For dogs, as with humans, very little real positive growth can happen when we scold or berate our friends. Hence, disciplining your dog too harshly can hinder his or her long-term growth, and, not to mention, negatively affect your relationship with your pup! You want your dog to feel completely safe and at ease around you, so they can grow fully into their best self, no matter what. How to do this? When it comes to disciplining your dog ethically, rather than focus on discouraging negative behaviours, focus on helping them learn by positive reinforcement.
Having a dog who chooses to work with you and listen to you because they want to rather than out of fear results in a much deeper bond.
To help us understand why, we spoke with Toronto-based Certified Professional Dog Trainer Caroline Applebee. She explains, “reinforcement is a very effective tool in shaping behaviour… it avoids risk of increased aggression – studies have shown correlation between commonly used aversives in training and increased aggression.”
The harsher a trainer is in their disciplining a dog, the more harshly and fearfully the dog will react. So, avoid any knee-jerk reaction to scold your pooch when he or she does something wrong, and instead, think more long-term. You want your dog to learn how to behave because he wants to behave, because he knows how good it feels to behave well, and loves to make you happy. Doing this, rather than just teaching your dog to associate fear with certain actions and not others, is ultimately, a service to your dog.
“Having a dog who chooses to work with you and listen to you because they want to rather than out of fear results in a much deeper bond,” says Caroline. “The scientific community has proven that animals are sentient, conscious beings (Cambridge Declaration of Consciousness, 2012). That obligates us to use compassion and empathy in how we treat them. We dog lovers have of course known this all along!”
Reward good behaviour by giving small food treats, praise, petting, or a favourite toy right after your dog behaves as he or she ideally should, every time. Since most dogs are food-motivated, food treats tend to work well for training. It should be a very small soft piece of food, so that he will immediately snap it up and look to you for more, rather than giving him something he has to chew on. The idea is to teach the immediate connection between good behaviour and reward.
So… what about when your dog tears up your sheets or new shoes or something you ideally want to discourage? In this case, help your dog help you.
“We often talk about setting dogs up for success; realistic expectations and good management are important components of successful training,” says Caroline. “A young puppy will not be able to resist chewing on everything he finds. Put things you don’t want destroyed out of harm’s way. Provide suitable ‘legal’ alternatives such as age appropriate chews (bones, tendons, chew-proof toys) that render shoes less interesting.”
Know that your dog absolutely could take to your favourite leather boots as much as you do! So, be responsible and make sure you’re well-equipped with substitutes for items that your dog tries to chew. And, if you see him about to go in for the chew with something he shouldn’t, that’s your opportunity to step in and help them redirect their attention. This can be done effectively without force.
“Teach ‘leave it’ and ‘drop’ cues using force-free methods,” suggests Caroline. “These will generally involve getting a dog to redirect their attention away from temptation and back to you on cue through repeated rewards for doing so. With consistent training a dog can learn to leave specific items alone (or drop them at your feet) without even needing a verbal cue!”
Ideally, your dog will, in time, arrive at a place of being able to understand what your verbal cue means without you having to physically redirect their focus with a treat. These things of course take time, so be patient and compassionate with your best friend and know that when it comes to training, there is no shortcut to anyplace worth getting to.