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.
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Great blog. There’s an unfortunate idea floating around that P+ has to be severe in order to work, when the science and practical experience both make clear that very mild aversives can be useful for management.
Hi, Denise. This–yes! My trainer had to reframe this for me before I got it: don’t think of it as punishment, think of it as correction. And that has made it so much easier for me to administer some rules for my crazy Mali! Thanks for your blog–you always give me something to think about.
I train horses. Although we don’t live with our equines 24/7, we still have this issue. Actually, because some people only see their horse for an hour a day, their time together is always a formal training session, and that is detrimental to their relationship – and develops what I see as cranky and unsafe behavior from the horses. Every interaction becomes micromanaged and neither horse nor owner see the big picture. For my clients in those situations, I build in grooming and grazing sessions. Sometimes I have them simply sit in the stall with their horse until everyone chills out. And then we can add in the normal conversation of, “hey, don’t step on my foot” and “wait while I unlatch the gate.”
Thought-provoking blog post, as usual. I’m not really sure that all your examples are actually “positive punishment” though, the definition being that something is added that makes the behavior decrease or stop in the future. If you tell the kid/dog to stop doing something and later they do it again, you have not punished them! Interrupting and redirecting don’t necessarily fit into the quadrants. I think we get into trouble with this because the quadrants were set up by scientists doing stuff to animals in labs. So they may always apply during a specific training session. But every interaction we have with dogs (or kids) during daily life doesn’t fit neatly into the quadrants. What if my dog is barking at something outside and is interrupted by the smell of some food I’m cooking? Did I punish his barking by cooking food? Some trainers use a “positive interrupter” when a dog is doing something they don’t want them to do, maybe a kissy sound to get the dog’s attention, followed by a treat for the dog responding. Is that positive punishment? The behavior stopped. I would say it doesn’t really matter much, except so-called “balanced trainers” love to pounce on discussions like this to say that so-called “positive trainers” are hypocrites. I prefer to think in terms of is what I’m doing aversive or not. If it is, I prefer not to do it. I do plenty of management and redirection (how could you not with a puppy or new dog in your house?), I just try to avoid anything aversive.
When I say positive punishment, I am referring specifically to my choice to stop the behavior by using a mild aversive, such as verbally correcting the dog. I was not referring to redirection. I use that for a different reason (beyond the scope of this reply)
If the behavior goes down over time, it’s punishment, even if it does recur on occasion. It’s a matter of frequency – over time.
Fortunately, I am not one to get hung up on quadrants.
Hi Julie, as Denise has noted, it *is* positive punishment if it *reduces* the frequency or intensity of the behavior. This can happen over time. She is absolutely describing positive punishment.
This is important for practical purposes in two ways:
1. Some people claim they never use positive punishment because they don’t shock or beat the crap out of the dog for jumping up on someone, but do say “uh-uh,” are simply mistaken — or worse, they are trying to obtain credit for being “super positive” when they are knowingly using positive punishment. That harms all of us who are careful about how we describe ourselves as trainers.
2. Some people do know these small punishers are positive punishments, and won’t use them because positive punishment has a bad name from association with huge, violent punishers that may stop a behavior in one try. They struggle much more to live with their animals day by day and in some cases end up being so permissive that their dogs are out of control. (Some people are truly up to the task of being relentlessly non-punishing with their relentless, brilliant, confident, problem-solving Husky puppy, but these folks are really few and far between.)
So I think it is important to dispel the false notion that in order for something to be a punisher, it has to be big, scary, and effective in one trial.
I don’t spend a lot of time on quadrants any more as it’s so rarely important to actually getting the work done, but I thought I would address this.
My two cents!