How to discipline your dog, affection or punishing?


There are different training techniques to discipline a dog. We explain you the difference between positive and negative punishment so you can decide which one do you prefer. One hint: the name doesn’t say it all. Here you can also read some tips to get your dog to stop barking

Why is your dog misbehaving?

Before it is possible to solve a problem, it is necessary to understand the reasons for your dog’s behaviour. Many dog behaviour problems are quite normal dog activities but happen when the animal cannot easily express its normal natural instincts. Consider some examples of normal behaviours, but seen as misbehaving in the wrong context, to try and better understand why your dog is doing what it does before you try to discipline it?

  • Digging
  • Chasing things
  • Play
  • Barking
  • Not getting enough exercise so it has too much excess energy
  • Scent marking
  • Chewing

Dogs as pack animals and dominance

Dogs are very social animals and your household is like its pack from your dog’s viewpoint.  the positive feature is that your dog likes to be sociable and to fit in with activities of others. Dogs are eager to please and watch how their owners behave and research has shown they are generally well aware of their owner’s mood. Behaviour problems often arise when a dog tries to become dominant within its “pack”, when aggressiveness and related unwanted behaviours are often consequences of a dog thinking it is pack leader. Such dogs will not respond as well to training or discipline, and it is important for an owner to establish dominance over their new pet and ensure this is maintained. This will need some discipline at the right time, but once dominance over the dog has been established it is then easier to maintain it.

Ways to discipline a dog: training principles

A main way to make a behaviour happen less is to punish the dog in some way for doing something wrong, such as a vigorous shaking by the scruff of the neck. However, discipline often works best if done in a kind way, and some principles are described below. Physical discipline is not the only possible punishment, and depriving a dog of what it wants -called negative punishment - can be equally effective without resorting to physical means. Separately, rewarding the dog with food, attention or play for what is seen as good behaviour is the main way to make a desired behaviour more likely. Research has shown that a dog learns faster with training by reward rather than when punishment is used. A third training principle is used especially for training the dog to respond to commands such as sit and stay. When a particular act is associated with a command such as sit, once this association has happened often enough, the dog will do the act in direct response to the verbal command. This is the same way of learning described by Pavlov many years ago, when dogs came to associate a bell with mealtime.

Positive and negative punishment

Positive punishment is the term used to describe the administration of an unpleasant stimulus in response to bad behaviour, for example shaking its neck, pushing the dog down or a stronger physical correction. In order to work, positive punishment needs to be unpleasant enough to stop the behaviour but not so unpleasant that it invokes fear, pain, or aggression all of which interfere with learning. Positive punishment should also never be used when a dog is reacting only out of fear. In contrast, negative punishment involves removing something of value as an immediate consequence of bad behaviour. An example of negative punishment would be for the owner to walk away and ignore a dog when it has done a hard playbite. By doing this, a desirable resource (attention) has been taken away from the dog. With a consistent approach, the dog will soon understand that whenever he bites, playtime stops. Dogs are very good at making associations between what they are doing and any reaction to it either positive or negative.

How to discipline a dog without heating?

One of the reasons why the kinder negative punishment is generally preferred to positive punishment is the consequences of making a mistake.  A punishment only works well if it happens in immediate response to the behaviour so the dog makes an association between the act and the punishment.  Any mistake or failure of timing will cause confusion and fearfulness in a dog that is physically punished, and worse it potentially stops any useful learning by the dog. However, If for example you thought you had a playbite and take away the ball but then realise the dog had been trying to pick up the ball and not bite you, you can give the ball back at once. In contrast, there is no taking back the yell or swat once you realize you were wrong. With negative punishment, you can always make up and give back what you’ve taken away. Remember that rather than punishment, praising good behaviour is just as important. Our family dogs always crave attention. Remember too that in their minds, interacting with you even when you are angry is better than being ignored. If your dog has a specific behaviour problem that cannot easily be resolved, always seek advice from a dog behaviour expert or your veterinarian as there are different specific techniques that can be used for particular problems.  


Dr Peter Messent 4th  April 2017

For your interest

How much water do dogs need a day?

Many dogs seem to drink a lot of water each day. Cells and organs in the body contain about 70% water, making it the main body component.

How does heat affect dogs and cause heatstroke?

Dogs get overheated more easily than people and this can quickly lead to physical distress known as heat stroke (hyperthermia).