Non-Aversive Punishment

Even though efficient and effective feed-back is binary and comprises rewards and punishments, few trainers punish. Some trainers do not want to punish at all because they think that punishments are unpleasant and inhumane and other trainers use aversive stimuli intended as punishment but all too often, ineffective.
It is assumed that all punishments are aversive and that all aversive stimuli are punishing. However, neither of these assumptions is true. Once we realize that “punishment” and “aversive” are not necessarily synonymous, we realize we have four combinations.
1. Non-Aversive and Non-Punishing
2. Aversive and Non-Punishing
3. Aversive and Punishing
4. Non-Aversive and Punishing
1. Non-Aversive and Non-Punishing “feedback” is basically nagging  — very common in dog training and interpersonal relationships. Not necessarily damaging to the dog’s psyche but certainly ineffective at changing behavior.
2. In sharp distinction, Aversive and Non-Punishing stimuli, literally cleave the dog’s brain and dismantle the dog/human relationship. It is assumed that all aversive stimuli are punishing. However, most are not.
A punishment is defined as a stimulus that decreases the frequency of the immediately preceding behavior such that it is less likely to occur in the future. Frequent use of an aversive stimulus is proof that it is not working and therefore, cannot be defined as punishment. Instead, when aversive stimuli are not punishing, depending on their severity, they are either harassment or abuse.
Without a doubt, the majority of reprimands (especially ugly-tone, shouted, non-instructive reprimands) and most aversive stimuli, such as leash-jerks, grabs, smacks and shocks are not punishment. Aversive yes, but not having the desired effect of reducing unwanted behavior, they cannot be defined as punishment. The two biggest clues that aversive stimuli are non-punishing are their frequent and continued use and that the trainer tries to compensate for ineffectiveness by increasing the severity of the aversive.
3. Although many people think that Aversive Punishments are used ubiquitously, it is actually untrue. When a trainer effectively uses aversive punishments, you only get to see the unwanted behavior and the aversive punishment just a couple of times and then the aversive punishment tool is quickly phased out. Punishment is no longer necessary because the dog no longer misbehaves. However, we see this very occasionally. Instead we see an abundance of grabs, smacks, jerks and shocks — aversive stimuli that are non-punishing.
4. Without a doubt, Non-Aversive Punishments are the way to go. Indeed, it is possible to effectively reduce unwanted behavior by using voice-only feedback AND by only using a soft and sweet tone. Gentle insistence is the name of the game.
If a dog does not comply when asked to sit in a play session, for example, simply insist that she does so. Continually, repeat the command in a gentle, insistent voice, “Rover Sit, sit, sit, sit…” and when she eventually sits, say, “Thank you” and now that you have the dog’s attention, ask her to come-fore and sit once more. When the dog sits following a single command, profusely praise, offer a food reward and say, “Go Play”.
The first sit, required five repetitions of the sit-command. However, with each repetition, the number of required commands progressively decreases with each trial until eventually, the dog sits promptly following a single command. The secret to success is to never give up. The dog learns that she has to sit following a single command before being allowed to play once more.
This technique is extremely effective, works surprisingly quickly, and prevents the need for physical restraint or aversive punishment. The dog learns that she has to pay attention and follow our instructions to sit promptly following a single command before being allowed to resume playing. And once you have voice control, your dog can safely enjoy off-leash romps.

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 I've attended a seminar in Vancouver, watched your dvd's, read your books and put your words to the test and listened to your radio interview with Steve Dale and am so thankful that you continue to find ways to reach out and share, clarify & keep "dog training" evolving.  It's an exciting time right now with all the technologies available to spread the word you live by.

Last night at agility, my little beagle George was rushed at (and it was full tilt) by a German Shepherd that I had no idea of her personality. It scared the bejiibies out of us both.  There was a cuffufle,  a couple seconds worth but over quickly.  Thankfully George is bite inhibited (tons of socialization and puppy parties) and her rowdy Shepherd happened to be an unruly adolescent without a mean bone in her body, just no meet and greet training.

After the dust settled, the owner asked me if I wanted her to pin her dog for what had happened, and I told her "no thanks" (it was very odd to hear that) I just asked if she could sit or down her dog so George could approach from a distance while I could have him do tricks and feed them in close proximity and then walk away.  I thought that way she would see a different way to handle the situation, and hopefully,  I'll run into her again next week.  I always pack loads of treats and happy to share!  

Thanks to you for saying it's okay NOT to use hands on training methods years ago when others did, thanks to you for introducing Kongs into my household, fun into training, the list goes on and on.

I'm working towards my cpdt & on the side work with fosters and have a crew of my own who are always happy to be my guinea pigs when I try out something new.  My crew have no idea what the word "no" means, I've always found ways to keep them on their toes with my goofy games and training antics. 

This long winded reply is just to let you know that even though I do not have any where near the qualifications that you or many others hold on this site, I have been inspired by everyone who blogs here.  I do my part and to share what I've learnt, direct people to resources & trainers of like mind to help them out to spread the word.

 ie.... for "off" I have been first teaching the dog how to  "back up" their body up first as a neat party trick (shaping it & rewarding with food, toys, life rewards) , then I added a really low interest item on the ground and slowly worked up to a tasty lick chopping treat for them to "back it up" away from and be HUGELY rewarded for my "off" cue is no longer the word "off" I say "back it up"  I wish I would have thought earlier to say "moonwalk" as it would have been funny to watch people's expressions!  

Who knows if this will catch on, but I just wanted to let you know that you empower us little folk to dream up fun, entertaining games and cues which our dogs LOVE to engage in learning (well mine anyways) in the name of training.  We have so much fun in the name of training, it boggles my mind why anyone would choose another way.  

While others spend time trying to as you say 'dissect a kiss" with the theory content of this post...I'm out here dreaming up fun stuff to do in the name of teaching my dogs and fosters social skills and entertaining ourselves and spreading the word.  

I'll leave the dissecting to you and those qualified.

I/We do hear you.  I can't thank you enough for making this your life's work.

cheers, kate 

I have always been against the use of positive punishments, which is adding an aversive. The word positive refers to addition, not whether the experience is good or bad. Anyway, I am against it because too much of it leads to learned helplessness. Plus, it can't be put on an intermittent schedule. The punishment must always be able to be administered if the dog misbehaves. For example, if a dog is put on a bark collar, the barking disappears but ONLY if the collar is on.

On the other hand, I do use negative punishments, which is the removal of something pleasant. For example, I have managed to make training fun for myself and my dog. My dog loves training sessions. Whenever I punish him for not listening, I just turn my back and he does not like that. It is a removal of a pleasant stimulus (e.g. my participation in training using the clicker, playing cards and various reinforcers). I hope it is working! I just learned how to make training a whole lot of fun for both of us. We are both trying to figure out games to play to make advanced training fun. 


Ara & Rosina Kamis

I totaly agree

One thing I was thinking the other day with the difference between positive dog training and other methods is in older methods of dog training you are always looking out for the thing your dog is doing wrong and correcting it

With positive training I am always looking out for the good thing my dog does so I can reward it - and if they do something I dont like more often rather than using any kind of punishments I am trying to figure out what I have to do to help them understand what I am looking for


Its nice to always be looking for the good, I am glad I found trainers like yourself rather than the higher profile TV 'trainers' who would have made my life with my dogs a battle and not a joy for my agility training, progress with my reactive rescue and my fuzzy sculptures

Thanks for the informative article! I am trying to learn to change from NON aversive, NON punishment to a non aversive, punishment style.

I do have a question though. I have always learned that if you repeat a command that you are basically teaching a dog to ignore you. And in my experience, saying sit five times usually means next time you have to say it 6, then the next time, 7 times, and so on, not the reverse, as you state. How do you ensure that the commands get fewer rather than more frequent?

Great blog.  You have a touchdown with the aversive training not really being a punishment, but more borderline abuse.

My favorite tool for certain rude behaviors is the time-out.  That is technically a punishment because it reduces the unwanted behavior - however, the flip side to the time-out is the reinforcement of what you'd rather see happen.  You really shouldn't use one without the other - might as well shoot yourself in the foot.


[quote]I do use negative punishments, which is the removal of something pleasant[/quote]


I believe you meant to say negative reinforcement or negative reward in this case as "negative punishment" actually means (in dog training lingo, which is all overly complex) removing punishment just as "positive punishment" means adding punishment.

In my mind anything that is unpleasant (including the removal of something positive) is aversive.  The real issue is where to draw that line.  The use of "Oops!" is aversive just as is the use of a water bottle for barking.  Are either of those abuse?  Probably not, though in the case of my Eskie who is terrified of water, I dare anyone to squirt him while I'm around.


Negative reinforcement is have an aversive present regardless of the dog's behavior and removing it when the achieved behavior occurs, thus making the response behavior's chances of happening again go up.  The dog will work to avoid the aversive.  A good example of this is the ear-pinch technique for teaching sit.  The trainer pinches the ear until the dog sits and then lets go of the ear when the dog does it.

Negative punishment is removing a good consequence.  An example of this is when your dog jumps on the counter and you put him in time-out.  The removal of counter surfing/fun times is the punishment.  The behavior goes down next time for fear of time out(in theory).

When thinking of the quadrants remember - Reinforcement means behavior happens again.  Punishment means less likely to happen again.  POSITIVE means you added something to the equation, negative means you took something away.

That's a good question about repeating commands. When I talk about this routine, I get a lot of flak. Traditional trainers are shocked… “You must never repeat the command!!!” Learning theorists say that it won’t work — learned irrelevance — repeating the command will dilute its value and the dog will learn to ignore you. On the contrary, the technique works quite quickly and prevents the need for physical restraint and most aversive punishments. Far from learning that the owner’s commands are irrelevant, the dog learns that he has to pay attention and follow relevant instructions to sit promptly following a single command before being allowed to resume playing. This is very different from ineffectual nagging, because the IS follow-up... there ARE consequences to NOT sitting following a single command (the dog has to repeat the exercise until he does), as there is consequence for complying (the dog gets to resume playing).

Please, remember if every you have to repeat a command to get a dog to sit for example, you say, "Thank you" and then the dog has to do it again... come-fore and sit. Once, and only once, the dog sits following a single command, you praise profusely, offer a couple of rewards, hugs and pats and then tell the dog to go play. However, the dog has to sit following a single command before being allowed to resume playing. Each time you repeat the routine, keep a count of the total number of times you ask the dog to sit and you'll find the number progressively decreases with subsequent trials. Generally it takes about 12-20 repetitions before the dog learns to sit following a single command in a play session. 

This is exactly what I did with my dog aggressive dog...after seeing a behaviorist who tried many different desensitizing techniques, 'difficult dog' classes, etc., my dog got worse. So, I used a prong collar and corrections and the aggression stopped and she calmed down. Now, she can be off leash around other dogs and has learned all her commands and can walk on a loose leash around other dogs. I do still walk her with a prong loose around her neck but I never have to use it (but, who knows...I live in a city with crazy dogs and people and my dog is super strong, we might run into a situation).

I really tried to not use aversives with my aggressive dog, but it wasn't working and I needed the behavior to stop. Now, she has her CGC and TT..I'm so proud of all the work we've done...I'm even considering doing more advanced obedience or agility.

Thank you


Looks like I had it backwards afteral.  Dang double negatives and all :(  My apologies.


re: Genzrk9  

I don't know where you live, as your bio didn't include info, but if you are in the British Columbia, Canada area, I know an awesome training facility that holds these really informative, positive (reward based no uncomfortable tools used), hands off, motivational "reactive dog classes".  

She doesn't use the term 'aggressive" but this class is for dogs that are people and or dog what most refer to as "aggressive" ...whether they've bitten someone or another animal, sent them to the hospital or vet or not...these dogs know how to scare the bejiibies out of someone with their academy winning performances.  

They even have  reactive 'out and about' and "reactive "play" classes for graduates of the foundation class to help with social skills.  I've gone through a round of classes years ago with my beagle Daizy who I thought was "dog-aggressive" but turned out she was just fearful and lacked social skills and confidence.  She's awesome now, and has ended up helping out in classes through the years, and at times used as neutral dogs for those classes.  Most recently my young Aussie and I joined their reactive dog out and about class for a walk in the park.  The dogs we walked with had really bad raps and not once was there any drama.  I was very impressed!

Who knows may be able to hang up your prong collar for good!
 cheers, kate

I live north of san francisco. I went to a class similar to the one you described and my dog got worse...Why is the prong bad? It helped me stop the unwanted behavior so my dog could be rewarded for the desired behavior I taught her. Before, she was so aggressive/lunging/barking etc. nobody had any fun. Now, my small framed wife can walk her with confidence.

I gave my dog plenty of opportunity to be rewarded for good behavior (sit/stay while  a dog walks by, for example) but I did correct her with a leash pop if she broke the stay, for example, to lunge at a dog. I thought this was balanced training as described in another blog? She caught on quickly whereas after 6 months of 'difficult dog' classes and private sessions with the behaviorist just gave me good management skills but my dog did not get better.

I don't know. I"m just an average owner with lots to learn. But I'm happy that my dog is calmer with more freedom and the prong collar was a tool that really helped us. Plus, in the dog world, if something is not cool between dogs, how do they let each other know? Growl, snap, show teeth or even bite...i felt the prong collar was a tool that helped me let my dog know she could not act that way.

Thanks for the input...I look forward to reading and learning more on this site!


I'm happy you learnt something from the reactive dog class, unfortunately it may not have been as through as ours is out here.  My layman's Coles notes version of the classes are that they deal with underlying issues,  so the end result is dogs emotional state is calm, they understand what is appropriate behaviour , learn how to diffuse their stress given the social situation and the owners management tools are through voice alone instead of ie. choke, prong or e-collar or spraying bitter apple type things.  You always acknowledge the dogs success with life rewards, or whatever it is that the dog loves and is available at that time.    No mean scary voice is used to talk them through if they need help remembering what to do in the situation, just calm and normal, and in my case happy ... I have one of those voices where my firm voice sounds playful.   You learn to work as a team.  There's no need for force so it's not even in the program.  It's beautiful to watch.   To each his own, this just happens to be what works for me.

Re: dogs letting eachother know you mentioned growl first.... I've attended Ian Dunbar, Patricial McConnell seminars and I have Jean Donaldson's books and dvd where I have learnt and can now read the many signs well before any growl happens.  It's so neat when you know what to look for if a dog is letting you or another canine know, that for whatever reason, they are not cool with the situation. Patricia McConnell just came back from Africa, and has a really neat blog about one of her passions, cognitive ethology.  She blogs on this site from time to time too.

I also learnt thought the above and Turid Regaas, Kathy Sdao, Karen Overall simple things you and other canines do to diffuse a situation from escalating into a growl or any further.  Again it is beautiful to watch, such subtle cues, body or voice have such power.  You must have learnt some of the power if you took Tellington Touch ( I think that is what you are referring to in your inital post re: TT).

I'm a small framed person, who can't even handle the sight of needles without feeling weak, so these authors, and methods work for me.  A gentle leader is as aversive as I get :)  they're awesome for small people walking larger breeds.

If you have a chance to attend any of their seminars, they are very informative, entertaining, and when I leave my head is spinning full of idea's.

My latest favourite find is Leslie McDevitt's Control Unleashed.  She has a dvd out now too.   Hopefully I've dropped enough names so you have more resources to add to your reading list, and are able to fill up your training tickle trunk with a little variety.  

Enjoy the site!  
 cheers, kate


I live in BC, Canada and I'd be VERY interested in hearing more about the 'awesome training facility' you mentioned. (I suppose it's probably in Vancouver like everything else. *sigh*) I haven't heard of anyone really good with aggressive dogs near me and I've been looking, I'd like to know more about the place your talking about. :)

Alice Fisher of Dogsmart, BC

There's no beating around the bush with Alice.  I love her to death.  She's got one of the biggest training  tickle trunks I know of, a funny story about the most hair raising experiences and the most hardy laugh in town.  

I took my last foster Jake there, thinking he'd benefit with her reactive dog class, but one look at him from Alice, a gentle leader, pocket full of treats and toys later and we joined her Out and About class instead.  

I'll post a picture of Jake "the dog aggressive dog" told to me by previous foster dad, who I watched used CM yank-um on Jake before I took the leash from him & training facility, balanced I guess they call it,  w/ punishment was they use leash correction & a lemon squirt bottle for lungers the girl told me on the phone.

I'm too whimpy to use that sort of stuff.   Jake made me look like a superstar.  He's going to have to start from scratch with his new family, but good news is she embraced this style of training, so I have high hopes for them. (she also came to a class at Dogsmart, had a chat with Alice,  I showed her what works for Jake when out and about and she picked up Patricia McConnell's Feisty Fido, Jean Donaldson's Mine & Fight, Leslie McDevitt's Control Unleashed.  You can never have too many resources!)  I commend all those out there who strive do their best to help these kinds of dogs out.  It sure would be nice if all dogs were social and happy go lucky, but then sure would be nice if all people were social and happy go lucky too :P

My tools were my voice, treats, toys, gentle leader, then later only needed a sensation harness, positive associations and following Alice's recommendations. cheers, kate

Thanks Kate,

Vancouver is a little far for me (6.5hrs) but I sent her an email anyway, we'll see what she says. Maybe she does weekend semenars or something. :)

I am curious. Why is restraining a dog a bad thing?

I know it is often preached to let dogs figure things out completely on their own, without any physical guidance. Why? How is this 1.) truly helpful the pet dog, who lives with people who are perfectly capable but are not dog trainers, and 2.) helping the dog learn faster?

During training, it is rare to have a pet dog in a pet home that does not need to be restrained in some way. Dog owners are not dog trainers, and I just don't understand why it is so imperative that they "never" use certain tools, or P+, or R-.

I have great success with giving the command once, then guiding the dog into position if it does not comply. After a couple of tries, the dog learns he will not get the reward (food or release to go play) unless he does it on his own. I don't see how this is different from repeating the word "sit" ad nauseum until he does it. (And I'm not a "traditional trainer.")

Guiding the dog into a position using gentle pressure is not a "poisoned cue," or a cop-out. It is guidance, and it is R-, and frankly, I don't see what the problem is. The goal should be to wean the dog off needing guidance, but that is also the goal with treats, but seriously, how many pet owners do you suspect will actually wean the dog off treats?

If one competes, or makes their living as a trainer, one should have a dog that has reached criterion, as you call it Dr. Dunbar. But this is simply not absolutely necessary for a pet dog. Is it great to shoot for? Sure! But is it going to cause irreparable harm if the pet dog is not fully weaned off guidance? I want the dogs I work with (mostly shelter dogs) to be able to respond to gentle pressure. I think their being able to do this is much more important than them being trained hands-off.

Not only is pressure everywhere, and part of a dog's life, but it is something dogs instinctively "get."

Working with a dog's natural instincts is very humane....and when it comes to "humane," it's what the DOG thinks that matters.


If a dog does not comply when asked to sit in a play session, for example, simply insist that she does so. Continually, repeat the command in a gentle, insistent voice, “Rover Sit, sit, sit, sit…” and when she eventually sits, say, “Thank you” and now that you have the dog’s attention, ask her to come-fore and sit once more. When the dog sits following a single command, profusely praise, offer a food reward and say, “Go Play”.

Is this for owners to do with a untrained dog? Wouldn't they need to teach the dog to pay attention to them first? If the dog is unrestrained, what is to keep her from blowing them off and racing past them to play anyway?

It's difficult for owners to get dogs' attentions in play sessions, so how is repeating a command and not restraining the dog in any way going to work with a distracted dog? That is what you mean by "insist," isn't it?

I don't mean to sound too querulous; maybe I am not understanding the context in which this would be used. In all honesty, in my head I'm picturing a hapless owner saying "sit sit sit" to an unleashed dog's rear end as it dashes back to the other dogs.