Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, former veterinary assistant, and author of the online dog training course "Brain Training for Dogs."
If you're wondering whether yelling stresses out dogs, it could be because you have recently yelled at your dog and feel bad about it. Are you now wondering whether there may be any long-term effects? Or maybe there have been some loud, animated discussions in your family and your dog seems to be impacted by it.
The short answer is yes, but how much your dog is impacted may vary depending on several factors.
The longer answer entails going more in-depth on the subject. By carefully evaluating why yelling doesn't work and how it can be counterproductive in both animal and human settings, we can become better dog owners (and better humans too)!
Here's the thing: Nobody likes to be yelled at. Research has proven that yelling can negatively impact dogs (and children too!), and it affects their relationship with their humans. Fortunately, there are better ways.
Yelling Only Works Temporarily
A few years prior to being a dog trainer, I was a pre-school teacher. After working with school-age children at a German army base my husband was stationed in, I was back in the USA and looking for employment.
After an interview, I was assigned to the class of the "terrible two's" in a child learning center.
I did not have much of an idea of what to expect as I had mostly worked with school-aged- children in the past. The ratio was was six toddlers per teacher. This seemed to be manageable.
On most days, a dozen children attended so I had to work with another teacher who went by the name of Miss Sherry. I imagined days full of games, play, and laughter based on what I read on the curriculum, but this happy portrait was just an illusion!
The children were far from being what I expected. There was hair-pulling, biting, screaming, and pushing. Miss Sherry easily lost most of her patience. You could hear her screams of anger from across the hallway.
She was a big lady and her lungs were oh so powerful! When she yelled, it felt like a rumble of thunder shook your whole body.
Sure, her yelling was effective—indeed, we all got startled and stopped what we were doing. Yet, the aftershocks lasted very little; soon, the children were back to misbehaving as before!
Yelling “no” or punishing the dog will not stop a behavior that has a strong motivation.
— Debra Horwitz & Gary Landsberg, veterinary behaviorists
Yelling Causes Emotional Repercussions
As a child, I was very sensitive and rather withdrawn in school. We had a mean teacher I used to call "the shark" when talking about her with my parents. She got this nickname because she used to yell a lot, and when she yelled, I always noticed her sharp, shark-like teeth. And of course, her personality was far from being dolphin-like.
I remember I started dreading going to school. Soon I was getting tummy aches in the morning and my mom would struggle in the morning to convince me to go. At times, during school hours I would get terribly homesick.
One day I went to the office and told the office manager I felt sick and wanted to go home. I remember at home we had a phone where you just had to push the buttons, while the school's office had a rotary one. I, therefore, had trouble dialing my mom's number.
The office manager was getting snarky. I, on the other hand, was getting more and more nervous, until she took the phone from my hand and was ready to dial it for me. "What's the number?" she asked in a bitter way.
I always knew the number by heart, but her attitude made me so nervous, I forgot, so I ran away from the office crying.
I also remember my gym teacher making fun of me for not knowing how to tie my shoes. She showed it to me several times with an attitude, but she made me so nervous, that I would get a "mental block" and couldn't learn despite her demonstrating it to me several times.
Now, as a dog trainer and behavior consultant, I know how dogs feel when they are exposed to owners or trainers who use harsh methods, and why they may go into a fight or flight state being unable to cognitively function enough to learn!
Learning a new behavior is hard; not only must you understand the task, but if you are trying to replace an old behavior, your synapses are biased to perform the old behavior. In frightening or threatening situations response time is everything so the body and brain are going to reach for the quickest and most familiar responses.
— Debra F. Horwitz, veterinary behaviorist
There Had to Be a Better Way!
Miss Sherry's yelling was very loud and non-productive, so one day, I decided to try something. I got some books from the library on child education and decided to try a method outlined in a book and was astounded by the results.
One day Miss Sherry was getting frustrated with a child who had a tantrum. The child didn't want to pick up the toys, so he just tossed them on the floor. Miss Sherry was ready to raise her big voice. It was then that I decided to step in.
I told Mrs. Sherry, "'Watch this"..... I knelt down at the child's level and said, "Andrew, would you like to help Miss Adrienne pick up the blocks or the cars?"
Andrew looked at me inquisitively for a few seconds as if making a tough decision, and then with enthusiasm, he said, "I'll get the blocks, Miss Adrienne!"
"And I'll get the cars," I said as we high-fived.
In less than a minute we were done! Amazing, the methods outlined from the book I read really worked!
By asking the question, the child was given a choice, versus being ordered to do something he disliked. Also, it turned out to be a game, so other children joined in and split the car-picking task with some picking up the blue cars, while others grabbed the red ones, and some others got the yellow ones.
From that day on, we used this method to help with clean-up and we also played music and enticed the kids to get it all done before the songs ended.
I think the fact I never raised my voice seemed to make a world of difference. When Miss Sherry was demanding things with her loud powerful voice, I tried to ask in a low, almost whispering tone, and used rewards to reinforce compliance and good choices.
The Power of Positive Reinforcement
My use of rewards started as a way to speed up the children's potty training. I must admit, I dreaded changing diapers. The little kids on two legs were peeing and pooping machines.
I had never changed a diaper before, so Miss Sherry was nice enough to take care of this the first few days so as not to gross me out.
While you would imagine a diaper would nicely contain messes, I soon discovered that diapers often weren't enough. I have seen liquid poop seep right through a child's diaper and then on me when the child sat on my lap. Yuck! Phew! Gag!
I swear I was gagging a whole lot those first days and even the mere sight of chocolate pudding, which was often served after lunch, had me gagging, too, and the kids were laughing.
Actually, I even got seriously sick. I had to call off just a week after working there and was forced to stay at home with what seemed to be a mysterious case of the Coxsackie virus, which I later learned is caused by contact with surfaces contaminated with feces! Not surprising with those leaky diapers and children sitting everywhere and touching everything!
When I came back, it was time for me to change diapers. I soon learned to cope with the smell and control the whole gagging reflex by trying not to breathe. Sometimes, I would pass some Vicks' Vapor rub on my nose to cover up.
While I picked up many dog poops when I worked for an animal hospital, nothing to me was as bad as changing a diaper. Luckily, I soon started getting a hang of it after a few months.
Yet, this whole diaper ordeal, the smell, and the diaper rashes are what ultimately motivated me to find a way to speed up potty training. So I soon discovered from a few books I lent from the library about the power of positive reinforcement training.
I soon learned how to recognize signs a child had to go potty. The child who became suddenly quiet and withdrew from play was a good candidate for a trip to the restroom. I swiftly took her to the potty right away and celebrated the successful potty event by giving out stickers or lollipops I carried in my pocket.
Soon, other children wanted stickers or lollipops too so they voluntarily wanted to sit on the toilet as well.
Well, who would have imagined? That year, we had almost 90 percent of the class potty trained by the end of April!
Today, I still use similar potty training techniques for puppies. The only difference is that I no longer carry lollipops, but bits of low-sodium hot dogs in my treat pouch!
Avoid Yelling at Your Dog
Moral of the story? My whispering tone was an attention grabber and soon Miss Sherry tried her best to count before yelling and talk in a calmer voice too. Things started improving and the children seemed to pick up the good manners.
There were more "pleases" and "thank yous" at the table and fewer power struggles between Miss Sherry and the toddlers. But don't just take my word for this.
Research has proven this too. According to a study, a parents' harsh verbal discipline was found to be damaging to a developing adolescent.
And of course, studies on dogs too show the negative effects of harsh training methods using intimidation. One study, in particular, proved that dogs enrolled in aversive training classes showed elevated stress behaviors and significantly increased levels of cortisol.
Another study showed that even indirect confrontation methods (techniques that use non-physical yet aversive and/or confrontational interactions to stop unwanted behaviors) such as yelling "no," growling at the dog, saying "shh" elicited an aggressive response in dogs.
Why Yelling Is Counterproductive
Not surprisingly, therefore, yelling at dogs is counterproductive. If you yell at your dog, you are likely to create defiance in the more resilient dogs and an overall inhibited/shut-down demeanor in the more sensitive ones.
Yelling at a barking dog will often only lead to confusion. Most likely, in this case, the dog assumes we are also agitated by what's going on outside of the house.
On top of that, since most people yell when a dog is barking, and fail to deliver praise when they catch their dog being quiet, the dog never gets to learn that silence is what we are really asking for.
Yelling at an adult dog for correcting a puppy may be a knee-jerk reaction for some owners, but even that can have negative repercussions considering that it risks creating more tension, with the adult associating being yelled at with the presence of the puppy, potentially leading to a more permanent dislike.
Negative repercussions are also seen when owners yell or use a threatening tone with their puppies when they have a pee or poop accident in the home. This triggers the behavior of puppies hiding to poop or pee and instills a general sense of mistrust.
Calm Humans Lead to Calm Dogs
Whispering cues rather than demanding them in an authoritarian or frustrated tone, therefore, works with dogs too.
Watch the dogs go from stressed, anxious, and hyper, to being calmer, quieter, and even paying better attention too. It, therefore, goes without saying that dogs respond better to calm, soft voices and reward-based methods, which research has proven to be the ultimate best training method for dogs.
Threatening voices, on the other hand, make dogs anxious, and anxious dogs may respond with appeasement gestures such as turning their head, walking slowly, or sitting/lying down which are often interpreted by dog owners as the dog being "stubborn," further aggravating the owner's frustration.
Yelling at a dog to be quiet will increase arousal and is therefore counterproductive.
— Soraya V Juarbe-Diaz, veterinary behaviorist
Alternatives to Yelling
Contrary to what some books, TV shows, and online sources say, dogs aren't vying for the alpha role. The alpha dog theory has been debunked by research and therefore there is no point in yelling or intimidating your dog.
While yelling may seem rather innocuous, according to a recent study, even relatively mild punishments like yelling and leash-jerking can stress dogs out.
"Punishment training may seem to work in the short run … but these methods can have future negative consequences," says Marc Bekoff, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Colorado. These dogs are living in perpetual stress," he comments in an article on Science.
With this in mind, we can deduce that dogs prefer calm tones of voice and when we feel frustrated, we can use alternative methods to yelling to get dogs to do what we would like them to do instead. Here are some tips:
1) Prevent The Bad Behavior From Happening in the First Place
Dogs don't mean to act up just to make you angry. Instead, doggy behaviors that annoy dog owners, for the most part, are either instinctive (like digging, chasing animals, eating animal dung) or due to too much pent-up energy or lack of mental stimulation or the dog feeling neglected.
Preventing "bad" behaviors from happening, lowers the chances for dogs to rehearse the problematic behavior and it sets them up for success.
This can be done through management such as fencing off areas where dogs dig, erecting a fence to prevent chasing of animals, and removing animal dung from the property before the dog has access to it.
Now, don't fall into the trap of thinking that using avoidance to help your dog behave makes you a weak owner. Instead by doing so, you will be setting your dog for success using common sense as you aim to work on tackling the problem from various angles.
2) Offer Outlets for Natural Behaviors
As mentioned, many undesirable dog behaviors are instinctive behaviors dogs are naturally inclined to perform. These undesirable behaviors often clash with our expectations of our dogs being parts of our family and good members of society.
Providing outlets helps satisfy natural drives in productive ways that are more acceptable to us. For example, if your dog loves to dig, create a digging pit where your dog can dig to his heart's content without worrying about you getting upset by it.
If your dog loves to chase, use that drive to teach your dog to fetch, play the sport of flyball or engage with a flirt pole.
If your dog likes to search for animal dung, remove as much as possible from your yard and organize fun treasure hunts where you hide your dog's kibble or treats around the yard.
3) Train an Alternate Behavior
We too often tell dogs what not to do, rather than telling them what to do. If your dog barks in the yard, it's tempting to yell at him, but isn't it far more productive if we train our dogs to do something else such as go lie on a mat to enjoy a long-lasting treat or coming to us to alert us about something and then stepping aside for us to check?
All you really need to do to train an alternate behavior is to practice it in quiet settings, and then, when you get a good response, you can try asking for it in face of the distraction.
Often, it's easier to ask the alternate behavior before the dog is too distracted, so be ready to redirect before he's too engaged.
For example, if your dog barks when the mailman arrives, ask your dog to come to you before he takes off and starts to bark. Then, ask for the desired behavior (like laying on a mat) and reward that generously so that the reinforcement you offer far supersedes the desire to bark.
It’s utterly unfair to the dog to have him try to “guess” what it is that will get you to stop yelling at him and start loving him, yet these are the circumstances to which many dogs are reduced.
— Karen Overall, Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats
The Impact of Family Arguments on Dogs
You're not imagining things if your dog seems to be rather quiet and a tad bit intimidated by your loud voices during an argument.
Perhaps you had a squabble with your husband over household chores or your children got into a fight over a toy.
Regardless of the underlying trigger for the commotion, dogs as sensitive beings can and actually do suffer when family members loudly argue.
Some dogs may react passively by staying farther away and making themselves small by showing calming signals as if he was being punished. Other dogs may take a more active stance, barking, getting in between (a behavior known as "splitting"), and even nipping as a response to shouting or angry gestures.
Some dogs may even come to associate your angry mood with your partner’s presence, which may lead to aggressive behaviors targeted towards him/her.
It, therefore, goes without saying that family arguments can have a strong impact on dogs, causing them stress. Even disciplining children loudly or getting upset with your computer or phone can have an adverse effect.
If you know a dispute is building up, and you must argue, bring your dog to another area and provide him with a long-lasting treat or favorite toy to keep him occupied. Afterward, start playing with your dog or take him for a romp around the block or a car ride to erase any potential after-effects.
- Herron et al. Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesired behaviors. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 2009; 117
- Does training method matter?: Evidence for the negative impact of aversive-based methods on companion dog welfare Ana Catarina Vieira de Castro, Danielle Fuchs, Stefania Pastur, Liliana de Sousa, Anna S Olssondoi
- Vet Folio, Matter of Fact Explanations and Solutions for Common Behavioral Problems Behavior by Debra F. Horwitz, DVM, DACVB, Veterinary Behavior Consultations, St. Louis, MO
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.
© 2021 Adrienne Farricelli
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 23, 2021:
Hi Fluorish, I think some cats may be impacted even more by yelling and family disputes. I remember when working for the vet, a female Siamese cat who lost her appetite and got frequent UTI's when the family was going through a difficult time and there were loud confrontations. They may not show it much, but I can imagine the internal stress. Your cats are very lucky for having such a caring and loving owner!
FlourishAnyway from USA on September 20, 2021:
This was such an intelligently written article. Yelling does not work well with people, and it does not work well with animals. I try to have a calm and loving household with my cats, a place of safety and love. Yelling doesn't fit into that psychologically.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 20, 2021:
Hi Linda, I am glad you found this info about yelling at dogs, and its associated risks, informative.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 20, 2021:
Hi Maria, nice to meet you! I have many articles on puppies and potty training. I usually start training puppies to sit from 8 weeks because it's so easy and recalls are fun to train too. It just needs to be made fun and rewarding, like a game! Socialization before the window "closes" at 16 weeks is paramount. Happy training! Enjoy puppyhood, it goes very fast!
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 20, 2021:
Hi Peggy, it' very true that yelling doesn't solve problems, and it emotionally impacts both humans and our four-legged pets. Thanks for sharing!
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 20, 2021:
Hi Heidi, I agree that yelling in an emergency situation can help, especially if we are usually soft spoken! I remember as a child, I had a very sweet teacher, but that day she yelled, it got all of our attention because it was very unusual! Indeed, it was to warn us about a potential danger.
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on September 20, 2021:
This is a very interesting article, Adrienne. You’ve shared some important information in a very effective way.
MariaMontgomery from Coastal Alabama, USA on September 19, 2021:
Thanks to your comment, Pamela, I checked out this article, too, and really enjoyed it. Now I have a new hubber to follow. We have a 12-week old puppy we are trying to potty train. He's beginning to get it, but not as fast as we had hoped. I think he's probably too young for come, sit, stay, etc., but we will be working on that, soon. Adrienne's articles should be a big help.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on September 19, 2021:
I hope millions of people read this article! Yelling never solves problems but does impact all those who are within earshot of it, including pets. Your story of dealing with those children in that preschool setting is a perfect example of what to do, as well as what not to do. I intend to share this article on social media sites. Thanks for writing it!
Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on September 19, 2021:
We've all yelled at our dogs at some point of frustration. But it doesn't work except maybe in an emergency where you need their attention to avoid some danger.
You're right, calm human, calm dog. They do pick up our energies, even if our negative energies are not directed at them. I've observed some families where yelling is the way they communicate. I cannot imagine living in that!
Sorry you have first hand experience potty training a bunch of little ones. I can't imagine living in that either. Yikes.
Great insight, as always! Have a great day!
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on September 18, 2021:
I don't think yelling is effective for dogs or children. I like all of your suggestions for training a dog, Adrienne.
I also agree that family arguments are bad for dogs and children really. Thank you for this wealth of information on the way to train your dogs.