How to train your dog to be insufferable, or, Why Punishing Bad Behavior Can Actually Make It Worse

A clear explanation for why you should not punish your pet.

Dr. Kathrine Reardon

4/3/20233 min read

cat in a box
cat in a box

Do you find yourself scolding your dog every time they misbehave? While it may seem like a natural response, punishing bad behavior can actually make it worse in the long run.

Punishing your dog for bad behavior can actually lead to more problems than it solves. For one, it can create fear and anxiety in your furry friend, leading to even more undesirable behaviors. It's like trying to put out a fire with gasoline - not the best idea. Let's say your dog is barking incessantly and you scold them without realizing they're actually scared of something. Well, that might just make them bark even more! Let's be real, no one wants to be known as the neighbor with the constantly barking dog.

It may sound far fetched, but the best way to train your dog is through positive reinforcement instead of punishment! Positive reinforcement means rewarding your dog for good behavior instead of punishing them for bad behavior. When your dog does something you want them to do, reward them with their favorite things: treats, praise, or playtime with you.

Positive reinforcement is effective because it helps your dog associate good behavior with good things: this creates a positive feedback loop where your dog is more likely to repeat the behavior that earned them the reward. On the other hand, punishment can create a vicious cycle of negativity where your dog is more likely to act out – either because of fear or anxiety, or just to get your attention. Hey, negative attention is still attention, right?

Additionally, punishment does not teach your dog what you do want them to do. Instead, it only teaches them what not to do. This can lead to confusion and frustration for your dog, as they may not understand what they should be doing instead. Remember, dogs have been bred for thousands of years to want to please humans, but they’re not mind readers!

Another reason why punishment is ineffective is that it doesn't address the root cause of the bad behavior. Dogs don't misbehave out of spite or malice; they do so because they are either seeking attention, trying to communicate a need, or simply don't know any better. To effectively address bad behavior, you need to understand why your dog is behaving that way in the first place.

If your dog is barking excessively, for example, it could be because they are bored, anxious, or trying to protect their territory. Once you identify the cause of the behavior, you can address it through positive reinforcement and training. If you help your dog work through whatever is causing the behavior in the first place, as well as offering an alternative, you’ll both come away with more control over the situation. We love a win-win!

It's also important to note that not all behaviors are intentional. Your dog may be misbehaving because they are anxious, scared, or even in pain. Punishing them for these behaviors can exacerbate these underlying issues and cause more problems in the long run.

Overall, punishing bad behavior is not the most effective way to train your dog. Instead, focus on positive reinforcement and understanding the underlying reasons for your dog's behavior. By rewarding your dog for doing something right, they learn to associate that behavior with good things like treats, praise, and affection. With patience and consistency, you can teach your furry friend to be on their best behavior without creating unnecessary stress and anxiety.

Training your dog takes time and patience, but it's worth it in the long run. By using positive reinforcement and understanding the root cause of bad behavior, you can create a happier, healthier, and better-behaved dog. So next time your dog misbehaves, resist the urge to punish them and instead focus on positive reinforcement and training.