Your dog just got hold of the sandwich that was waiting for you on the countertop. What now? How do you discipline your dog?
Here are some ways to discipline your dog:
- Prevent your dog from making mistakes
- Teach your dog clear commands
- Be consistent
- Replace bad behavior
- Reward your dog or withhold rewards
- Teach your dog impulse control
- Give your dog a time-out
- Ignore your dog
- Stop or turn around on walks
- Stop play
To clarify why these ways of disciplining work, this article will cover learning in dogs. It will then further elaborate on the ten forms of discipline mentioned. Since the dominance theory has been debunked, this article will not focus on any dominance-based techniques. Instead, it will focus on humane ways of disciplining your dog.
The Theory of Learning
Studies show that every organism, be it your kid, your furry friend, or any other animal, will always do whatever is most beneficial for them. It has to do with their basic instinct, where survival is the priority. But while a moral compass can be taught in humans, dogs still rely on this primal instinct regardless of age. In a way, they will continue any behavior that is or has been successful. On the other hand, they discontinue behavior that has proven unsuccessful in the past. You could see it as a process of trial and error.
The less a dog can carry out the behavior their human companions dislike, the less it is going to show this behavior in the future. To avoid your dog still trying out negative behavior, the preferred behavior should be reinforced. To do so, you could use positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement.
Positive reinforcement adds a positive stimulus to the situation. For example, give your dog a food reward when performing wanted behavior.
Negative reinforcement takes away a negative stimulus from the situation. When training a reactive dog, taking away the trigger the dog is afraid of is used as a reward for good behavior.
But sometimes encouraging behavior is not enough; you reinforced unwanted behavior by accident, or the learned behavior is self-rewarding. What do you do? Disciplining your dog for unwanted behavior is the quickest way to discourage it. And to link back to the theory, you make the behavior unsuccessful. To do so, you have a choice between positive punishment and negative punishment.
Positive punishment means nothing more than adding a negative stimulus. Often this way of discipline is physical punishment. More and more studies show that this way of disciplining is harmful to your dog. Therefore, this way of punishment will not be discussed further.
Negative punishment means taking away a positive stimulus. When using this punishment, it is vital to find out what your dog wants to achieve with the behavior. Making sure it doesn’t get what it wants or taking this reward away discourages its behavior.
Since having a disciplined companion does not only mean punishing bad behavior, I will also talk about ways to encourage good behavior.
1. Prevent Your Dog From Making Mistakes
When it is your dream to have a disciplined, well-behaved dog, it always starts with giving it a fair chance. When teaching your dog a new trick, you cannot expect it to know what to do the first time you say “shake.” The same goes for understanding your shoes are not a chew-toy. And with five pairs of shoes lying around, they are hard for your dog to ignore. Starting off in an environment where it’s hard for your pet to make any mistakes gives your dog, and your relationship with it, a headstart. Adding difficulty should be done step by step while teaching your dog what to do by rewarding good behavior.
2. Teach Your Dog Clear Commands
Another way to get your dog to behave well is by teaching it clear commands. Since dogs do not speak English or any other language, we need to teach them a few tricks that we can use to communicate. It would be nice if we could tell them that barreling out the front door once it opens is dangerous. However, the next best thing is teaching them a sit and wait command and have them perform this when you open the door. When practiced enough, these commands form into an automated wanted behavior. The only thing left for you to do is to reinforce the behavior every once in a while.
Essential commands to teach your dog include:
- Back up
- Leave it
3. Be Consistent
Consistency is an essential aspect of disciplining a dog. The only thing worse than a dog always getting away with specific behavior is one that sometimes gets away with this behavior.
When a good thing always happens after performing a behavior, and suddenly it does not, your dog will try a few times before deciding the action is no longer rewarding. But an inconsistently rewarded behavior will result in your dog trying for far longer. With training new tricks and acceptable behaviors, this is useful. However, with self-rewarding negative behavior, it can make a behavior very hard to eradicate.
4. Replace Bad Behavior
A well-behaved dog is not just formed by rewarding good behavior and punishing bad behavior. When stopping bad behavior, your dog is going to look for a replacement. If you are lucky, its next try is precisely what you want, and you could leave it at that. By rewarding this replacement behavior, making sure your dog knows it is doing well, it will keep this up.
However, not every dog will get it right the second time. When trying to eradicate lousy behavior, you will see right away what your dog is trying to replace it with. If you do not like this replacement, you can save yourself a lot of trouble by teaching it a different behavior. When stopping a dog from jumping, for example, you could teach it to sit as a replacement.
5. Reward Your Dog or Withhold Rewards
The benefit of rewarding your dog for good behavior doesn’t just lie in reinforcing it. Rewarding your dog for good behavior teaches it that good behavior leads to nice things. Once this understanding is established, you can use this to tell your dog what kind of action you do not want to see repeated by withholding rewards. A dog that knows and understands this concept is more likely to look to you for guidance when trying a new behavior.
6. Teach Your Dog Impulse Control
Another skill that a disciplined dog should know is impulse control. There will be many situations that are hard to practice. Imagine walking on a trail and encountering running wildlife. While this is a trigger that is very hard to ignore for most dogs, impulse control may give you more authority over this situation. Luckily, you can practice this skill in everyday life. The most straightforward example is to make your dog wait for a release command when giving it food. However, you can practice this in many different situations.
7. Give Your Dog a Time-Out
Up until now, a lot of these tips have been centered around prevention as a way of disciplining. But not every bad behavior can be prevented, even with the most experienced owner. In some situations, there are no other options left besides punishment. Giving your dog a time-out is an excellent way to communicate a clear line.
While punishment is most effective when being the direct opposite of what your dog wants, it cannot always be applied this way. Take your sandwich that your dog just snatched from the counter. You can’t take it away because your dog already swallowed it, so it already was a success. Taking the sandwich away if you got to your dog before it happened isn’t much of punishment either, and since your dog got so close, it is likely to try again. Assuming that you want to eliminate counter-surfing behavior as a whole, giving your dog a time-out is the best way to get your message across.
Depending on your dog, you could isolate it for one or two minutes. But with dogs that are fearful when left on their own, sending it to a time-out spot and keeping it there for a few minutes works just as well. Keep in mind that you are taking away your dog’s freedom to walk around here, which is precisely why it will experience this as punishment.
8. Ignore Your Dog
Another way to discipline your dog for making the wrong choices is to ignore it. But this punishment is very specifically only useful in situations where your dog misbehaves for attention. Some well-meaning people will tell you to ignore your dog whenever it misbehaves. However, when it is chewing up your shoes, ignoring the behavior is going to do nothing.
So, always make sure when you use ignoring as punishment that the main goal your dog has is getting attention from you. This may be the case, for example, when your dog jumps up on you when coming home. Ignoring teaches the dog that the carried out behavior is getting the opposite of what it wants. When your dog shows a calm demeanor, you immediately reward it with attention.
9. Stop or Turn Around on Walks
A big part of everyday life with your dog involves walks. Yet, the way your dog behaves on walks can make the difference between an enjoyable walk and a chore. A pulling dog is not going to encourage you to walk it any more than it absolutely has to. The punishment that works best, in this case, is merely stopping in your tracks or turning the other way. This teaches your dog that pulling is not getting it where it wants to go. When keeping this up consistently, you can focus on teaching your dog other useful skills on future walks.
This way of disciplining works because you teach your dog that calm behavior and listening to you will get it what it wants. Again it is essential to make sure your dog is pulling because it wants to go somewhere. Some dogs are stressed outside or become stressed when they encounter triggers. In this case, the pulling might be emotional behavior. Since dogs do not learn under too much stress, the better approach with stress-based behavior is to treat the cause first.
10. Stop Play
Especially when getting a puppy or adopting a young dog, it may not always know how to behave during play. Some dogs bite hands and clothes. But also, jumping and barking behavior may not be to your liking. To discipline your dog during play and form your it’s behavior into what you want to see, you can stop playing. If your dog does not play on your terms, there will be no play at all.
Teaching your dog how to adapt to a society that goes against its nature can be difficult. To help it along, you can use some techniques that are based on the way that dogs learn.
To get your dog disciplined, you don’t always need punishment. A lot of trouble can be prevented by disciplining your dog before it shows problem behavior. There are a few tricks that mold your dog into a well-behaved dog. Creating consistent patterns of behavior is the baseline in all of them.
Should your dog still develop problem behavior, there are a few tricks to get your dog back in line. However, you don’t need to yell at your dog or punish it physically. There are plenty of options to get your message across in a humane way. Finding out what it is that your dog wants and making sure it achieves the direct opposite is enough to create a chance for better behavior. When looking for a way to discipline your dog for bad behavior, you can use the mechanics described to find a suitable correction for your situation.
Hi! My name is Joan. I’m 25 years old, and I live in The Netherlands. I work in healthcare and study applied psychology. Besides this, I am helping my dog Chester recover from a bad start in life.