and start walking. Just keep walking away from the dog. If he lies down and makes you drag him along the ground, you need to stop and reassess the situation. What’s going on? Your job is to make a walk on the leash a pleasurable experience. If you need to use treats or lavish praise, do whatever you need to do to get your dog to accept the leash.
Once outside, your first task is to teach the dog that when she is on a leash, she is to go where you go and not somewhere else. You walk in a straight line and your dog is going everywhere on the leash but is not with you. When the dog hits the end of the leash (whether she is in front of you or to the side) simply turn away from the direction the dog is going, give the leash a small pop, and continue walking. The pop will startle the dog (but not hurt her, she will look to see where you are and what you are doing, and frequently will run to you and follow along. When she does this say, “Good dog!” (using a cheerful voice). When she gets distracted again and hits the end of the leash, simply turn away from her again, giving her that small pop with the leash just as you turn and walk away. You will do this several times. Encourage, praise, and talk to her when she is near you. Turn away with a pop, when she goes off in her own direction. You say nothing at all when you pop her.
Not being a stupid animal, the dog learns that when he is near you; he is getting lots of attention and praise and when he hits the end of the leash going away from you, something unpleasant happens. He figures it is his own fault he is being popped.
Here, you are correcting him for moving away from you and praising him when he is near you.
The difference between punishment and correction in dog training is the difference between teaching and learning in a painful environment rather than in a neutral or pleasant environment.