Dog Discipline – Should We Beat or Hit a Dog as Punishment?

Spanking, beating, and hitting a dog, is sometimes used as a form of dog discipline or dog punishment.

After all, biting a dog’s ear worked for Cuba Gooding Jr. in the movie Snow Dogs. Therefore, will such pain based techniques work for us too? To answer this question, we must consider how dogs learn.

Dogs learn through conditioning.

  • They repeat behaviors that get them good results, and
  • They stop behaviors that get them bad results.

Based on this, there are two schools of thought for stopping problem dog behaviors – reward obedience training and aversive obedience training.

Is It Bad to Beat or Hit a Dog?

Effective Dog Discipline

Spanking, beating, and hitting a dog are all aversive techniques. Pain is delivered to sensitive areas of the dog, such as his ear or muzzle, when he performs a bad behavior.

The argument for this type of dog discipline, is that the pain will discourage a dog from repeating undesirable actions. Every time our dog does something bad, he gets an unpleasant result (pain), which will hopefully dampen his resolve to perform the same behavior.

However, the problem with aversive training, is that it is risky, too personal, and there is no good way to redirect the punishment.

Our dog knows that the pain originates from us, and is not a natural result of his actions.

As a consequence, our dog may end up learning the wrong lessons, including:

  • Hitting, slapping, and biting is a fun game that my owner plays with me. Let me try playing it with him, and with others. A dog may arrive at this conclusion, when the pain is not delivered with enough force. Too much force, however, may result in fear aggression.
  • A person’s hand or face coming toward me, is a bad thing. I should run away from people, or bite the hand or face that is a threat to me.
  • My owner, or a person coming toward me, means pain. I should stay away from people, or keep them away by growling and biting.

If we do not deliver the pain with good timing, with the proper force, and in exactly the right circumstance, our dog may get confused as to why he is getting punished. He may become fearful and stressed, because he is unsure how he can stop the pain from recurring.

As a result, spanking, beating, and hitting a dog may lead to even more behavioral issues, including fear aggression as well as submissive urination.

For these reasons, using physical techniques to punish a dog, is not very good dog kung fu.

If Not Beating or Hitting a Dog, Then What?!

If beating or hitting a dog does not work, then how can we teach our dogs right from wrong?

How can we get our dogs to behave and not engage in destructive behaviors?

The answer lies in the other school of dog discipline, namely reward based techniques. Contrary to what some may say, reward based methods does not just involve “giving food to our dog”. Rather, it allows us to gain pack leadership through the proper control of resources.

We may not realize this, but we already control all of our dog’s resources. For example, we decide when he gets to walk, when he gets to eat, what and how much he gets to eat, when he gets to play, what toys he gets to play with, when he has to go to sleep, what he can chew on, and much more. All we need to do, is teach our dog this fact –

He is NOT in control, WE are.

For example, if my dog jumps on me and bites my hand during feeding time, I tell him that this behavior is unacceptable, by using a no-mark. Then I ignore him, and he does not get his food, until he has calmed down. In this way, he learns that –

  • Waiting calmly for his food in a down position = Get food quickly,
  • Jumping and biting = Food preparation stops.

If he continues with his bad behavior, I say Time-out, and I remove him to a time-out area. This teaches him that if he cannot behave around people, then he does not get to be with people.

We respond to all other bad behaviors in a similar way – by restricting our dog’s access to his most desired resources, and only giving him rewards when he has earned them through good behavior.

Different dog behavioral issues will involve different tactics, but the overall strategy is one of resource control and proper management.

But Dogs Hit, Bite, and Physically Correct Each Other …

A common argument used to justify physical corrections, is that our dogs do that to each other, therefore, it must be natural and right.

It is true that dogs will sometimes hit and bite each other as a warning, or to correct behavior. Dogs also hit and bite during play. They are able to do this, because they have very good control of the placement and force of their bites.

However, dogs are not humans and *we* are not dogs. We do not have the same physical strengths or control as our dog. We do not have sharp teeth or claws, we cannot run very fast, and our jaws are not very strong. In a true physical contest, we would lose to our dogs.

This is why it is a very bad idea to physically challenge stray or loose dogs. Logic dictates that we do not wrestle, hit, or physically engage with unknown dogs, that may be aggressive. Similarly, we should not slap, beat, or hit our own dog either. Rather than do a bad job at pretending to be a dog, we should play to our human strengths.

As a human,

  • We can open and close doors.
  • We can drive to the store and buy food, toys, and other good stuff.
  • We can open sealed bags, cans, bottles, and more.
  • We can reason, build, and develop long-term plans.

In essence, our human abilities give us control of *all* the things that our dog needs or desires. This makes us into natural leaders, because by controlling the pack’s resources, we control the pack.

Finally, when a dog physically corrects another dog, the other dog may decide to fight back.

A puppy may allow an adult dog to correct him initially, but when he grows up, he may learn to respond in-kind with aggression. For this reason and more, I do not allow my dogs to physically correct or bully each other. As pack leader, I set the rules, and I enforce them through the control of resources. If there are any conflicts, my dogs will alert me. I will then do my best to resolve the conflict in a fair and consistent way, which does not involve any hitting, biting, or puncture wounds.

Just because a dog may sometimes hit and bite other dogs, does not mean that hitting and biting is good, effective, or even particularly humane. The assumption or assertion that physical punishment is better because our dogs do it, is a logical fallacy. In fact, there are many things that dogs do to each other and to other animals, that we need to manage, redirect, and retrain. This includes –

  • A dog’s drive to hunt neighborhood cats,
  • A dog’s instinct to guard resources (with aggression if necessary),
  • A dog’s inclination to bully a weaker dog,
  • A dog’s impulse to fight-back, and more.

Does Beating or Hitting a Dog Work?

Pain based techniques may stop problem behaviors in the short term, but it is not the most effective type of dog discipline.

There are many difficulties and risks that may cause our dog’s behavior to degrade, rather than improve. Using it to stop one problem behavior, may inadvertently cause five other bad dog behaviors to crop up. In addition, the effect of beating or hitting a dog may degrade over time, as our dog gets habituated to the pain.

In contrast, reward based methods are safer because there is little danger of our dog becoming fearful, aggressive, or stressed. We are not delivering any pain to him, but simply withholding the rewards that he has failed to earn.

  • Reward based discipline encourages our dog to figure out how he can get in our good books, because that is the quickest way to get what he wants most.
  • Aversive dog discipline, on the other hand, encourages a dog to avoid us because there may be pain involved.

Ultimately, resource based training allows us to forge a stronger bond with our dog, and makes him into a responsible canine, who works for what he wants.

The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.

~~ [Mahatma Gandhi]

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  1. Raymond says

    I adopted a 5 years old dog, and the owner before me usually beat up the dog. Is there anything i can do to manage my dog? Because it always angry toward certain action that we do, maybe because it think that we want to hit him. Please, is there any suggestion?

  2. Madison says

    I have a 7 month old white german shepherd (gigi) who we just got a month ago. We also have a 6 year old bichon poodle who we are sure is pregnant. No matter what gigi will not stop biting on Baileys ears, pulling on her tail, ect. Gigi also will not stop biting people, we spand her on the butt, tell her no, then put her in time out in the laundry room. When she comes out she is fine for about 30 mins then goes back to biting. Any advice?

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