Never punish your pet

Children learn very quickly that punishment is a consequence of unwanted or naughty behaviour, but unlike children, animals do not understand punishment. A pet should never be punished, whether it be spraying him with water from a bottle, hitting him with a rolled-up newspaper, withholding food, scolding, or any other form of punishment.

By punishing your companion animal, you are highly likely to end up with the complete opposite of what you are trying to achieve. Reputable behaviourists also warn that punishing or scolding will create a neurotic and scared animal, which will result in undesirable behaviours and behavioural problems.

Pets thrive on positive reinforcement and rewards. By praising or treating your pet, you will most definitely get desired results because your pet learns what you expect. Always reinforce desired behaviour, and you will enjoy the benefits of a happy and obedient pet who loves to please.

Punishment is the wrong approach

We posed some questions to Alyson Kingsley-Hall, a highly qualified behaviourist, for more insight into punishment and its effects on animals in the short and long term.

Why is it an absolute ‘no-no’ to punish a pet?

There’s nothing admirable, ethical or intelligent in physically or emotionally dominating any animal to comply through the use of punishment. There is so much modern, scientific evidence to support force-free, positive reinforcement training methods as being the most effective and successful way to change behaviour. To use punishment in the form of pain, force, fear or dominance to change behaviour is unnecessary, inhumane, outdated and quite simply wrong.

Most behaviour is driven by an underlying emotion; creating more negative emotions by using punishment certainly doesn’t solve anything and creates more problems. Animals live in our human world and are expected to follow our rules. How can we expect them to behave the way we want them to if we only punish unwanted behaviour and don’t teach them an acceptable, alternative behaviour to replace it?

What would you say is the most damaging short-term effect?

There are many: stress, anxiety, fear, negative associations, frustration, insecurity, mistrust, confusion and destroying the bond/relationship are just some of the effects. Negative emotions inhibit learning processes.

Could you explain the longer-term consequences?

Using punishment in the long term can provoke reactivity, aggression or learnt helplessness – a condition where an animal has been repeatedly exposed to a negative stimulus and has learnt that they no longer have any control over the situation. The animal may shut down and feel helpless because they have learnt that they cannot change the circumstances.

What should I do if my pet is doing something wrong?

Firstly, always ask yourself why? Does the animal understand what you are wanting from him, are you providing enough motivation, are you rewarding the behaviour you are looking for, are there too many distractions, is he overexcited, frustrated, tired, or maybe in pain? Is there a negative association with what you are asking? There is always a reason. Ignore the ‘wrong’ behaviour and focus on the ’good‘ behaviour. A behaviour that is rewarded will be repeated and reinforced and new neural pathways will be formed which will further ingrain that behaviour. Behaviour that is ignored will fade out or be extinguished.

Could you share a tip on how to get the most out of your pet?

Focus on his wellbeing. Wellbeing encompasses so many things: being able to trust and depend on his caregivers, feeling safe and secure in his environment, having a choice (when appropriate and allowed by the owner), receiving mental and physical enrichment and an outlet for breed-specific natural behaviour are all so important and provide a solid foundation. A dog who feels ‘well’ – emotionally, mentally, and physically – will have far fewer behaviour problems.

This article explains so much in terms of insight, understanding and approach. Always use positive reinforcement and reward the behaviours you want.



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