The Use of Punishment

Question: "Isn't it necessary to make the dog respect me, even fear me, if I want long-term reliability?"

Answer: "You will find that the more things your dog learns TO DO, the more he will trust and respect you, and the easier it will become to make him understand what he should not do. Furthermore, training with reinforcement creates a dog that is doing things because he WANTS to do them, he understands what the job is, and he is confident of a successful outcome. That's true reliability (Pryor, Getting 53).

"...punishment.. is by far the favorite technique of human society... Its use in criminal justice is controversial, not just on moral grounds, but because there are efficacy questions: recidivism is extremely high. A huge proportion of those punished with fines and jail terms go out and re-offend. In other words, it doesn't seem to work very well. We tend to view this as a problem with the species being trained, i.e. humans or "criminal types" rather than a problem with the technique itself, it.e. punishment. Our response is usually to escalate the punishment... We have never fully faced the question that the technique, punishment, may not be a very effective one in the first place... we [use] it because it has been done to us. We've been raised with punishment, and have been saturated with examples of it throughout our lives. Even most religions have strong punishment themes in their attempt to keep behavior in line. Yet in spite of this, we seem to keep sinning a fair amount..." (Donaldson 157).

"...even done correctly, its use is completely unjustified for the training of stylized behaviors like retrieving...

"..punishment in dog training... typically [has] to be used over and over... to have much impact on behavior. This is because most behavior is already strongly under the control of its reward history. If a certain behavior is occurring in the first place, it is, by definition, being reinforced somewhere, somehow. Failure to address this reinforcement dooms any other technique... We tend to think that if rewards install or bring behavior to life, then puishments disinstall or kill behavior. But this is a major fallacy. Punishment does not kill behavior. Punishment merely stuns behavior. It interrupts the flow temporarily by creating emotional upset. This effect is temporary" (Donaldson 158).

"To make punishment work... the punishment has to meet a lot of conditions...

1) "The punishment must be immediate.
2) "The punishment must be sufficiently aversive... never start small and get bigger; start big right off the bat.
3) "The punishment must follow each and every attempt at the behavior and be associated only with the behavior..." (Donaldson 159).

Even if successful, punishment has several side effects which accompany it:

1) "A strong association with the punisher
2) "A global inhibition of behavior
3) "the possibility of pain elicited aggression" (Donaldson 161).

"What helps drive this fascination with punishment, aside from our compulsive observational learning tendency [it was done to us], is that there are often two immediate gratifications for the punisher. One is release of anger and frustration... [the other is that] the temporary suppression you get with punishment works as a well-timed reinforcer for the punisher" (Donaldson 161).

Why is punishment so popular? ".. our punishment-oriented mentality... we do so love violence" (Donaldson 211).



Donaldson, Jean. The Culture Clash. Berkeley, California: James & Kenneth Publishers, 1996. ISBN 1-888047-05-4.

Pryor, Karen. Getting Started: Clicker Training for Dogs. Waltham, MA: Sunshine Books, 2002. ISBN 1-890948-11-X.

--Colby Glass

Please send comments to: Colby Glass, MLIS