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Using Rewards And Punishments In Puppy Training

Puppies and dogs learn new things or change their behavior only if the undesirable behavior is punished or the desirable behavior rewarded. We can reward a dog for performing certain tasks on command, such as sitting, lying down, or coming, with simple petting, affection, and praise. You can also use rewards for coming when called, for sitting when strangers arrive at the door rather than jumping up on them, or for going to rest on his bed when people are visiting.

For rewards you can use reinforcement such as petting or verbal reassurance like saying "good dog." Another reward is food treats, if given judiciously, especially foods the puppy really enjoys such as a piece of meat. It is not our position that using food treats to train puppies "spoils" them, because the treat may simply be phased out by giving it less and less frequently, while retaining the praise and affection.

Most puppies learn rapidly and quite willingly if there are rewards, and in most cases punishment is not necessary. Praise and affection, along with food treats, can be used to house-train puppies, especially when they are taken outdoors and can eliminate in a desirable area.

Punishment can be thought of as being either interactive or remote. In interactive punishment, the owner hits an animal with his hand or with a rolled-up newspaper, shouts at it, or in other ways makes it obvious that an aversive stimulus is coming from the person. The animal clearly associates the unpleasant stimulus with the person giving it.

Unfortunately, dog owners are frequently misguided about how to use interactive punishment.

Interactive punishment is indicated when owners must assert their dominance over dogs to maintain an acceptable dominant-subordinate relationship, especially when threatened. A dog's growling or snapping at you when it is not a reflection of fear is best met with force. Dogs are social animals that respond naturally to factors in a dominance hierarchy, and their growling or snapping at you is an indication that they have not completely accepted your dominant position. In fact, insufficient dominance, one of the most common behavioral problems of a dog-owner relationship, often stems from a lack of assertiveness on the owner's part.

Breeds differ in the degree to which they display a tendency to be dominant over their owners. The tendency to be dominant also varies with whether we are dealing with male or female dogs. A breed such as a Shetland Sheepdog, which is very low on tendency to be dominant, may never need to be confronted with interactive punishment, whereas a Doberman Pinscher or Akita may need periodic reinforcement of the dominance position with a sharp voice.

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