In my opinion, timeouts are the most powerful, humane punishment that can be used for dog training. I never agree with physical punishments, partly because there are just as effective means of humanely teaching a dog.
By definition, a "punishment" does not need to cause pain or fear. While some punishments do use pain, I don't EVER think it is appropriate. Unfortunately this is often the only way that people know how to train dogs.
By definition you use Positive Punishment, if you add something unpleasant to an animal to stop behavior. For instance, if you choke a dog to stop pulling.
Many people, including people that call themselves trainers, incorrectly call the previous type of punishment, "negative reinforcement". They simply believe that there are only two types of reinforcement: "positive reinforcement" and "negative reinforcement". In actuality, there are four "quadrants" used for learning.
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- Positive reinforcement - providing something enjoyable to increase the likelihood of the behavior
- Negative reinforcement - taking something unpleasant away when the desired behavior is performed to increase the likelihood of the behavior in the future
- Positive punishment - adding something unpleasant to decrease the likelihood of the behavior in the future
- Negative punishment - removal of a good consequence when thebehavior is performed to decrease the likelihood of the behavior
So, which of the four options is a "timeout"?
Timeouts are negative punishment. The good consequence that is removed is freedom! The correct use of a timeout will decrease the likelihood that a behavior will be performed because it results in a timeout. Make sense?
When a dog is timed out properly, eventually he will make the decision to avoid doing a certain behavior because it results in his freedom being taken away for a short period of time. Savvy trainers will make sure to reward (positive reinforcement) frequently before the dog does the inappropriate behavior in order to prove to him that he can do many behaviors that are appropriate. There are only a few behaviors (eating the couch, jumping on the coffee table, stealing food from the kitchen counter, for instance) that are punishable by a timeout.
I think it is important for trainers to understand the science of dog training. I hope you learned something new about animal learning.