Punishment & Stress

good dogIt often happens that the dogs most adversely affected by punishment are the ones that end up dealing with it the most. Young dogs, inexperienced dogs, immature dogs, sensitive dogs, fearful dogs, aggressive dogs, all of which can be unclear on the rules of the games their humans are expecting them to play. All dogs can be adversely affected by punishment improperly applied but we’ve all run into the dog that isn’t stopped from wanting to continue to launch into all that life has to offer because of harsh words or physical corrections. Being told off when their nose gets too close to the cheese and crackers on the coffee table doesn’t stop them from checking for crumbs on the floor .

I board dogs at my home. When owners come with their pet for an initial meet & greet to determine if my set-up is appropriate for their dog I have the opportunity to see a variety of owner/dog interactions in play.

It’s not unusual for a good dog to be stressed when they arrive in a new place and are introduced to unfamiliar dogs. If a dog’s response to this stress is treated as if it’s bad behavior (e.g. jumping, growling), and the dog is reprimanded or physically corrected, the dog often becomes more stressed, and their inappropriate responses can escalate.

Untrained, inexperienced or immature dogs can fall victim to this type of treatment because they do not have the skills to know how to behave appropriately and as their anxiety level increases their behavior degrades even further. It’s a bad cycle and not obvious to many owners who attribute the failure of their dog to behave to the quality of the correction, so like someone shouting to someone who is deaf, they assume louder and more forceful is in order. Fearful and aggressive dogs are already suffering from an emotional overload that punishment only fuels.

You can stop raising both your blood pressure and your dog’s by changing your focus and noticing and rewarding appropriate behaviors instead of just being annoyed by the inappropriate ones.


6 comments so far

  1. barrie on

    Wonderful post! When I go to new client meet and greet’s I ALWAYS tell people to just let the dog do what the dog is going to do and that if I minded being jumped on by dogs then I picked a terrible career for myself 😉

    I also LOVE the you specified improperly applied punishment!! Sometimes punishment IS an appropriately used method of communicating with a dog imo 🙂

    • fearfuldogs on

      The problem with punishment is that most pet owners use it as the main technique for modifying behavior in their pet, and don’t use it properly or effectively. It keeps dog trainers in business 😉

  2. Sam on

    I was able to give some advice someone’s handling techniques a bit today, actually, with their “iffy” dog (can’t really think of a better word to describe him). I told her that the yanking back on the leash that she’s doing mostly subconsciously is what gets him all riled up when a person or another dog gets too close. It was pretty wild, he calmed right down once she just let him sniff my dog rather than hold him back forcefully.

  3. fearfuldogs on

    It makes so much sense if people would just stop and think about it and if we haven’t had so much instruction using techniques to force dogs to do things. It can take practice to switch.

    I have a dog boarding with me know that is basically ok with other dogs but gets excited and yippy & nippy, she’s a cockapoo. On a walk I found myself shouting to interrupt her when she started in on it. It got old fast for me and my other dogs who are not used to me raising my voice. It especially bothered my fearful dog, he didn’t know why I was shouting.

    So I just flipped it over and instead of ‘punishing’ to stop her from doing bad things I started rewarding her for all the other times she was around dogs and was not yippy & nippy. She’s a quick study and soon learned that she could walk near dogs, have them come near her, run after them, and if she didn’t yip/nip she got a ‘yes!’ and a reward.

    She started running up to dogs and just standing there and looking at me as if to say, ‘how’s this?’ and of course it was ‘yes!’. She still makes mistakes sometimes but she’s getting better and I’m getting better at predicting which situations are still going to be too arousing for her.

  4. Beth on

    Just found this blog – what a great resource! I adopted both of my fearful dogs – it became apparent that both had been subjected to harsh punishment during potty training.

    My dog Dasher would lick me frantically whenever I got home, not in an “I’m happy to see you!” way, but in a “please don’t kill me!” way – even though she hadn’t had an accident. It took her a long time to be calm when I got home. Her fear of having an accident in the house was so ingrained that eight years after she came home she broke out the window of our summer rental last year, chewed through the gate on the deck and ran downstairs and across the street to relieve herself – this was after she tried to chew her way through the door. (We didn’t leave her for an unusually long period and we discovered she’d come down with an upset stomach)

    When Bella came home, she was afraid to relieve herself in front of me. (Warned by the rescue group that previous owners had returned her due to housebreaking issues, I took her out every few hours in the beginning and practiced potty time with her.) She cowered and looked away. The sad thing is she never had an accident in the house, and if the previous owners had just paid attention to her when they took her out instead of just letting her out in the yard and leaving her there, they wouldn’t have had a problem. The happy thing is that now she lives with me – and she gets all the loving attention she deserves.


    • fearfuldogs on

      It is not unusual for dogs that have been punished for toileting in the house to become reluctant to ‘go’ when around their humans. It is why some dogs will go for a walk, not ‘go’ and then come inside and ‘go’ in a backroom or closet. They have associated punishment with peeing or pooping and so avoid doing either when their owners are near them. Imagine the poor dog on the end of a leash afraid to ‘go’ because they have been punished by their human in the past, not realizing that it was the location, not the act, that was the problem.

      Sounds like your dogs were lucky that they landed with you!

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