How to Humanely Discipline Your Dog for Bad Behavior

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Training a dog requires consistent practice and patience. There is no one-and-done fix for bad behavior in dogs. There are different schools of thought about training methods and techniques. It is important to remember that all dogs are individuals and not every method is going to be equally effective for every pet. By consistently using effective and humane techniques to train your dog, you will create a strong bond with them and find they become easier to train overall. Punishing your dog unnecessarily can frighten or confuse them and will have the opposite of the intended effect. Unnecessary punishment can cause your dog to act out more or become aggressive. While it’s easier to reinforce good behavior when a dog is a puppy, you can follow these guidelines for a better-behaved dog at any age.

Make sure your dog has an appropriate outlet for their behavior

Providing an outlet for your dog’s needs and teaching good behavior through repetition of routines will ensure that unwanted behavior occurs less often. For example, if your dog is chewing on the furniture, first examine whether they have access to appropriate chew toys and adequate exercise for their breed and temperament. Even if your dog has already learned that chewing on the furniture is not allowed, if their “chewing outlet” is removed, they will likely resume the bad behavior to alleviate boredom. Exercising your dog so they don’t have pent-up energy and praising them for chewing on their toy or a bone will be more effective than punishing them for chewing on the furniture. 

Remove the temptation

To reinforce the correct behavior in your dog, it is important to remove the ability to perform the bad behavior, especially in the beginning. If your dog is being house trained, do not give them access to the full house until the potty routine is fully established. If your dog runs to the door when the doorbell rings, chews on furniture or shoes, or digs through the garbage, remove their access to these areas and items during their initial training, or if there are any relapses of bad behavior. If your dog is making progress in their training while you are supervising them, consider removing access to problem areas when you are not around until your dog proves he can be trusted. Don’t forget: It’s ok if your dog has restrictions permanently. You need to work within your dog’s capability to learn, and he may not ever get over the temptation to eat out of the cat box or chase squirrels at the park. The key to controlling much of your dog’s behavior is to control the environment and circumstances so they cannot perform the undesired behavior in the first place.

Use positive reinforcement

When your dog performs the correct behavior, reward them with praise or a treat. Dogs are creatures of habit and they tend to remember which actions consistently get rewards. You can also use a clicker when rewarding your dog. This clicking noise may get their attention and can be a useful tool in redirecting their behavior. 

If your dog is in an environment where they would typically perform an undesirable behavior, such as jumping on people at a gathering, you can use the clicker to distract them and instruct them to engage in another behavior. There are many resources available to help you learn the most effective and up-to-date training techniques, including the use of a clicker. As you read more, steer clear of any articles that focus on negative reinforcement. To get started, you can read more about dog training here

The truth about discipline

In spite of your effort to focus on positive reinforcement, you may need to use tactics like raising your voice, clapping loudly, or sternly saying “NO” to interrupt your dog when you catch them in the act of doing something they shouldn’t. It is important not to discipline your dog in a way that will cause them to associate you with negative feelings. This can lead to aggression and a fear of being handled by humans. Discipline methods, such as spanking or hitting on the nose, will only create more unwanted behavior issues in your dog. 

Use humane methods and only discipline your dog when unwanted behavior is occurring, not after the fact. If you get home from work and discover your dog has been chewing on the sofa all day, that is not the time to discipline them. Instead, you should remove their access to the sofa the next time you are at work. 

If you catch your dog in the beginning or middle of unwanted behavior, you can try clapping your hands and sternly saying “no.” You can use other loud noises to interrupt your dog’s behavior, such as a shaker can of pennies, a horn, or an alarm. Make sure that any loud noises are unpleasant but not unsafe for your dog’s hearing. Remember, you’re *not* trying to punish your dog or make him feel bad or even let him know he’s made you angry. The goal here is to interrupt the undesired behavior and redirect the dog to an acceptable activity.

When your dog isn’t responding

If your dog isn’t responding to positive reinforcement or humane discipline methods, don’t turn to harsher punishments to get a response. Remember, this is an ongoing, consistent process. Just because you have to repeat yourself doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. On the contrary, it’s important to continue to insist on appropriate behavior and not acquiesce and accept bad behavior just because you’re tired of training your dog. 

Check with an online vet to find out whether your dog has an underlying health issue that is contributing to their behavior issues. Dogs are good at hiding when they are unwell, but a surprising symptom of many issues and illnesses is a behavior change. Make sure to stay up to date on your dog’s regular checkups and consult a veterinarian if there is a change in their behavior or personality.

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