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These are the absolute 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.

Difficulty

Hard

Duration

2 hours

What You Need

  • Dog treats

  • Training clicker

  • Patience

  • Consistency

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 they need and that it’s a positive experience for everyone involved.

Puppy on leash being trained by owner
Christine Bird/Shutterstock.com

How to discipline your dog: 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.

Step 1: If you're potty training your dog, for example, wait until you see the desired behavior. In this case, look out for your pup relieving themselves in their approved potty spot, whether on a pee pad or outdoors.

Step 2: As soon as you see them potty where and when they're supposed to, give them a treat. Try to do this as immediately as possible to help your dog's brain make a connection between the action and the reward.

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.

a woman and dog having a training session in the park

How to discipline your dog: 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.

Here's what that might look like:

Step 1: See your pup doing something naughty.

Step 2: Tell them "no" (or your preferred command) in a stern voice.

Step 3: You may choose to remove your dog from the environment or redirect their behavior--more on that below. Whatever you choose, follow through immediately.

Step 4: Do this again and again, as consistently as possible. 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.

woman training golden retriever in the park

How to discipline your dog: 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.

Here's what to do instead:

Step 1: When you catch your dog in the act, use "no", or your chosen command, to stop the behavior from continuing.

Step 2: Take appropriate action immediately. Remove your dog from the room, perhaps, and withhold any treats and affection.

Step 3: 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.

a woman "shakes paws" with her Yorkshire Terrier dog as she holds out a treat

How to discipline your dog: 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.

Step 1: When your dog is misbehaving, give them your preferred command to stop.

Step 2: When they do, command them to sit or come to you, and give them a reward.

Step 3: You can use this clicker for different behaviors like reducing barking or biting on non-toy objects, but make sure you use it consistently.

Puppy giving paw to owner while outside
Sundays Photography/Shutterstock.com

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.

Step 1: Instead, stop dead in your tracks whenever your dog starts to pull on the leash.

Step 2: Do not move again until they have stopped pulling, giving some slack in the leash.

Step 3: Do this again and again, for as many walks as you need to. In no time, your walks will be much more leisurely.

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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