5 min read


Can Dogs Understand Punishment?



5 min read


Can Dogs Understand Punishment?


Punishment is a word that nobody likes to hear, but it is something that often has to be dished out if you want to keep order. Many students get punished with things such as detention and parents often punish their children for doing something bad by grounding them or not giving them pocket money. 

However, what about when your pet misbehaves? How can you punish your beloved pooch and do they even understand that they are being punished? Well, this has always been something of a controversial topic, as punishment can do far more harm than good if it is not delivered correctly. 


Signs Your Dog Understands Their Punishment

Many dogs misbehave in various ways such as being disobedient, damaging furniture, or howling and barking excessively. However, unlike humans, dogs do not understand the consequences of their actions, so regular punishment will be no good. Instead, you have to use negative punishment and positive reinforcement to help stop undesirable behavior. Of course, your dog may do something that you don’t like on occasion but for dogs that display undesirable behavior over and over again, it is important to take action.

There are many ways in which your dog may misbehave on a regular basis, and if they do the same thing continually, this is where you need to look at negative punishment. If you use positive punishment such as shouting at your dog, you may find that they get aggressive, become more boisterous, run off and refuse to come back to you, or display other signs that indicate that they have not understood why you are being the way you are. 

When you use negative punishment, you should be able to see signs that your dog has linked the punishment with a particular action, which should deter it from happening in the future. 

When you punish your dog for doing something naughty, you should look at their body language to get an idea of whether they have understood that they are being punished. For instance, some of the body language signs they may display include looking sheepish, putting their ears down, tucking their tail in, and sitting quietly. 

On the other hand, if you punish your dog in the wrong way, you will most likely see very different signs such as teeth bared, growling, hair standing up on end, and clear signs of aggression or fear. Remember, the purpose of punishment is to teach your dog something, not to make them scared or angry. 

Signs that you are using punishment correctly on your dog include changes in body language and behavior. For instance, let’s say you are throwing a ball for your dog and you tell them to sit and wait for the throw. If they keep jumping up at you, keep taking the ball away until they sit and wait for it to be thrown. You will then immediately see that the negative punishment has worked – by taking the ball away you have managed to get your dog to do what you wanted. 

Body Language

<p>Signs to watch for to see if your pooch understands their punishment include:</p>

  • Dropped Ears
  • Averting Eyes
  • Tail Tucking

Other Signs

<p>More signs to look out for if your pup is getting the point include:</p>

  • Stopping The Undesirable Behavior
  • Becoming More Obedient
  • Changes In Behavior
  • Body Language Changes

The History of Dog Punishment


Over the years, there has been a lot of controversies when it comes to punishing dogs. In years gone by, many dog owners used to shout at their dogs and hit them by way of punishment, but this simply made the dog aggressive or frightened, which made matters worse. 

Fortunately, we now have access to various dog training and behavior resources making it far easier for dog owners to punish their dogs without creating fear or aggression through negative punishment. Some people get confused between positive and negative punishment, with many believing positive to be the best option because it is, well, positive. However, these words are not used in the traditional sense when it comes to punishment. Instead, they are used in a mathematical sense.

In more recent years, trainers have developed positive and negative punishment methods. Positive refers to adding something unpleasant to the dog’s environment after it displays a certain behavior such as shouting or a smack. Negative punishment refers to taking something away from the dog’s environment that they like such as toys, walks, playtime, food, or other things that they like. Even taking away your attention from your pooch after they misbehave can work. 

Science Behind Negative Punishment


The idea behind negative punishment works on the basis that your dog does not want to lose something that they love. If you take it away from your pooch, they will learn to associate losing something they love as a result of their behavior. 

Also, rewarding your dog with positive reinforcement when they do behave will further reinforce these actions. However, with positive punishment, it can be very difficult to get it right and it has been shown to be pretty ineffective for many dogs. Some trainers do use this form of punishment, but incorrect use is proven to be ineffective because it causes aggression and fear in the dog. 

Administering Negative Punishment


When it comes to punishing your dog, you need to make sure that you are not only doing it correctly but also doing it in a way that will make the dog understand rather than making them bewildered, scared, or aggressive. Using negative punishment is a good way of doing this – it is akin to taking away your child’s pocket money or not letting them go out, because you are taking away something that they want due to their behavior. 

With children, shouting and hitting simply makes things worse and the same goes for dogs. Dogs have become an integral part of the family for many owners, which is why people no longer want to use the methods associated with positive punishment.

Let’s say you are playing outdoors with your dog, but they are being way too rough with you. If this keeps happening, rather than shouting and smacking your pet, just get up and walk away. Don’t acknowledge your pooch or pay them any attention. By taking away your attention and companionship, you will be able to better teach your dog that the behavior they have been displaying is not acceptable. Once your dog starts playing properly, rather than roughly, you can use treats or even cuddles to provide positive reinforcement.

One thing you do need to do is ensure that the punishment is administered at the right time. There is no point taking something away from your dog hours after they have done something wrong because there will be no link between what your pooch has done and their punishment. Timing is very important when it comes to punishment, otherwise, your dog will not understand why you are being the way you are or why you have taken something they love away. 

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Written by a Boston Terrier lover Reno Charlton

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 03/05/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

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