Let’s cover the topic of hitting the dog as a form of punishment. Just so we’re on the same page to start, as a certified dog trainer, I do not recommend any form of forceful physical contact when it comes to punishment. Hitting, swatting, spanking, pinching, or holding is justified by some sources as a form of positive punishment (applying something after a behavior to decrease the likelihood that a behavior would happen again). However, according to scientific studies, pet owners can be even more successful by setting their dog up to succeed and reinforcing good decisions the dog makes.
Why doesn’t punishment work?
According to Pet Helpful, “Studies show that [hitting a dog] significantly increase stress, lower a dog’s quality of life, and may even increase dog aggression.” This method or any form of aversive technique, such as jabbing, poking, pinching, or physically forcing your dog into a position can highly impact a dog’s confidence, destroy your relationship, create negative associations (most commonly fear) to environmental stimuli, and may result in dangerous defensive behaviors on the dog’s part.
Dogs live and think in the present. Studies show that while some dogs can understand a very short time-frame for cause and effect, many don’t. So, while a pet parent may think they are punishing a dog for peeing in the house or escaping out of the backyard gate, they aren’t able to punish the dog in the instant the mistake happens. This means, there is nothing that the dog understands to link the undesired behavior to the punishment. Instead, the dog thinks it is being punished for whatever happened in the instant the punishment was applied.
This can result in a dog thinking he’s being punished for coming when called, instead of for escaping the yard. Or a dog who is scared to pee or poop in front of their owner because they were spanked for eliminating on a rug. In turn, this does nothing to decrease the undesired behavior and frequently decreases the dog’s desire to do what are in fact behaviors you want him to feel positively about.
What can I do instead?
Most pet parents are frustrated when their dog makes a mistake. This is natural, and it is okay to feel like that. Bad behavior from a dog can range from annoying (barking at the mail-man) to inconvenient (making a giant mess by getting into the kitchen trash) to really dangerous (running away when called), Naturally we all want a companion who doesn’t do these things! Training can help. Dogs can learn to be good, if we teach them in ways they understand. The fastest, most successful way to do this is to use the one area we’re significantly more powerful than the dog — our brains!
Dealing with undesirable behavior means teaching the dog that a better, incompatible behavior will be rewarded. It means practicing more of the wanted behavior (so that the dog naturally chooses that behavior when faced with the choice.) And it means making the bad behavior hard to do, so the dog doesn’t have a chance to practice the choice we don’t want them to make.
If you’d like to dive in deeper to this topic, feel free to message me or call me for a free 30 minute consultation by scheduling here: https://www.venturedogtraining.com/schedule