Punishment – whether it is directly physical or something hands-off like noise – is never a good tool to train a pet. Intimidating or causing a dog or cat physical discomfort can be incredibly damaging to an animal’s mental and emotional wellbeing. Anything that creates fear, anxiety or discomfort (like shock collars, prong collars, choking and submissive moves or gestures) can provoke a dog to retaliate or defend himself by attacking the trainer or owner.
While tools like a vibration collar or a squirt bottle are not physically painful, they still fall into the negative training category, and I would not recommend using them. The reason is that pets subjected to punishment training over time become incredibly stressed, anxious and fearful; that’s why punishment gets results. But at what price? Punishment is simply not scientifically sound, rational or acceptable method of training.
Predictable rewards and “learn to earn” positive reinforcement training is the safest and most effective method for training a pet, period. In simplest terms, you ignore undesirable actions (unless, of course, the pet is at risk of injury) and immediately and consistently reward good behaviors with food, praise or both. The idea is to teach your pet what to do, not punishing what not to do. “Learn to earn” is helpful not only in initial training, but can be used to effectively restructure problems; dogs quickly learn that they’re in control of consequences and display appropriate behaviors to earn their reward.
The best way to learn how to positively train your pet is to ask your veterinarian. Many veterinarians are experts in helping with behavior issues and training and offer a wide variety of services. If your veterinarian isn’t as comfortable correcting behavioral problems, ask for a local referral. I’ve found it takes me one to two hour-long sessions to identify problem areas, four to six meetings to teach proper techniques and timing and checkups every two to four weeks to rediscover a dog’s inner awesomeness.
Positivity is better than punishment in my professional opinion. I’ve seen too many beautiful dogs permanently broken by overly aggressive tactics. If you’re concerned about any of your dog’s behaviors, initiate the conversation with your veterinarian. Nothing is too trivial or insignificant – and the earlier you help your pet, the easier it will be to achieve the result you want.