The best ways to discipline a dog

You might have adopted a new puppy who’s a little more energetic than you expected. The good news is the puppy stage doesn’t last forever, and it’s the perfect time to train your dog to act smart, be obedient, and stay attentive. While training should involve positive reinforcement, there are times when you’ll need to discipline your dog.

Wondering how to punish a dog effectively and safely? We’ll review some best practices for making sure that your puppy gets the necessary training he needs and that it’s a positive experience for everyone involved.

How to discipline your dog

Puppy on leash being trained by owner
Christine Bird/

Practice positive reinforcement

This is by far the most popular and effective method of discipline. Instead of giving your dog a punishment that they don’t quite understand, praise them for every good act they do. For starters, if you’re potty training your dog, give them a treat every time they use the potty outdoors or go on the puppy pad.

Another easy thing to do is give them extra affection and repeat what command they just did in an exaggerated, praising tone. Experts find that this reward-based method of discipline is very effective for dogs. It also builds and improves the relationship between you and your dog — something you’ll be grateful for in the long run.

Be consistent and time it right

Dog trainers recommend disciplining or rewarding a dog for a behavior no more than five seconds after the incident or action occurred. For instance, if you found your dog biting the couch, don’t wait 10 minutes later to dole out the consequence. Chances are, they’ll forget what they did even a minute later. Do it right then and there. You might tell them “No bite” in a stern voice, and avoid giving them treats or affection. For the first few weeks or months, this might mean keeping a close watch over your dog to ensure they’re not misbehaving when you aren’t looking.

Don’t be too harsh

There are two types of punishment: positive punishment, in which you do something to decrease the likelihood of a dog’s bad behavior, and negative punishment, in which something the dog wants is taken away to deter bad behavior. However, a too-tough consequence is unlikely to reduce your dog’s bad behavior. Instead, it can create other problems like fear toward you, mistrust between you, and other behavioral issues. For instance, if your dog had an accident in your bedroom, don’t scream at them, make them look at their mess, hit them, or lock them up for 10 minutes alone.

Instead, say a command that clearly tells them they did something wrong. Remove their access to the room, and withhold any treats or affectionate belly rubs. In the same vein of being consistent, always provide the same consequence for the same action. This will help them make a connection between bad behavior X and undesirable consequence Y.

Redirect from bad behavior

Like calming down a tot in full-on tantrum mode, some dogs just need a little redirection. When you catch them involved in unwanted behavior, remove their attention from said behavior and introduce something positive. For example, your dog might be showing some signs of aggression or be too excitable when you’re at the dog park.

If you sense that they’re about to jump on another dog or person, a clicker may help. This noise will stop them in their tracks; when they do, command them to sit or come to you, and give them a reward. You can use this clicker for different behaviors like reducing barking or biting on non-toy objects.

Don’t accidentally praise bad behavior

We know every dog is adorable, but don’t cave in! When your dog does something bad and they seem to get sad when you discipline them, don’t be affectionate or give them a treat. This also ties in with being consistent.

For instance, if one day you’re disciplining them for jumping on a dog at the park but don’t do anything when they jump on your friend who doesn’t mind it, your dog might be getting mixed signals. Be consistent.

Another classic “bad” behavior you might actually be encouraging is leash pulling. You’ve probably heard a million times that you shouldn’t let your dog lead, but here it is once again. Every single time they get excited and pull the leash forward and you keep following them, they’ll think this is the only way to walk. Instead, stop every time they pull the leash and call them to heel by your side. In no time, your walks will be much more leisurely.

Puppy giving paw to owner while outside
Training a dog isn’t complete after a one-day session or even reading this how-to guide online. However, we’ve covered some pretty important dog discipline fundamentals to kickstart your dog discipline training. Two key takeaways are to always be consistent with your methods in any circumstance and to practice a healthy balance of positive and negative reinforcement. Now it’s your turn to put these methods to use and discover the joy of being a pet parent.

If you’d like to learn more about your dog, check out our guide to find out what you need to do if your dog has smelly ears.

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