Only if the Behavior Decreases!

This post is paired with “Only if the Behavior Increases!”

You knew I would get around to talking about punishment, right?

Cricket demand barking

Cricket demand barking. I reinforced this for years. But not by yelling.

Q: If you yell at your dog when she barks, is that positive punishment?

A: Only if the barking decreases. (And how often does THAT happen?)

So the answer is, “Not usually.” Or honestly, “Almost never.”

Positive punishment is the presentation of a stimulus following a behavior that decreases the strength of the behavior.

Positive punishment is not merely doing something a dog doesn’t like after they do something you don’t like. Again, we must look at the consequences, just like with reinforcement.

What usually happens in the barking scenario, if we are honest about it, is that the barking is interrupted. This has nothing to do with whether punishment is happening or not, however. Punishment depends on future behavior. We’re looking for that decrease. So if your dog barks Every. Single. Time. the doorbell rings even though you yell at her every time and she often stops for a while after you yell–no punishment is going on there since she is just as barky the next time. (And you know she’s likely practicing it when you’re not there too, right?)

I’m serious about the most common outcome in the barking situation being that there was no punishment.  How often have you heard someone say, “I yelled at my dog after he barked, and he barks a whole lot less now! Now I only have to yell every once in a while to keep him from barking at all!”


I’ve read that yelling is even less effective with birds. Apparently some screaming parrots think human yelling is quite a lot of fun!

What Is It, Then?

In all seriousness though, am I saying that therefore yelling is great and harmless and OK? Of course not. If a behavior is not changing, that’s still no excuse to hurt, intimidate, or scare your dogs. Lots of people would say it’s even worse. Many of the ineffective uses of aversives we see come down to plain abuse, not punishment or negative reinforcement. I personally yell very very rarely, but if I did (and it might not even be at my dogs), two of my dogs would cringe away from me. I absolutely do not want my dogs to be scared of me.

If I were a loud person in general, I would classically condition my dogs to associate yelling with food or toys raining down from the sky, like I conditioned Clara to have a positive response to other dogs barking.  I should probably do it anyway, just for that odd moment now and then. Some people include “angry” tones of voice when conditioning their dogs to respond to their names, and I think this is brilliant. (Just don’t start out that way! Do a few thousand repetitions with a nice voice first. Check out the “Classical Conditioning” section of this post if you don’t know what I’m talking about.) So even if the human is tired and cranky when they call their dog or speak to him, the dog still associates their name with great stuff.


Full disclosure: I was inspired to write these two posts after I had left out consequences when discussing reinforcement for the umpteenth time. Just a friendly reminder to myself–and all you out there–to pay attention to future consequences, and remember to include them when we even think about reinforcement and punishment. It’s not just about what we do. It’s about what happens after that.

Go back and check out the other post in this pair:  “Only if the Behavior Increases!”

Coming up:

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About eileenanddogs

Passionate amateur dog trainer, writer, and learning theory geek. Eileen Anderson on Google+
This entry was posted in Behavior analysis, Operant conditioning, Positive Reinforcement, Punishment, Reinforcement and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Only if the Behavior Decreases!

  1. Pingback: Only if the Behavior Increases! | eileenanddogs

  2. crystalpegasus1 says:

    I did the yelling voice thing with my one GSD Shelby with her recall. I tend to be a very anxious person and when I get anxious I get loud and frustrated and grumpy. Knowing that about myself, when I was training Shelby’s recall, after I got her standard nice voice down, I started to work on that angry freaked out yelling of her name, which is harsh and short and not at all like our normal recall which is high pitched. It was honestly one of the best things I’ve ever trained, because now if she’s in a situation where I’m nervous (like the other day when the neighbor’s lab charged her very rude like and Shelby responded by trying to grab the neighbor’s dog by the neck) I can get my, “Shelby!” staccato version out and she immediately recalls and gets a whole mess of treats. She doesn’t care how I say her name, it’s always, always a good thing thanks to that initial training. And it saves me a whole lot of guilt when I get frustrated with her too because she doesn’t mind! Lol.

    • crystalpegasus1 says:

      But of course, I do try very hard not to get frustrated with her as well, that’s self-improvement there, but being aware of ones own behaviors and managing them while you’re also working on them has helped me immensely 🙂

    • crystalpegasus, that is a really, REALLY nice thing to do for your dog. You are inspiring me to do it. I’m really glad you wrote.

      I’ve heard of people doing something a little similar for ring nerves in competition. Not only practice relaxing for oneself, also practice giving choppy, nervous cues so the dog gets accustomed to that. So you don’t freak them out on top of everything else that is new about trialing.

      Generalization is da bomb!

  3. Kristine says:

    “If I were a loud person in general, I would classically condition my dogs to associate yelling with food or toys raining down from the sky, like I conditioned Clara to have a positive response to other dogs barking.”

    Hahahaha!!! I am a loud person in general and the dogs do habituate to it. I can’t say I’ve ever deliberately classically conditioned it, but they do get used to it and realize it’s just me and they know not to pay it any mind. Even my noise-o-phobe couldn’t care less when I burst something out loudly to my husband or when I’m on the phone. They learn the difference and they really don’t care that I am generally a loudmouth.

    I do classically condition my dogs to hear people go “AHT AHT AHT AHT AHT” and all other manner of verbal corrections (that other people are using) in training situations. This really helps them at competitions where some people feel it appropriate to shriek at their dogs in public.

  4. Pingback: Weltweites Wissen am Wochenende – Wie Tiere lernen – Bestrafung | Chakanyuka

  5. Pingback: But if You Use Negative Reinforcement Aren’t You Also Using Positive Punishment? | eileenanddogs

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