Skip to main content

4 effective, positive ways to discipline a dog

As dog owners, we worry about our pup’s behavior, but as pet parents, we don’t want to be too harsh with our babies. They’re family, after all. Still, family needs to learn not to jump on strangers, and learning has to be reinforced somehow.

While the word “discipline” has become controversial, the concept doesn’t have to be. Disciplining your dog doesn’t have to be (nor should it be!) negative or forceful, but it’s not always easy to know what to do instead. Luckily, there’s a lot you can try to keep rambunctious dogs in line — no yelling required. Vets and trainers have developed several popular methods for reinforcing positive behavior and controlling negative ones. Here’s how to properly discipline your dog.

a black and tan dachshund on a leash looks up at a person wearing khaki pants


A great first step toward changing your pup’s behavior is to redirect your (and your dog’s) attention toward a positive act, rather than acknowledging the negative behavior. Hilarie Erb, a trainer with the American Kennel Club, reminds pet parents to consider what their pet is trying to achieve with their negative behavior: It’s probably to get your attention. If you acknowledge your dog’s naughty actions, even by scolding him, you’re giving him the attention he wants, therefore reinforcing the negative behavior.

Instead, rewarding him for a completely separate, positive behavior will remove the satisfaction from the naughty actions you want to prevent. For example, Erb explains, “Tell the begging dog to go to his place and lie down, and give him a treat when he does.” Moving forward, your dog will learn that he gets rewarded for following your instructions, not for begging.

Clicker training

Even if you reward your dog with treats for listening, it may not always be clear to him what he’s being rewarded for. He may try the unwanted behavior again in hopes of another treat, but you can make it clear what exactly you want from him with this simple technique.

Clicker training is a popular method of teaching in many puppy training classes because it’s easy for both humans and pups to learn. All you’ll need is a clicker — a small tool you press to make a clicking sound — and some treats for food-motivated Fidos. Dr. Jen Summerfield, a dog trainer and behavior veterinarian, illustrates just how clicker training works on her website, Dr. Jen’s Dog Blog:In training, you use the clicker to mark the precise moment that your dog does something correctly.  The click is always followed immediately by a treat — every time, without fail.  It won’t take long for your pup to figure out that the sound of the clicker is a wonderful thing, because it always predicts that a treat is coming.”

Before long, your dog will understand what he’s being rewarded for, and he may begin to perform the behavior without prompting from you. Don’t forget to toss him a treat when he does!

a large tan mastiff jumps over a hurdle outside
Jan Steiner

Positive reinforcement

Instead of punishing your dog for negative behaviors, which probably won’t help your relationship, by implementing positive reinforcement, you will show your pup what to do.  The Veterinary Centers of America Inc. (VCA) claims that positive reinforcement is “the best way to train your pet” because it encourages repetition of a wanted, learned behavior through the relationship between action and consequence.

VCA defines positive reinforcement as “anything that is added that increases the likelihood that a behavior will be repeated.” It’s important to remember that every dog’s idea of a reward will look different. Some pups would rather be praised by their humans, while others would rather have that snack in your hand. A little trial and error to find what your dog responds to best will help in the long run. The timing of the reward is especially important to keep your dog from getting confused — this is when clicker training can come in handy.

Control their environment

Sometimes, dogs don’t misbehave for the sake of achieving something. Dogs can simply be reacting to their environment in a way you don’t like. Behaviors such as digging and barking can be fulfilling in themselves, so you may want to remove your pup’s access to that particular environment altogether.

Certified Professional Dog Trainer Denise Mazzola gives a great example: If your dog is barking at something outside, you can block his access to the window with a piece of furniture. If your dog is barking because he wants something, however, you can show him how to behave by giving it to him only after he is quiet. Oftentimes, a few consistent corrections like this are all it takes to teach your pup some manners.

Editors' Recommendations

Gabrielle LaFrank
Gabrielle LaFrank has written for sites such as Psych2Go, Elite Daily, and, currently, PawTracks. When she's not writing, you…
Why does my dog smell like Fritos? It’s weird, but there could be an underlying health issue
Why your dog's feet smell like corn chips and what to do
Two dog paws

A dog's nose knows. Dogs' noses have more than 300,000 olfactory receptors, making them a powerful tool for canines as they explore their world. The nose is also an indicator of health. Yet, what if your nose picks up a smell that seems suspicious? Specifically, you may be wondering, "Why does my dog smell like Fritos?"

If you had some corn chips recently and shared them with your dog (or they helped themselves), there's your answer. However, perhaps you're more of a Cheetos kind of person or prefer to get your crunchy fix with something sweet, like fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies. The answer is less obvious. You may smell a trip to the vet coming. Are your instincts on track? Maybe. Here's why your dog's paws might smell like Fritos and what to do about it.

Read more
Why does my dog have diarrhea? (and when it’s time to see the vet)
Your dog has the runs — should you run to the vet?
A close-up of a husky in sunlight

Being a dog parent can be a joyful experience — no matter what your boss thinks of you, you can count on your pup to show you affection when you walk in the door. In exchange for their unconditional love and affection, dogs require that we take care of them and — sigh — pick up their poop (your neighborhood's code enforcement requires the latter, to be more precise). Cleaning up after a dog also gives pet parents a role they may not have expected when they brought their furry friend home: Poop inspector.

Poop is a sign of a dog's overall health. Regular, firm stool that resembles a caterpillar is one sign your pup is feeling well. If the stool is loose, you may need an answer to the question, "Why does my dog have diarrhea?" That depends. While we can't answer the question definitively, we can provide some common causes of diarrhea and what to do.

Read more
3 effective tips to make puppy sleep training less of a nightmare
Help your puppy get to sleep with this guide
A black and white French bulldog puppy sleeps in the arms of a person wearing a sweater

Bringing home a new puppy means you’re in for a whole lot of cute … and a lot less sleep. Before 4 months of age, a pup’s sleeping schedule consists of naps throughout the day and night — not the nighttime slumber you’re used to! This is a habit he'll grow out of, but with a few cozy arrangements, you can help your puppy sleep through the night with ease.
Puppy sleep training takes some preparation and time, but it can be done. The first few nights might be difficult if you have a stubborn pup who isn’t ready to hit the hay, but he'll get used to it in time. Here’s what you need to know.
According to the folks at Purina, a puppy is likely to sleep all the way through the night around 16 weeks of age. Although they will need a lot of sleep — around 17 to 20 hours a day — for the first several months of life, these naps will come in small chunks throughout the day. Just like human babies, young puppies alternate between periods of energy and rest, so it’s important to let them sleep when and where they need to.

Should you crate train your puppy?
Sleeping in a crate can benefit both you and your dog, especially when he's younger. A small puppy will have trouble controlling his bladder and might want to chew, which means containing him is essential to keeping him safe. You definitely don't want your animal to swallow something dangerous in the night or while he's home alone.

Read more