To most of us, the word punishment means something pretty horrible, and often painful. But to a clicker trainer, punishment has a much more specific meaning.
‘Punishment’ to a positive-only trainer is strictly defined in the scientific sense as anything, which will diminish the likelihood of the precending behaviour from recurring. The preceding behaviour is absolutely anything that the dog happened to be doing just before the ‘punishment’ took place.
The term punishment in this scientific sense covers a wide range of actions on the part of the dog trainer, some of which he may be barely aware of.
Punishment does not necessarily mean pain or violence
In scientific terms punishing actions can can be anything from a ‘hostile stare’ or menacing body posture, to a gruff verbal warning ‘aaargh’ or ‘no’, to physical restraint (holding the dog by the collar), or a squirt of water, all the way up to what most people would describe as punishment such as a physical scruff shake or slap.
Changing behaviour with science
To better understand how a clicker trainer can change an animal’s behaviour without resorting to any of the above, you need to understand the scientific principles behind two main learning processes which are important to all successful animal training methods. These two processes are Operant Conditioning and Classical Conditioning