Some Ideas for using Compulsion in Training



Using Compulsion in Training: A Primer

Excerpeted from: Controlled Aggression in Theory & Practice

by Jerry Bradshaw

Every behavior must have a consequence, either a reinforcing consequence or a punishing consequence. “Punishment” here refers to punishment in the behavioral sense. Punishment is any consequence of a behavior that reduces the likelihood of that behavior. Reinforcement is any consequence of a behavior that increases the likelihood of that behavior. Both reinforcement and punishment come in two varieties, positive and negative: Positive in the sense of providing a consequence, and negative in the sense of withholding a consequence. This gives us the following four consequences:


·         Positive punishment means delivering an undesirable consequence that reduces the likelihood of a given behavior.

·         Negative punishment means withholding a desirable consequence to reduce the likelihood of a given behavior.

·         Positive reinforcement means providing a desirable consequence to increase the likelihood of a behavior.

·         Negative reinforcement means removing an undesirable consequence to increase the likelihood of a behavior. 


Training proceeds through three phases: acquisition, fluency, and generalization. Training is a process through which we introduce and vary the consequences of behavior to teach the dog associations (acquisition), and then teach limits to behavior when employing these associations (fluency). Finally, training involves requiring these associations to be performed in all different situations and contexts (generalization). This is commonly referred to as proceeding through the learning stage, to the correction stage, and then the proofing stage.


Note that I do not usually find any use for force or compulsion in the acquisition phase of training. Providing a foundation of proper behavior, and never allowing behaviors you don’t want to see, can be accomplished in this phase of training, because the trainer can exercise complete control over the training environment. In other words, we can set the dog up for success. However,  in order to proof responses, we must present the dog with situations that may induce non-compliance, anticipate the dog’s non-compliance, and positively punish him (corrections) for disobedience.  In my opinion, it is virtually impossible to de-condition a dog to every possible distraction using only negative punishment. Limits must be set in a general way with compulsion, and this is done in the fluency and generalization phases of training. In the fluency stage we introduce the concept of corrections or positive punishment, and continue to apply those corrections (as well as apply positive reinforcement) in the generalization or proofing stage of training.


Force or compulsion is applied to the dog through the use of devices intended to cause discomfort to the dog. This discomfort should be minimal, and just enough to get the point across. This minimum force rule should always be applied when using compulsion. At the end of this book there is a guide to introducing the e-collar in obedience, with some applications to protection training. Most people who criticize e-collars know little about their proper use.  Those trainers, who employ their use properly, know how the relationship with their partners grows tremendously through these described effects.  The trainer is the center of all good things, and offers relief from any punishment that is applied, through the use of positive positive reinforcement. Thus we concentrate on rewarding good behavior that is shown, once limits are set. Correction becomes unemotional when the physical component of it is removed.