Negative Punishment: The Dog-Friendly Way to Punish Your Dog

If you never thought you can punish your dog and still be humane, it’s time to get a solid grasp of negative reinforcement. 

negative reinforcement

Photo by Marcus Cramer

Training your dog, or, put it in real terms, communicating with your dog, is very doable when you know what you are doing. In this post, we discuss how negative punishment, a type of operant conditioning learning model, becomes an ally. 

What is negative punishment? 

Negative punishment is a method of teaching that introduces consequences after ”bad” behaviors occur. More precisely, it happens when you take away something of value after undesirable behaviors occur, to make the behaviors less likely to reoccur. 

Dogs, like every other intelligent being, will change their behavior according to the consequences that follow. Like us, they want to avoid negative emotions. With time, when the behavior is repeatedly associated with negative emotions, they will actively avoid it. With more time, the behavior becomes extinct. 

Hοw to apply negative punishment to your daily life with your dog? 

Say, your dog barks in the middle of the night and scares the s*** out of you. You get up, and you catch your dog on the balcony barking at a stranger. You show verbal disapproval and immediately take your dog inside and close the balcony door. See the sequence of events? Behavior, cue, and consequence. 

Barking at night is not acceptable and removing the access to the balcony is the bad outcome that follows. 

Quick note: the word negative, as in math, refers to something we remove(e.g., the access to the balcony). The word punishment is a technical term that means the introduction of a consequence after a particular behavior to make it less likely to reoccur. 

Examples of positive punishment 

  • The dog is caught pooping inside AGAIN. Immediately and without scaring the dog, show disapproval, and restrain the dog for 4-5 minutes in a designated area. (That’s for when pooping inside is a known “bad” behavior -never for puppies) 
  • The dog is caught biting the couch. Express disapproval and remove access to this particular room or his favorite toys. 
  • The dog ignores your callings and runs to greet a dog that is passing by. Off-leash time is over for some time. 
  • The dog eats poop from the ground, and you take them back home. Their time outside is over. 

Operant Cinditioning 

Negative punishment is one of the four types of operant conditioning. Operant Conditioning is a learning model that describes how intelligent beings modify their behavior according to the consequences that are tied to it. 

Dogs (and other animals, including humans) can learn to develop desired behaviors that associate with pleasant consequences or learn to unlearn undesired behaviors that associate with unpleasant consequences. 

Let’s see the four types of operant conditioning: 

  • Positive reinforcement. A pleasant stimulus follows the desired behavior. Example: Praise the puppy that just pooped in the designated area. 
  • Negative reinforcement.  An unpleasant stimulus is removed when the desired behavior occurs. Remove the restraint when the dog calms down. Negative refers to something that we remove (the restraint) when the desired behavior occurs (the dog is calm). 
  • Positive punishment. An unpleasant stimulus follows the undesired behavior. Dog jumps on visitors, and the handler shouts to the dog. Again, positive refers to the addition of shouting. 
  • Negative punishment. A pleasant stimulus is removed when the undesired behavior occurs. The dog eats poop from the ground and the playtime is over. Negative refers to the playtime being over. 


Key-points and clarification: 

1. Consistency is key

When you teach your dog new behaviors or unteach old ones, lack of consistency will decrease your efficacy. Never-mind-moments don’t pass unnoticed by the dog. 

If jumping on people is not acceptable, don’t allow it because your best friend is ok with it. Punish the behavior even when it’s momentarily not a problem. A good way to apply negative punishment in this scenario is to get the dog leashed for a few minutes, or if everybody wants to be involved, ignore the dog until he/she stops. 

See through your dog’s eyes to see if your inconsistencies leave room for misinterpretation. For example, you can’t stop your dog from eating poop if eating pine cones is allowed. In the dog’s mind, they are both eating from the ground. 

2. Negative punishment focuses on the undesired behavior

Punishment (whether positive or negative) aims to stop a “bad” behavior, while reinforcement aims to encourage”good” ones. This distinction will help you overcome the usual confusion people face when trying to understand the four quadrants of operant conditioning. 

3. Negative punishment complements your primary method of training which should be positive reinforcement

These two types of operant learning go very well together for the reason that they do the job without raising your voice at all. Their combination guarantees a smooth symbiosis with your dog. 

Positive reinforcement should be your primary method of training your dog. Don’t fall for the quick fix that the harsh punitive methods offer. This is especially important for puppies. If you are not a skillful dog trainer, harsh punishments will put your relationship with your dog at risk. Rewarding good behavior is a proven recipe for success, even when the dog seems unmanageable. 

However, your dog needs to know that not following your guidance is not acceptable, especially when he/she knows what is being asked. That’s when negative punishment comes in. Consequences are part of everybody’s life, and your dog should not be the exception to the rule. 

4. Secondary punishers

The removal of the valued stimulus (e.g., access to goods) after an undesired behavior occurs (barking at night) is your way to show disapproval. If you add a verbal cue in the equation, a secondary punisher is born. Secondary punishers don’t have initial meaning but acquire value when paired with negative emotions. 

In our example, saying “stop” while closing the balcony door will “charge”  the word stop with meaning. 

If your dog pays attention to you, even a change in tone will suffice, but why not be more specific. With time, your verbal cue will be enough to mark the bad behavior and stop your dog from doing it. With more time, hopefully, you will not have to get up in the middle of the night to close the balcony. “Stop” will do the job. 

This is a concept similar to secondary reinforcement. It’s there to increase your efficacy in dog training. 

5. Negative does not always or forever resolves the issue

While negative reinforcement successfully communicates disapproval, we still need a way to guide the dog towards better behavior. 

The dog in today’s example is very likely to go back to barking to strangers at night once the consequences are withdrawn. To avoid that scenario, it’s vital to communicate what’s good. 

If barking to strangers goes deeper than usual, punishing the behavior won’t resolve anything. It could be that the dog needs socialization or some extra love to get over past trauma. Praising or treating the dog for not barking to strangers at any time of the day, as the dog ditches the behavior, is a good way to go. 

6. Be involved with your dog daily

If you follow this blog, you might get tired of me saying this: don’t expect a responsive dog if what she gets from you is rushed 15 minutes walks around the block. Most dogs will not be happy with this lack of action. Unhappy dogs are not easy to handle. 

When it comes to building a respectful relationship based on cooperation, there is no training device that can substitute for plenty of quality time outdoors. In other words, it’s easier to ask for compliance when the dog is content. Keep that in mind. 


Final thought 

There is no such thing as dog training made easy. I know dogs seem unmanageable at first. Being consistent in your humane ways of communicating what’s good or bad is what makes time an ally. Negative punishment is a concept that will help you “fix” those behaviors of your dog that don’t fit in your household. And time will steadily help you establish yourself as your dog’s leader. A leader your dog wants to follow. 

This is it for today. Complete this post with your recommendations, insights, or questions in the commend section. They are all answered. If you have criticisms, please do reach out. And if you feel like it, share with your dog folks.




Sources/Additional reading: 







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