Dog Discipline: Does Hitting and Beating a Dog Work?
What Is the Proper Way to Discipline a Dog?
Slapping a dog on the muzzle or spanking a dog into submission are now considered antiquated forms of dog discipline. When I was growing up, another popular method was to beat a dog with a rolled-up newspaper. Some individuals may even consider the use of shock collars as a form of pain-inflicting discipline. All of these methods use pain to punish a dog for bad behavior.
Nowadays, physical discipline has gone out of style and may even be punishable by law. Painful discipline has been replaced with more acceptable deterrents, such as jabbing or poking the dog with a finger, or correcting the dog with an alpha roll. Yet, these methods are still controversial, and are they even effective for stopping bad dog behavior?
Some people suggest that dominance techniques are effective because dogs are pack animals. As such, dogs understand the language of dominance and physical dominance. To become an effective pack leader, must we hit and beat our dog into submission? Is that the only way to get them to follow our lead? Can leadership only be achieved through pain and physical domination? We will consider all of these important questions and issues.
Positive Training vs. Physical Punishment in Dogs
Builds trust between dog and owner, and dog and humans
Breaks trust and breeds distrust of owner and humans throughout the dog's lifetime
Conditions the dog into focusing on a prompt or command
Creates insecurities around whether or not or when the next painful punishment will present
Encourages desired dog behavior
Creates an inconsistent means for discipline. Dog may exhibit undesirable behavior based out of fear, such as hiding, urinating, or freezing in submission
Dog learns to respect physical and environmental boundaries
Dog may become overly dominant or overly submissive, lash out with aggression, and/or potentially lash out if challenged
No legal repercussions
Time and place dependent; can be punishable by law
How Aversive Training Is Used to Correct Bad Dog Behavior
When a dog is hit or beat, pain is applied to the sensitive parts of the dog's body, for example, the ears or the muzzle. The pain is used as an unenjoyable stimulus. If applied with the right amount of force and at the right time, an aversive stimulus will interrupt a current behavior and cause the dog to stop in an effort to avoid further pain and stress. Aversive dog training does not have to involve pain. Some methods, such as shaking a can of pennies uses an unpleasant sound to discourage bad behavior.
Not all aversive methods are equal. Some people suggest that if you shout at your dog, it equates to delivering an electric shock because both are considered aversive methods. This is clearly false. Pain is a much stronger aversive stimulus than a loud noise. Pain also carries much greater risks. In addition, an aversive stimulus can be applied with different strengths and for different durations. If a dog is hit with more force, it will cause a stronger aversive response. Similarly, a painful electric shock can be induced for a millisecond, a second, or longer.
Does Hitting or Beating a Dog Work?
That depends on what we mean by work. Hitting or beating is thought to discourage bad behaviors when applied with the proper force, timing, and redirection. However, pain-based aversive techniques are risky. Studies show that they significantly increase stress, lower a dog's quality of life, and may even increase dog aggression.
One of the key risks of hitting or beating a dog is that it may learn that we (and people in general) are the source of pain and stress. That is why it is very important to redirect the source of our aversive corrections. If we spend most of the time physically correcting our dog without proper redirection, our dog will learn to associate a hand or a person coming near him/her as a threat. This may lead to several responses:
- A fearful dog will most likely try to flee first. If running away is not an option or if the dog feels cornered, he will probably try to protect himself with his teeth.
- A more confident and stubborn dog will most likely fight back to keep the threat away.
- Dogs that are somewhere in-between may choose an appeasement behavior such as rolling over and exposing their belly. They may also exhibit other calming signals including lip licking, turning away, etc.. Through these appeasement behaviors, a dog is indicating that he/she is not a threat so that hopefully he/she can avoid a conflict.
This is why hitting and beating a dog can lead to increased aggression and loss of trust. However, some dogs may choose appeasement behavior. Even in these cases, there is still a lack of trust and an increased level of anxiety and stress for the dog.
Is Hitting a Dog on the Nose Ever Okay?
Whether it's hitting, tapping, or bopping a dog on the nose as means of discipline, this aversive technique still falls short of the success found with using reward-based or positive training. Contemporary experts urge against all uses of physical discipline. Tapping or bopping a dog on the nose can be misconstrued as playful behavior, and being too rough with your dog can actually trigger biting, reactive, or defensive behavior.
You should be especially sensitive to your dog during its formative years as a puppy. Any negative impact you have on your puppy from an early age will shape their lens of the world for their lifetime. Any level of abuse, intentional or not, will ultimately damage you and your dog's relationship. Dogs that develop an aversion to hands due to physical punishment are at risk of biting a human, child, or another moving target later in life. You essentially put the public at risk and put yourself at risk of legal repercussions.
Imagine taking your dog to the veterinarian. Suppose there is an emergency situation at hand and veterinary staff have to place a catheter but can't get near your fearful dog because he/she is trying to bite. If your dog is in respiratory distress, they won't be able to safely apply a muzzle, and time is of the essence. You've created a lose-lose situation. What if the veterinary team can't get near your dog in adequate time? What would happen if your dog bit veterinary staff? What would happen if a child reached over your dog's head to pet him/her when your back is turned? A dog bite can change someone's life forever and cause irreversible damage, both cosmetic and mechanical. That's right. Hitting your dog on the nose is a recipe for disaster. Let's talk about appropriate methods of discipline.
Do approve of hitting, slapping, or biting a dog?
Do Dogs Try to Physically Dominate Each Other?
The concept of dominance exists for dogs, but it also exists for non-pack animals. Lions, for example, have dominance over most other animals because they have size, power, and big teeth. We have even greater dominance, not because of our physical strength and speed, but because of our brains and opposable thumbs. Therefore, dominance does not necessarily mean physical dominance.
It is true that dominance can be achieved with big teeth, strength, and speed (like the lion). Keep in mind that effective dominance is not achieved through pain, hitting, and beating, but rather through the control of resources.
Dominance is not achieved through pain, hitting, and beating, but rather through the control of resources.
If Dogs Are Pack Animals, How Can I Establish Dominance?
Dogs are not human, and humans are not dogs. We do not have sharp teeth, we cannot run very fast, and in a physical contest, we will lose to our dogs. Instead of trying to poorly imitate our dogs with hits, jabs, and alpha-rolls, we should do what we are good at and gain dominance through the control of resources.
Dogs may stop a behavior when hit, beat, finger-jabbed, or alpha-rolled because they want to avoid further pain and stress, not because they see us as the dominant species. This form of discipline is futile and has nothing to do with establishing our dominance in the "pack."
Some people claim that physical dominance techniques are more effective because dogs are pack animals. To be the leader of our dog or dog pack, we must speak to them with pokes, jabs, slaps, hits, and electric shocks. Anything else is thought to humanize the dog.
It is true that dogs are pack animals. This means that they are social beings that should not be left alone for long periods of time locked up in the backyard. Just because dogs are pack animals does not mean that they only understand the language of physical dominance.
Teach Your Dog to Respect You and Lead by Example
Lead your dog by example. Leadership is not demonstrated through the use of pain, intimidation, or physical dominance, rather collectedness and consistency. When you act as a leader, your dog will remain calmer because they can look to you in a challenging or confusing situation.
Who doesn't love praise? Dogs are no exception. Develop a system which rewards your dog for desired behaviors. Classical conditioning makes use of reward-based training. Use toys, treats, or life rewards to encourage your dog to behave appropriately. Reward the desired behavior and ignore the undesired behaviors. Is your dog barking at passersby? Remove the stimulus and close the blinds.
Dogs feel empowered and behave well when they understand what is expected of them. Have you ever watched the behavior of a well-trained dog? They are eager to please, eager to work, and eager to impress. If your dog is misbehaving, it may be because you haven't drawn the appropriate boundaries.
Dogs that are incorrectly disciplined or abused develop undesirable behaviors: destructive house behaviors (e.g., destroying household items out of anxiety), urinating when feeling intimidated, defecating in incorrect locations, developing aggression as a defense mechanism to abuse and/or a perceived threat. You can punish your dog without being physical with some of the techniques covered below.
How Reward-Based or Positive Training Works for Disciplining Dogs
In aversive training, we discourage a behavior by applying a negative stimulus (e.g., pain), and remove the stimulus to encourage a behavior. Unlike aversive training, reward-based training is a lot less risky, less stressful, and less likely to increase dog aggression.
Reward-based training helps to build a strong bond with our dog that is based on trust and quality of life. In reward-based training, we encourage a behavior by applying a positive stimulus and subsequently remove the stimulus to discourage bad behaviors. Contrary to what some people may say, reward techniques can be used to encourage behaviors, train commands, and also stop bad dog behaviors.
Psychology Today's article, "Reward Training vs. Discipline-Based Dog Training," delves into the meaning of "stimulus-event-emotion" conditioning:
"Classical conditioning of emotions provides one reason why reward-based training procedures should work better and establish a stronger bond between the dog and his trainer, than punishment based systems. Every time you give the dog a treat, or some other reward, you set up the event sequence of 'sight of you-treat-pleasant feeling.'"
According to Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, the special bond between a hearing dog and a deaf person is based on mutual trust. Reward-based training helps dogs to remain calm, to trust humans, and to develop confidence:
"Training methods that use punishment or negative reinforcements have been linked with behavioural problems, such as avoidance of tasks over the fear of doing wrong, and sometimes even aggression as an act of self-defence."
Some people say that reward-based training does not work on aggressive dogs or stubborn dogs. This is false. Truly stubborn dogs respond much better to reward-based training because when faced with an aversive stimulus, dominant and stubborn dogs are more likely to fight back.
In the show DogTown, which airs on the National Geographic Channel, the trainers use only reward methods to rehabilitate many difficult cases including Michael Vick's fighting pit bulls. It is important to always rule out hidden medical conditions which may cause aggression in dogs before treating the aggression with behavior modification training.
Dog Demonstrates the Benefits of Positive Training
Encourage Good Behavior in Dogs by Using Markers and Treats
Follow these tips when using reward-based or positive training:
- Markers: Use a marker to indicate correctness; strategically time your reward with a clicker or a reaffirming "yes" or "good."
- Use Food: Try using foods of different value. A high-value treat can be a favorite treat such as peanut butter, and a low-value treat can be carrots or a dry biscuit.
- Place a Value on Rewards: Use high-value treats as a reward in environments with many distractions, and low-value treats in the home environment or areas with few distractions.
How to Use Reward-Based Training for Disciplining a Puppy
Puppies often respond best to reward-based training or positive reinforcement, although sometimes aversive training techniques can be used depending on the situation. Examples of aversive training include using products such as "Bitter Apple Spray" to discourage teething behavior on incorrect objects. Puppies are generally blank slates when it comes to training, so the gentler and more positive the training approach, the happier your dog will be in the long-run.
If a puppy is biting on curtains, we can stop that behavior by taking away some of the puppy's freedoms. We do this by using body blocks to get the puppy away from the curtain area, by giving the puppy the "go to your bed" command, or by putting the puppy in a brief timeout.
Since biting the curtain results in an undesirable consequence, for example, loss of freedom, the puppy will reduce the frequency of that behavior. Instead, the puppy will repeat behaviors such as going to his bed because he gets rewarded for them, versus potential undesirable behaviors from the application of pain through hitting, beating, jabbing, or poking.
It is important to teach bite inhibition early on to your puppy or else the behavior will continue into adulthood, and always opt to use positive training for your puppy to ensure they develop into a happy, well-behaved "canine citizen."
Reward-Based Training for Puppies
Life is as dear to a mute creature as it is to man. Just as one wants happiness and fears pain, just as one wants to live and not die, so do other creatures.— His Holiness the Dalai Lama
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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.