Punishment in the Dog-Human Relationship

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Punishment works. It suppresses behavior that humans find inappropriate. However, it will not benefit your relationship with your dog as punishment will need to continue for the dog’s entire life and may even need to intensify to achieve the same results. Your dog will learn to fear you instead of love and trust you. You will have to always intimidate your dog to get it to do what you want. Your dog will learn to keep its distance from you. Is that really what you want? Would you rather punish your dog or reinforce your dog for the rest of its life?

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Unfortunately, many people never know what a great relationship you can really have with your dog. I was on that path with the methods I used to use. I thought my dog had to respect me and obey me. Once I learned how to get my dog to listen without intimidating him, our relationship grew exponentially! Now he gets to be my live-in comedian because I understand him and love him for who he is. His enthusiasm is amazing and he puts 110% into training sessions. Now, instead of barking at strangers he looks back at me and I tell him “good boy” and we walk away. His trust is in me to control the situation.

Anyways, let’s discuss why punishment doesn’t work long term. Long term goals should involve changing the dog’s emotional response. A dog who is just suppressing its true feelings for fear of being yelled at, will remove the warning signs (calming signals, growling, barking, lunging) and can become an “unpredictable” biter. Check out my previous post on calming signals: Guide to Calming Signals.

Punishment is more than simply hitting your dog. Punishment is anything that decreases chance of that behavior in the future. According to Stanley Coren, Ph.D., F.R.S.C. in Canine Corner “shouting, threatening stares or growls, use of water sprays or water guns, grabbing the dog by the scruff of the neck or the jowls and shaking it” all should be considered punishment. I will even add verbal reprimands such as “no” or “ah-ah” to the list. All of these decrease or suppress that certain behavior in the future without teaching your dog what you DO want him to do instead of the behavior being punished.

Like I said before – would you rather punish or reinforce your dog for the rest of his life? Teaching your dog good foundation behaviors (such as go to the mat, lie down, make eye contact) that he can turn to is important in order to prevent problem behaviors from starting. It is up to the human to be observant of your dog’s behavior to be able to catch them doing something right! Here is a great story on this strategy: Catch Your Dog Doing Something Right. Don’t wait until the dog is doing something naughty to give them loads of attention… :)