Mixed Signals: The Consequences You Create by Punishing Your Dog


We often find our dogs know exactly how we’re feeling, before we can even put it into words. They're quick to provide comfort when we need it, and feed off our energy—for better or for worse. But is that kind of intuition a two way street?

Consider this common example: you’re outside playing, and you want your dog to come back to you, because it’s time to head back inside. You call your dog, but they ignore you. You call them again, more forcefully, and they continue to ignore your commands. Maybe they think you are simply playing a game. Or maybe they are actively avoiding you because you seem angry already.

Finally, your dog comes over. Frustrated, you seek to correct him for not coming when called, and head inside. You sure showed them who was boss! Or did you? Because the next time you head outside, it turns out your dog’s avoidance behavior is even worse. What happened?

You processed correcting your dog like they were human, while your dog processed their punishment like, well...a dog!

As I mentioned in a previous article, it’s normal to sometimes feel frustration at your dog’s behavior. However, that frustration can have unintended consequences—how you process that frustration matters a lot when it comes to your relationship with your dog.

We process all of our emotions through filters that are specific to the human experience. Dogs do not have the same filter—their context for looking at the world is vastly different to our own. So when we “punish” or correct our dogs in the same way we might correct a person, we deteriorate our relationship with our pets.

Now think of that example from your dog’s perspective. When your dog finally came over to you, they were obeying your command (maybe not immediately, but they did obey), only to be punished for doing so! Context for dogs is much shorter than it is for people—it’s important to correct or redirect a bad behavior as soon as it happens, or your dog is not going to associate the two.

In the case of recall, it’s near-impossible to “correct” a dog for not immediately coming when called, so it’s important to make sure your dog is always rewarded and praised for returning to you. When you make recalling your dog more rewarding and more exciting, you strengthen your bond with your dog and improve the reliability of your commands.

Be proactive in your training, rather than reactive. Approach commands from your dog’s point of view, and make sure to train effectively and positively. Then, you’re always setting your dog up to succeed, and reducing the unintended consequences of owner frustration.

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Positively Expert: Lucy Bennett

Lucy is Co-Founder of Good Dogs & Co., a website celebrating the ups and downs of dog ownership. She's on a mission to help her dog Topher overcome his dog reactivity, after he was blinded in one eye by a dog attack.


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