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5 Reasons You Should NEVER Punish Your Dog

Woman doing positive training with dog
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Dog training is an essential part of helping your pet become a well-behaved member of the family. In the past, training involved some cruel techniques. However, the dog training community today supports the use of positive reinforcement methods rather than punishment to get results and help pet parents bond with their canine companions. 

Rubbing the dog’s face in a pee accident, or hitting him with an empty paper towel roll for unruly behavior, will do nothing but confuse or intimidate the animal. In some instances, we may not even realize we are punishing a dog with our actions. 

There are easier and safer ways to get consistent, desired results. In this article, you will learn about why it’s never a good idea to punish your dog. You will also take away some helpful training tips from experts to help your pet learn right from wrong and become a happy, confident, and obedient dog. 

Punishment Vs. Positive Reinforcement

When you punish your dog for unwanted behavior by either hitting, yelling, or yanking at the leash, it causes him to become stressed, fearful and, in some cases, more aggressive. In some dogs, this attention (even when negative) reinforces bad behavior. 

Punishing a dog may work in the moment, but it is rarely effective in getting long-term results. It also causes mistrust that fractures your bond with your beloved pet. 

In the past, it was believed that dogs learned through punishment. However, in the last ten years, great strides were made in our understanding of our canine companions and how they learn. “Through many studies and even more research, we learned that dogs learn best through positive reinforcement, habit building, and teaching alternative behaviors,” says Marissa Sunny, dog behaviorist at Best Friends Animal Society (BFAS). 

BFAS is a leading animal welfare organization working towards putting an end to euthanizing cats and dogs in the country’s shelters by 2025. Unruly, unwanted behavior is among the main reasons why so many dogs end up in shelters. These numbers can be significantly reduced if pet parents give their dogs obedience training that promotes positive reinforcement. 

“You can teach your dog to live in our human world in harmony with you and your family without harsh training methods,” says Linda Keehn, certified dog behavior consultant and certified professional dog trainer of Positive Canine Training, LLC, based in Cedarhurst, New York. “The dog will be happy to work for and with a humane leader that is clear in what is expected, fair in those expectations, and forgiving of mistakes.”  

Positive reinforcement includes using high value rewards such as treats, verbal praise, or physical affection that builds the dog’s confidence and motivation. It makes the dog happier and more willing to continue the behavior that resulted in the outpouring of love.  

5 Reasons To NEVER Punish a Dog

positive puppy training

When we bring a dog home for the first time, we can’t expect them to know the rules of the house or read our minds. Sure, dogs are intuitive, smart, and can pick up on a lot of cues, but they also look to us for guidance. 

When your puppy starts going through the bathroom trash or goes into your closet to chew on slippers, punishing him physically or verbally will just cause confusion and harm. Worse, it will make him afraid and could cause him to no longer trust you. 

Similarly, when your adult dog starts pulling on the leash, pulling back won’t make him learn the right way to walk.  

In this section, we will go over reasons why you should never punish your dog. You will also learn how to properly address unwanted behavior and build a positive and trusting relationship with your canine companion. 

Punishment leads to fear, anxiety, and confusion 

Similar to humans, dogs learn when they feel safe and trust the teacher. “If the learner is afraid, anxious, stressed or confused, the brain shuts down as safety becomes the primary thought process,” says Keehn. “This is not a state that promotes learning.”

According to Sunny, it’s important to avoid things that promote fear, anxiety, confusion or stress in your dog. This may include rubbing the pup’s nose in their urine if he peed in the house, tapping him with a rolled-up newspaper, or using leash corrections. 

“These things are confusing to dogs, and don’t get to the root of the behavior.” 

Punishment is not as effective as positive reinforcement 

The best way your dog will learn is through reward-based training. It’s good to ensure that your dog has favorable associations with certain objects and actions, so he has a consistent positive or neutral experience with them, says Sunny. “Just like people, a negative experience with something will hold a much larger weight to a dog than a positive association.” 

Sunny recommends keeping an eye on your dog’s body language to see if he is getting pushed “over the threshold and becoming scared, frustrated, or overwhelmed with something.” In this case, it’s best to go slow and be patient with them and use positive reinforcement. 

Punishment-based training, according to Keehn, tells a dog what not to do. Whereas reward-based training teaches a dog what to do. For example, if your dog is sitting calmly next to you, reward them with praise. This will teach him that being calm is to his benefit. 

Punishment breaks the bond between you and your dog 

“Punishment can be effective, but at the price of the trust of your dog. The price of the bond you wanted to forge when you brought your dog into your life,” says Kheen. By using reward-based training, you are communicating effectively by showing him what’s acceptable, and this helps build a relationship. 

Kheen uses the example of punishing a dog for jumping upon you when entering the house to demonstrate the importance of positive interactions to build upon the bond you have with your dog. The dog is excited to see you after many hours and wants to greet you in the way dogs do — face to face– which leads him to reach for yours. Instead of being grateful for this exuberant greeting, a punishment technique would include kneeing him in the chest to “correct” this behavior. 

“How do you think this makes him feel? Not so great. But what if I just bent down and pet him so he could get his greeting with all four paws on the ground. No conflict, just understanding and love.” This solves the jumping problem without hurting or pushing the dog and breaking that trust. 

Punishment techniques can cause your dog pain

Prong collars and choke chains are not only painful, they are unproductive. “I would steer away from any equipment, or technique that causes pain, fear, or intimidation,” suggests Keehn. 

Using a choke chain or prong collar is an out-of-date method to control dogs from pulling on their leash. 

You can get your dog to walk well on a leash without inflicting discomfort or pain by using reward-based training techniques. If the dog doesn’t seem to respond to regular training niblets, try using high value treats during walks. These treats are typically moist and aromatic, such as string cheese, peanut butter, small pieces of a hot dog or sardines. 

Punishment can cause unwanted consequences 

When a dog gets punished for behavior we consider bad, there’s a chance he could misinterpret the message and lead to some unwanted consequences, such as aggression. 

For example, if a dog barks through the fence or screen door when other dogs pass by, it could get irritating for the humans really fast. We naturally want to curb this behavior. Using a shock collar whenever your dog barks at strangers may put an end to the barking, but it may make him associate the activity with pain. 

“After a few times [of being shocked], the dog associates other dogs walking by with pain, so he becomes more aggressive to dogs walking by or even any encounters he has with other dogs,” says Keehn. 

“There is no way for the dog to know the owner was causing the shock. He may think the dog walking by caused it.” This also applies to using electric fences in front of the houses where the likelihood of people and dogs passing by is greater. 

Training Tips for Building a Healthy Relationship With Your Dog

Woman holding puppy

Proper training is the best investment a pet parent can make to prevent fear, anxiety, stress, and unwanted behaviors. Whether you start off doing the training yourself with basic techniques at home, go to group classes, or hire a professional trainer, it’s important to keep in mind that with time, patience, and love, it is possible to foster a healthy relationship with your dog and help him become a great pet. 

Below are some training tips to consider when starting your dog training journey. 

Understand your pet 

“The first thing I would recommend is learning to speak your dog’s language,” says Sunny. Having a better grasp of the dog’s body language can help discern his true feelings. “Often, we misread the dog’s stress as excitement, which leads us to accidentally put them in very stressful situations.” 

By paying attention to their body language, we can better understand why something bad happened and correct our own behavior, similar to sitting down to allow the dog to greet us at the door properly. 

Build a Trusting Relationship

When there is a trustworthy leader, dogs are more than happy to take direction. You can build a trusting relationship with your dog by using positive reinforcement. “Dogs will continue to do things that they get rewarded for, until it becomes a habit and they no longer need the reinforcement,” states Sunny.  

To be effective at this, Sunny recommends giving the dog ample opportunity to succeed. 

“For example, when potty training you want to take your dog outside, on a leash, to the area that you would like them to eliminate in. As soon as they do, get very happy, praise them, give them treats, and let them off leash (if safe to do so). This will help them learn to go outside and go potty before getting to play.”

Use Redirection

It is natural for dogs, especially puppies, to chew on your wrists and ankles, or your favorite shoes. “It is our responsibility to redirect them to appropriate things,” says Sunny. “When a dog starts to chew on something they are not supposed to, you can calmly say ‘Eh!’ and hand them something they are allowed to chew on, like a toy. When they chew on the toy, praise them!” 

Hire a Professional Dog Trainer 

“I think pet parents should consider hiring a trainer as soon as they are seriously considering a dog – even before they get a dog,” says Kheen. When considering getting a dog, she recommends budgeting a few training sessions or basic level group classes. 

“This will get you all off to a great start and limit unwanted behaviors before they start.”

For training to work long-term, it has to be consistent. This means the work doesn’t end as soon as the session ends. By continuing to use the learned techniques with your dog, they will learn the commands and form a habit.