In my posts from December (2010), I quoted Murray Sidman's Coercion and Its Fallout on the effects of punishment. I want to continue with some of the points in his book, namely the potential side effects of the use of punishment. As I mentioned before, this book is about human behavior, not about dogs. However, since we are the ones training our dogs, and dogs live in our world, the effects of punishment can be correlated to our interactions with our dogs.

The following are a couple of excerpts from his chapter on “Escape”:

“Punishment, then, in addition to its usual intended effect – reducing undesired conduct – will also increase the likelihood of other behavior; if possible, the recipient of punishment will turn it off or get away. From the point of view of the one who is doing the punishing, making the punishee escape may be an unintended and most undesirable outcome.”

“Punishment is so ingrained in our interactions with each other that we often do not even know we are doing it. And then, when our businesses, marriages, friendships and other important enterprises and personal relationships suddenly fail, we are disappointed, hurt, and angry. Not understanding our own role as coercers, and not recognizing that others are actually escaping from us, we accuse them of infidelity, stupidity, disloyalty, fickleness, and even neurosis. It is critical, therefore, that we understand more about this behavior we call ‘escape'. ”

Let's look at a couple of examples we might see this with our dogs. Let's say I am housetraining a new dog. If I punish him for peeing in my house, am I really teaching him not to pee in the house, or simply to avoid me? While some dogs might learn not to pee in the house, others will learn to pee only when I am not around – whether they are inside or outside. Their primary objective is probably not to avoid peeing in the house, but to avoid peeing near me. Some dogs, then, will still pee in the house but make sure I am not nearby to see it happen. In my opinion, it's not a very effective way to housetrain a dog.

Let's look at another example. Let's say I am teaching my dog to come when called. The dog has come to me a few times in the past, so I assume he “knows” what comes means and should do it immediately when I tell him. (In reality, I haven't actually taught him what come means yet, so it's my fault if he doesn't respond the way I want.) I call him, and he's busy having fun doing something else. I call again, but am getting a bit irritated, because how dare he not respond the first time? After a couple more tries, he finally does come to me, but I punish him because he didn't get to me the first time. Next time I call him, he avoids me. I get more upset because he's not coming, and he's avoiding me to avoid my wrath. Is forcing him to come to me going to be effective or is it going to teach him to avoid me whenever he possibly can? I know what I would do if I were in the dogs' situation. How about you?

We often don't see what side effects or fallout we create by using punishment. It's in our human nature to use punishment. I guess it makes us feel good – at least in the short term. And we think it works – and sometimes it does. In the short term. But is it the most effective way to achieve long-lasting results? And what does it do to our relationship with our dog?

I'll post more about the side effects of punishment in future posts.