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?
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. Some positive based authors that I like include Patricia McConnell, Karen Pryor, and Suzanne Clothier. 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.
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]
I am stuggling with a 8 month old pit bull treeing brendel puppy ..i am a truck driver …hes already chewed up everything i have includeing my wotk shoes. I spanked him and told him no let him smrll the shoe..told him no and put it around his neck for a whole night ..i tied it to his harrnrss..for 24 hours .thats how my grandpa got our dogs to stop killing his chickens .and cats ..he tied them around the dogs back for 24 hours and they never killed another animal. Was that wrong ? I dont think it was abusive .it made them hate killing .and never did it again.. grand pa never hit our dogs .he used alternatives .that made you hate whatever you did. So im very interested to hear comments on this.
I agree with previous comments; hitting can be effective, but has to be given at the right time and with the right amount of force. Don’t overdo it, or the dog will fear you.
I have a 2 year old dog who had the tendency to run like crazy around the neighborhood when he saw the front door open. He did that 3 times. I looked for advice on the internet, about positive reinforcement, about clickers, etcetera. I even tried to run him ragged when we went for a walk so that he didn’t have any excess energy to try and run away, I spent more time with him, in case he was doing it for a lack of attention on my part. Nothing worked. The 3rd time it happened, I smacked him (not intending to really hurt him, but enough so that it would cause him pain). The next time he saw the door open, he went out and came back in a second, as soon as I called his name. That was more than a year ago.
He’s a nice, happy dog. And is the complete opposite of over-submissive and fearful. Never had to hit him again, after that.
I have a 2 year old husky named meishka and a 5 year old German shepherd named Tyson, my dad keeps on hitting meishka because she is a trouble maker, how do I stop this?
Hi, I have a female 1 year old German Shepard, and she tends to bark continuously towards guest and sometimes when a guest panics and fast-walk away she likes to chase after or charge (although she never bit anyone.) When we go on walks she likes to growl and bark at other people when walked by her or towards, so I try to avoid walking in others directions. With all her bad behavior she often has switches in her attitude, in the house she knows what not to do, and she knows some commands I teach her, No-Sit-Stay, shes still learning. So although shes a good girl, I don’t know what to do to teach her how to not be so aggressive. Any advice?
Joe Schlebotnick says
I cannot believe that any of you respondents hit your dog. Who is more evolved? If you hit your dog in my presence, I would call animal control on you. If you don’t out in the time to train your dog correctly, you should not be ALLOWED to own a dog.
Chloe Arditi says
Hi there. I read your article and am a bit at a loss with my rescue. He is 6.5 year old hound and we know he had been in shelters for years. We reward everything good he does and make him earn things like getting on the couch. He is really sweet 99% of the time, but then he will randomly lose it. Early I was petting him softly and he snapped and bit me hand. We tried anxiety meds, thinking he may be scared, but they did nothing. We think it is when he doesn’t like what we are doing he snaps with zero warning. The rewards have been great for getting his general behaviors under control but it has done nothing about this random snapping on us. We usually yell at him and tell him to get in his crate but he doesn’t seem to care and it hasn’t stopped the behavior. I have never hit a dog before but we are starting to think he may need stronger corrections. God forbid he randomly bite a child that is petting him. Any feedback would be appreciated.
Antonea Ames says
I have a 5 year old cojack and he’s overly aggressive sometimes vicious he actually bit me for the first time yesterday and drew blood . It’s like you can’t tell him to do anything . If I tell him to go to his kennel because he did something bad he gets super aggressive he starts to growl and show teeth . He plays overly aggressive . I don’t think we properly trained him honestly . He is very spiteful I can walk him all day and he’ll turn around and still pee in his favorite spots in the house and it’s not just me he acts this way towards he does this to my family too . I don’t know what else to do I don’t want to give him away . But at the same time this behavior is beyond unacceptable . Please help !
I do sometimes hit my dog but don’t want to, the issue we have is when anyone enters the house – I need a way of disciplining her without a slap on the backside.
The issue i have is that she is a very strong bully breed, we have lots of kids around the house and I cannot risk a slip up with this type of dog. She often growls at people so I correct instantly.
She is very protective of the house and our kids and incredibly aggressive towards other dogs, we have to muzzle at the dog park and constantly distract. She wants every other dogs toys amd cannot socialize with other dogs.
With our family she is an angel and a big sloppy softy… she loves the kids and plays with each one differently depending on their size, she sleeps with them when they are sick and is an amazing animal.
I just have an awful feeling she will bite someone someday and do a lot of damage
I agree that rewarding dogs for good behavior is more effective than punishing bad behavior. But I was wondering… I have a two year old dog, who, while most of the time is very sweet, can occasionally get into some mischief. One of her favorite games is to steal food off of high surfaces. In these instances, I am not sure how to react. Unfortunately, she has taken the food, so she has already received a reward for her behavior. How can I tell her in a non-physical way that what she is doing is bad? (I don’t feel that taking the plate away does anything… Half the time she has already finished it.) I can think of a few other instances like this one, where the dog has already received a reward for bad behavior. Any ideas on how to stop it?
I have two dogs, a mix breed(dogo argentino mother) and a Cane Corso. They started living together when my girlfriend moved in. Cane Corso is her dog. They knew each other beforehand, and always liked each other.
Cane corso was about 4-5months old when they moved in, and she has been nothing but trouble since.
She destroys furniture, even dug a hole in the wall, and dug through a bathroom door once whe closed herself inside of it.
Most problems arise when we feed them. Cane corso being considerably larger then our mixbreed receives a larger portion, and most of the time, when the mixbreed doesn’t finish her portion we provide it to the Cane to finish it up. However, after she eats her own, and the other dogs remains, and even gets scraps from our meal, she keeps asking for food, sniffing all over, and being extremely obnoxious. She gets fed regularly so she isn’t hungry.
When we give her food whe can barely wait to start eating and shovels it in, oftentimes resulting in vomit and diharreha. We cook quallity meat based diet for both of them.
If we make her stay before eating, she literally start shaking like an epileptic. She just can’t do it though she wants to please us. If we make her wait by the food for more than 5 minutes, she starts acting almost sick.
If she doesn’t get her meal on time, or if a meal is somewhat smaller than usual, or if the other dog eats her whole meal, the CANE CORSO keeps bothering us for hours, complaining and asking for food. If she is timed out when she behaves like this, she accepts the fine, but as soon as she joins us basck the same exact behaviour continues.
If she gets ignored, she keeps staring at us for hours. Literally. She is just staring at me as i type, not sure of the reason now. If she gets ignored enough, she intentionally does something stupid, like starts to bite on a shoe or a towel. Then when she is timed out, after she comes back, she keeps on staring and behaving the same.
This goes on and on, for many different situations but food. I.E. when we change her blanket she litterally wont sleep for the night.
We are frustrated. it’s like we can’t win with this dog.
At one point, we thought: “well, maybe she is just hungry”, and provided for her 2 days worth of food in a single serving. She completely devoured it in 5 minutes, and came asking for more afterwards.
What to do when nothing works?
other than that, she is extremely obedient, and comes immediately when called, and we are comfortable enough walking with both of them off the leash. So obedience is not a problem, it is that the damn dog is never ever satisfied, and out of that feeling she does stupid things when we’re not around or asleep.