Punishment and the Public

Traditional, punishment-based dog training has become not just entertainment but a cultural phenomenon. False assumptions about “dominance” in dogs (and other animals) are widely used to justify punishment. People believe what they hear and imitate what they see; shelters and veterinary behaviorists are seeing the resulting damage.

In the past, the clicker community has responded to such propaganda by ignoring what we don’t like, reinforcing what we do, and teaching by our own example. Now, however, we face increasingly misinformed clients and overt training methods we find horrifying. The increasing success of positive training may in fact be one reason for this flare-up of force-based training. This whole phenomenon could be an extinction burst.

Is ignoring the phenomenon enough? What is our present responsibility in this issue? Can we counteract this emphasis on punishment without becoming punishers ourselves?

Karen Pryor shares her thoughts about punishment, the public, and the way forward.

Karen Pryor

Karen is an active, leading spokesperson and teacher for effective force-free training across the globe. Her work with dolphins in the 1960s revolutionized animal training by pioneering and popularizing force-free training methods based on operant conditioning and the conditioned reinforcer.

Karen’s 40-year career working with and educating scientists, professional trainers, and pet owners has changed the lives of countless animals and their caretakers in zoos, oceanariums, and pet-owning households.

She is the author of six books, including Don’t Shoot the Dog!, the "bible" of training with positive reinforcement. Her most recent book, Reaching the Animal Mind, describes how to bring out the undiscovered creativity, intelligence, and personality of the animals in our lives. Karen lives outside Boston, Massachusetts.