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How To Discipline a Dog Using Positive Reinforcement

Learning how to discipline a dog is never an easy task, but it's a necessary one. Your dog needs to know which rules have to be followed, what's allowed, what's encouraged, and what counts as bad behavior and good behavior!

The best way to train and discipline your dog isn't through negativity, and it's certainly not through shouting or violence - these methods never work. The most effective ways to discipline a new puppy or an old-timer are always positive.

In this article, we'll explore how punishments can be 'positive' and the positive reinforcement techniques you can use when disciplining your dog. Keep reading, and learn how to discipline a dog! 

How to discipline a dog: lose the negativity 

Dogs aren't humans, but we need our dogs to understand certain boundaries for us to live alongside one another. No matter how cute and adorable a puppy is, at some point during and after the puppy proofing stage, they are going to need disciplining.

But as an owner, always remember that learning how to make your dog listen doesn't need to involve negativity. In fact, it can be achieved through positive training techniques and what we like to call positive punishments. 

This might sound contradictory, but positive punishments are constructive punishments. Your dog learns through continued, constructive punishment rather than through negative, ineffectual punishment. 

To better understand, let's take a look at what counts as negative punishment. In no circumstances should you ever do the following when disciplining your dog:

  • Never hit your dog - physical abuse is a serious no-no. Not only is it painful for the dog, but it will leave them scarred and scared. Hitting or striking your dog can leave them afraid of humans and potentially encourage dangerous behavior such as biting when they seek to defend themselves. It's not nice, and any abuse towards animals should always be reported to the authorities. 
  • Never hurt your dog - likewise, never try to punish your dog in such a way that they are left hurt, physically or emotionally. Dogs have feelings, too; they just can't express themselves in a way that humans always understand!
  • Never shout at your dog - it can be all too easy to raise your voice when you're annoyed at your dog, but it doesn't help. Your dog can recognize the change in pitch, tone, and volume, but all too often, a raised voice is going to simply scare them. 
  • Don't touch their nose - nose rubbing is a common way for owners to attempt to discipline their dogs, particularly when they go to the toilet inside. Traditionally, it was accepted as a form of conditioning, but it can really agitate a dog with such sensitive noses. 

So what happens if your dog won't listen to you? First of all, never strike, hit, hurt, yell, or grab their nose. These are all forms of negative punishment or negative reinforcement. While they might stop the 'bad' behavior in the short term, your dog only learns to change their behavior in the long term through fear. They become scared, they feel helpless, and they can lash out or sink into depression. 

There are so many ways to learn how to discipline a dog without hitting them, so this form of negative punishment is simply unnecessary and dangerous. Instead, let's take a look at how to discipline a dog for bad behavior, using positive techniques. 

How to discipline a dog positively 

Positive discipline might seem like an oxymoron, but in reality, we are talking about constructive techniques. 

By saying 'positive punishment,' we don't mean rewarding your dog for doing something bad - that's also a big no-no!

What we mean by 'positive' is to use techniques that lead to positive change and to discipline through constructive techniques rather than dangerous physical harm or mental abuse. 

Positive or constructive punishment ensures that your dog changes their behavior through a conditioning process that doesn't leave them scared of you. It's somewhat contradictory, but a positive punishment actually involves taking something away from your dog when they misbehave. This could be removing their toys or denying them treats (it's a punishment, after all, it's not meant to be enjoyable!).

It can take time to see change, but it's well worth the effort. Your dog learns through conditioning, and yet their respect for you and your respect for them remains. 

Examples of positive techniques and positive punishments include the following disciplinary methods: 

  • Removing a dog from the room for a time-out session on their own. 
  • Removing their favorite toy or denying them a treat. 
  • Turning your back on your dog and refusing them attention for a specified period.
  • Taking them outside to the garden when they go to the toilet inside. 
  • Using commands (not raising your voice) to stop bad behavior.

These are all ways to discipline your dog without resorting to violence or anger, and they are proven to work much more effectively in the long-term!

Positive punishment vs. positive reinforcement 

We should point out that positive punishment is quite different from positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement occurs when you are training rather than disciplining your dog. For a well-behaved dog, though, it's important to use a mix of positive punishment and positive reinforcement to instill good behavior. 

Positive reinforcement essentially uses treats, or anything else your dog enjoys, to condition them to follow commands and to behave in a particular way (in this case, reinforcement actually is positive in the sense that your dog enjoys it!). 

Examples of positive reinforcement include:

  • Providing treats when they rollover. 
  • Using toys to teach your dog to sit. 
  • Stroking your dog when they perform good behavior. 
  • Allowing your dog to sit on your lap after learning how to use a bed ramp for dogs to climb on the couch.

Examples of positive reinforcement can go on and on. After a time, your dog will sit on command; of course, they will also prefer to be patted on the head or receive a treat. The positive reinforcement has worked, and your dog has been trained. 

However, the ultimate aim is often to condition your dog not to perform a task due to the presence of a treat but on the command itself. This takes longer and is a gradual process, as you slowly remove the treats and use commands instead.

Over time, praise (such as saying 'good boy' or 'good girl') becomes a positive reinforcement in itself, and they become conditioned to respond to this rather than the need for a tasty treat. 

How to discipline a puppy?

Puppies need particular care and attention when being trained, and discipline should only be used sparingly. 

Positive reinforcement is always the best approach, but you can also use positive punishment methods such as removing their toys or treats in order to get the message across. 

Never shout or hit your puppy. You can not only cause a serious injury but at such a young and impressionable age, you are going to scar them for the rest of their lives. It's just not worth it!

How to discipline a dog after fighting? 

Dogs that are prone to fighting are often this way as a result of their upbringing - it can be the result of too much negativity or physical punishment. 

You might have to use physical force to break up a fight, but don't hit them. Try pulling them away (using their tail to avoid being bitten) or commanding them to stop. 

Rather than striking a dog that fights, remove them from the area immediately, or use a more extreme negative punishment such as spraying them with water (again, never hit them or cause them physical pain). 

How to discipline a dog that bites? 

The same rules need to be applied to a dog that bites. They need to understand that biting isn't okay, and you need to do this through positive punishment. 

Often, they don't mean harm when they bite; they just don't understand that they can cause you pain. If you are bitten, let them know you've been hurt - they'll understand the change in pitch and frequency. 

Remove them from the area, and don't let them cuddle or play with you for some time. Eventually, they get the message.

How to discipline a dog: practice makes perfect! 

Never resort to violence when disciplining a dog; it's never fair to cause pain or stress to your pet dog. 

Instead, take the time to train and discipline them using positivity - through positive reinforcement techniques and positive punishments. 

If you're raising a puppy, then why not bookmark our guide to dog discipline for future reference?

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