If you were standing in the kitchen with your two-year-old and you noticed that they were about to climb on top of your kitchen table, what would you do?
You would probably say something along the lines of “uh uh” and remove them as they climbed up the chair. Ideally, you didn’t wait until they were already on the table. You might also find them something else to do once they were off, called “redirection,” if it didn’t appear that they were going to find something else on their own.
If they attempted to climb on your table again, one presumes you would be slightly more firm and reiterate that no, they would not be climbing on your table. Or you might simply remove them from the room at that time, if you recognized that simple communication and redirection weren’t going to do the trick.
Somewhere in there, possibly as your child grew older and presumably “knew better”, you might find yourself escalating to a stern “hey!” if the table climbing recurred.
Eventually, you would reach a point where you would expect your child to understand that climbing on the table was not an option. And…you would be right!
Now you might also recognize that the child was displaying the unwanted behavior out of boredom or to get your attention. And while you would still interrupt the behavior, you might feel a little sympathetic if you recognized the cause. After removing them you would likely do something to alleviate the situation.
Your consistent and repeated disapproval would eventually communicate that climbing on the table was not an option. That it was unacceptable. Which is absolutely compatible with a sympathetic response and recognition of the cause of the poor behavior.
Is this frightening to the child? Being verbally directed to stop a given behavior? It certainly doesn’t have to be.
Simple communication works because children understand our disapproving tone, even when they don’t understand the actual words. If you are a parent who does not use physical punishment, as I am, then you would remove them from the situation if redirection and/or “tone of communication” wasn’t working. The opportunity for misbehavior would be removed.
Time, consistency and maturity. Easy-going children will take the message earlier, probably around the time you said hey, don’t do that! Stronger willed children would take more time and consistency.
So. Your dog.
It’s exactly the same.
There are things my dogs are allowed to do and things they are not allowed to do. If they attempt to do something that they are not allowed to do, and that they will never be allowed to do, then I prevent it. Every single time.
I might use redirection. I might use tone. I might remove them from the situation.
If I don’t want my dog on my furniture, or to take food off my counters, or to jump on my guests, and if any of these things are in progress, then I will stop it. I may do so physically by removing them; I may verbally say “hey!”, or if I’m not getting through, I may simply remove them from the situation altogether. Time, training and habit do the rest.
If something is happening that you don’t like, and you don’t want to see it again, interrupt the behavior. If you think in terms of quadrants then you will recognize that this is positive punishment, and that might paralyze you. Don’t let that happen. Instead, think in terms of clarity and communication.
Note that I am using real-life examples rather than training examples, and understand that this is very much intentional. In training, everything is about what I want my dog to do; what I need them to learn. It takes place in a formal sense for less than an hour a day.
And if I’m not? If I haven’t created a training set-up, or held food in my pocket, and my dog was loose in my house as my dogs are most of the time? If something happens that I don’t want in the other 23 hours of the day, then I’m going to stop the behavior.
The alternative is a fair amount of crating or almost non-stop training, and that doesn’t work for my lifestyle- I’m not good enough to prevent all issues and I don’t believe in a lot of crating. Instead, I give my dogs plenty of training, plenty of exercise, plenty of freedom and I use mild forms of punishment to get through the day until maturity takes care of the rest. It works fine and it passes my personal ethics test.