Discipline Your Dog Through Positive Reinforcement – By Dr Claire Stevens
Getting a dog is always a big commitment, whether you are a first-time pet parent or an experienced one. You are essentially welcoming a new member of your family. As a mum of two boys and a pet parent to Frankie, our Golden Retriever, dog training was crucial for setting boundaries and ensuring a safe and healthy environment for all members of my household.
You are probably wondering: What is the best way to discipline my dog? Positive reinforcement is a powerful and most widely accepted method for training dogs. Reward-based methods not only create a better bond between you and your dog, but also result in a healthier and happier pet.
In contrast, conditioning your dog through physical punishment is ineffective, out of date, and detrimental to your dog’s welfare. Research shows that dogs trained using punishment are more stressed than dogs reinforced for good behaviour.
Hitting or smacking your dog instils fear and breaks their trust in you and so they are less likely to listen or follow your commands. This can also worsen their behaviour or lead to aggression as many dogs would then see you as a threat.
Here are the more acceptable and scientifically proven ways to discipline your dog:
Reward good behaviour
It’s easy to fixate on correcting bad behaviour, but positive reinforcement is about reinforcing good behaviour while avoiding punishment for unwanted behaviour. This means you need to reward your dog for following instructions and general good behaviour.
For instance, if your dog is heeling nicely during your walk, reward them with treats, physical affection or verbal praise. The treat has to be tasty to make it a good motivator for your dog. Hypro Premium Kangaroo Tasty Chews is not only delicious, it’s also a good source of lean protein, antioxidants, and essential vitamins.
Tone of voice matters
Dogs can recognise different tones in your voice. Yelling can be associated with excitation or threat which can further encourage unruly behaviour. Instead, use a calm and firm tone alongside simple, clear commands.
The moment you catch your dog gnawing on shoes or chewing the rug, firmly say “No!” to halt the action. Conversely, tell them “Good dog!” in an upbeat tone when they behave.
Use noise to distract your dog
Another way to stop unwanted behaviour is to make a loud noise by clapping, clicking or rattling a jar of coins. If you catch your dog doing something bad, make a noise to startle them and halt their actions. Over time your dog will associate their behaviour with the unpleasant sound and they will stop misbehaving.
This is only effective if you are consistent in using noise as a deterrent to bad behaviour. Make sure the sound is not too loud or disruptive to avoid traumatising your dog.
Taking away something they like can be a more effective discipline tactic than introducing a stressor like a spray to stop misbehaviour. Dogs thrive in attention and affection, so putting them on a timeout by placing them outside or leaving the room will let them know that they are in the bad books.
Ignoring your dog or taking away their toy when they become unruly are other techniques sometimes used to stop unwanted behaviour.
Redirect bad behaviour
Disciplining your dog does not end when you stop or distract them from misbehaving. You also need to redirect them to the right actions and reward them if they get it right.
To stop your dog from chewing household items, clap or say “No!” to get their attention, then gently take the item away from then, and wait for them to calm down. Once your dog is calm, give them their chew toy as the right option. Once they start chewing on the toy, you can reward them with a treat to further reinforce this desired behaviour.
What to do when behaviour problems persist
Remember to observe your dog’s behaviour closely so you can respond quickly to any issues. Catching them on the act will ensure early intervention and fewer repetitions of the problematic behaviour. If your dog continues to misbehave despite your efforts, consider hiring a professional trainer.
In some cases, there could be underlying health issues resulting in undesirable behaviour. If your dog suddenly urinates in your house even after proper house training, it’s possible that they have a urinary tract infection or other medical issues. In this case, it’s best to consult a veterinarian for health check, diagnosis and treatment.
Be patient. With consistent training, your efforts will pay off.