When it comes to punishing your dog, many people start out with the wrong mindset. Approaching this topic with the human notions of punishment are misguided at best – disastrous at worst.

For starters, dog training uses 2 primary tools: positive reinforcement and negative punishment. These are tried, tested, and true technique that work.

third technique – called positive punishment – also exists. This concept is pretty difficult to grasp unless you change your way of thinking about it.

Positive and Negative are “loaded terms” to us humans. But think back to math class. In that world, Positive and Negative simply mean additive or subtractive. This is how we will use them in dog training.

A New Way of Thinking

What is the total opposite of giving someone a reward?

It’s not punishing them. The answer is: not giving them a reward.

So to define positive punishment, let’s call is ADDING something to the dog’s environment that causes your dog to be LESS LIKELY to do an undesirable behavior again.

So we are adding a negative consequence for bad behavior.

For example, if you always get yelled at when you walk by the red door at work, you are going to start avoiding the red door at work (and most likely other red doors as well).

Applying This To Dogs

There are actually many ways to use positive punishment for dog training. Broadly speaking, anyone can whig out and yell and beat a dog. All issues of cruelty aside, this is generally overkill and will not properly shape dog behavior over the long run or create a positive bond. So we need more finesse and human actions.

This is where things like penny cans, squirt guns, and even shock collars come into play. These tools are meant to inflict physical pain, or in a broader sense, add an unpleasant addition to a dog’s world.

Now while some people recommend physical pain as a dog training tool, we do not. There are better ways to go about it.

The Squirt Gun

For positive punishment, a squirt gun is highly effective. It can be aimed at the misbehaved animal directly and won’t affect other household pets.

You can’t just shoot your dog willy-nilly though. First off, you always must give a verbal addition like “No” as your squirt. In the dog’s mind the squirt is paired with the verbal correction. Later you can just use the word and still get the same result.

Next – only squirt the dog when it is actually doing the bad behavior. This is crucial. Squirting after he’s done can cause confusion or even make the dog think it’s being punished for stopping! That’s not what we want.

Finally – once you have squirted the dog, it will stop doing whatever it was doing. Now it’s time to train it to behave better. Make your dog do something else like Sit or Come. Reward and praise as desired since they just obeyed.

The Penny Can

Similar to a squirt gun, a penny can can correct a dog. Make one by putting some loose pennies into a Coke can and taping the lid up. It will make an unpleasant sound that can stop a dog’s bad behavior.

Use a verbal correction as you shake it, and then after your dog stops, have it do something more desirable and reward it lavishly. Does Positive Punishment Work?

Like people, dogs are pretty varied in how they will respond to things. Some people might get physically punished and learn to not do it again. Other people are going to lash out immediately, or withdraw, or run away. Dogs will do this as well and there is no way of knowing how an individual dog will react.

So using just physical punishment (kicking, beating, etc) is not the way to go.

But by using squirt gun or penny can, we can push the odds in our favor. Both of these are consistent in local results (ex: the dog gets wet or startled).

The other factors in removing bad behaviors are really up to you: immediate corrections, consistent application, and positive reinforcement of a desired behavior.

The biggest failure here is usually inconsistent application of the punishment. letting your dog get away with something half the time, or only correcting one time a day, is simply not going to work.

You also must reward a good behavior afterwards. Otherwise you are hurting the bind between you and your dog. And without an acceptable behavior to take it’s place, the dog might continue the bad behavior simply for ANY kind of attention.

But as your dog learns that certain behaviors give it a reward, it will do those more.


Methods of positive punishment should be used sparingly and as a last resort. Tools like classical condition, positive reinforcement, and negative punishment are easier to use and help strengthen the dog-owner bond.