To The Dogs—Canine Advice Column

Tools of the trade

Correction vs. Punishment: The what, why and how of training collars

By Hilton Butler

In my opinion, all dogs should wear a collar—if for no other reason than to hold their identification, rabies tags and to provide a place to hook a leash. You’ll find a huge range of collars on the market, and selecting and using the correct collar for your dog’s individual needs and situation is critical.

Training collars are sometimes a controversial issue in the dog-training world—ask 100 trainers their opinions on them, and you will likely get 100 different answers.  A trainer’s or owner’s opinion should be based on personal experience with the different types of training collars.

Correction vs. Punishment

“Purely positive” dog training—done without negative reinforcement—has exploded inpopularity over the last 10 years or so. Positive reinforcement does play huge role in training and classical conditioning, but it’s sometimes not enough. Positive-only training, in my experience, follows the 70 percent rule. As long as the reward provided by the trainer outweighs the reward attained by the unwanted behavior, your dog will obey—this takes up about 70 percent of situations you encounter. But once the reward of the unwanted behavior is greater than the trainer’s reward, the trainer loses. If a police K9 and a pet dog both see a rabbit take off running,what’s likely to happen? While both dogs’ instinct naturally kicks in and they both desire to chase the bunny, the police dog typically won’t act because he’s been trained to cue off his handler in all situations, whereas the pet-dog’s owner will likely be watching his pooch run off into the sunset after Mr. Rabbit.

All living mammals take action for two reasons: because they want to do it or because there is a consequence if they do not. Dog aggression is the perfect scenario in which to witness this. I’venever had a dog with aggression issues stop just because he was given a treat in positive reinforcement.

Understanding when and where a correction should be used can make a huge difference in the relationship between the dog and his owner. I am routinely asked, “Won’t a correction make my dog afraid of me?” My answer is always the same: “Have you ever seen a police or military dog afraid of its handler?” The difference lies in understanding what separates a “correction” from “punishment”—and that’s the action that follows.

A correction is always followed with a redirection and praise for the new behavior, which teaches your dog the expected behavior.  A punishment ignores the teaching aspect of the scenario and ends with negative reinforcement often leaving the dog confused about what to do next. A dog that is punished might become fearful, anxious and even aggressive; a correction, on the other hand, deters unwanted behavior but allows the opportunity to teach or reinforce the wanted behavior at the same time. A punishment shuts down the dog’s willingness and ability to learn; a correction opens the door to allow the dog to learn what you wanted instead.


This is an excerpt from the full article—get the whole story in the Fall 2019 Chrome magazine, which is sent to all current APHA members. Not a member? Join or renew at apha.com/join.


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