We all know that when training an animal, there is a difference between correction and punishment. However, I’ve noticed that a lot of people utilize punishment as an everyday training method. My views on this? I don’t like it. To my mind, the difference between correction and punishment is:
Correction: an action that discourages undesirable behaviors and is administered (in varying degrees of intensity) directly in response to that undesirable behavior at the time it takes place.
Punishment: an action to discourage undesirable behavior that is not necessarily administered when the undesirable action takes place, or continues longer than is necessary for a simple correction.
For instance, say a horse lifts his head on the approach to a jump when his rider wants his head to stay long and low. A correction for this action would, for me, constitute a half-halt with the outside rein coupled with a slight squeeze of the leg. The half-halt signals that the horse should be thinking back to me, while the leg tells him that he should keep a consistent pace (so that he doesn’t misconstrue the half-halt as being a signal to stop or slow down). A punishment would be to continually half-halt, or, worse, see-saw the bit in his mouth–especially after the horse has brought his head down.
There are times where a punishment is appropriate. I had a horse nearly back himself into another (very grumpy and very willing to bite) horse because he was unwilling to move forward when I asked. A correction would be to get him moving forward and then end there and go about whatever I was intending to do. However, because this is a consistent problem with this horse, I felt it necessary to punish him instead. So rather than achieve the forward motion I had asked for and let it go, I galloped the horse two laps around the arena. This punishment was not harsh or dangerous, it merely told the horse that if he did not move forward when I asked him to, he would have to work harder than I originally intended. The problem was corrected, and I was able to finish my ride with no more problems of that nature.
Sadly, I’ve seen too many people who turn to punishment as their number one form of dealing with issues, even when punishment is inappropriate. I have witnessed a horse that moved stiffly to the right being left in his stall with his head tethered to the right side of his body. I have witnessed horses (and cats and dogs, for that matter) being punished for bad behavior hours or even days after the event has happened. This is not good training psychology. If you punish after the fact, the animal does not even know what it is being punished for, making the punishment counterproductive. Rather than discouraging a certain behavior, you end up causing your animal to distrust or dislike you, which throws a wrench into any relationship.
Has anybody else had experience with this? Does anyone have any alternate definitions of “correction” and “punishment?” How do you view this issue?