How to Discipline a Dog with Positivity, Not Punishment

Laura Day

April 8, 2019

How to Discipline a Dog with PositivityScolding and punishing your puppy is never fun, for you or for him. It leads to hurt feelings, anxiety, and lack of trust. This can be the absolute worst when it comes to your furry best friend, just because of a little bad behavior. Of course, you should never put up with unwanted behavior, but you absolutely do not want your dog to be afraid of you, either! Do you ever see dog trainers punishing animals? No, of course you don’t! In certain situations you may think that there’s no other way, and this is a necessary part of raising a dog. However, scolding and punishment are not the only ways to discipline your pup, and it can be much more effective with positive “punishment” or, more accurately, positive reinforcement. This comes down to rewarding your pup for what he is doing right and avoiding punishment for what he is doing wrong. Fear should never be a motivator for your pup, because you’re trying to establish a lifelong, positive connection. After all, your dog doesn’t want to be misbehaving. He’d much rather have your love and approval! Therefore, we’re going to look at some ways to discipline your dog with positivity, not punishment.

Recognizing and Rewarding the Positives

We all want to be recognized and praised for what we are doing right–this is no different with animals! Your pup’s number one goal is to praise you, his one and only, the center of his little world. When you see that your dog has behaved positively, reward him! You may not think to do so if your dog is heeling nicely on a walk—you might just scold him when he’s tugging on his leash, and expect that he knows he’s doing a good job the rest of the time. But you should be reinforcing that good behavior. You can reward your dog for positive behavior by:

  • Giving them treats – though this is very good reinforcement as part of his training, make sure that you don’t give your puppy too many, or break up his favorite treat into small pieces. Nobody wants a tummy ache!
  • Giving them physical affection – a scratch behind the ears or a good pat goes a long way.
  • Praising them verbally – an enthusiastic “good dog!” will get that tail wagging

Correct and Redirect

If your puppy is clearly doing something he shouldn’t, especially during training, you can’t exactly just let him keep doing it. After all, we are still talking about disciplining your pup, just in a more positive way. If your dog is doing something that he shouldn’t, get his attention to distract him from what he’s doing. This could be in the form of a loud clap or a high-pitched sound to catch him off guard enough that he stops what he’s doing. Immediately after he has stopped this behavior, redirect him to something positive, which is okay for him to be doing, such as chewing on his favorite toy. This can be applied to any behavior that you do not want your pup engaging in, such as:

Going potty indoors

  • Going potty indoors – this is a very common thing in any dog’s behavior when they are new to your house. If you catch your pup in the act, there is no need to scare or dish out physical punishment. Being afraid can just cause more accidents, and that is exactly what we’re trying to shy away from. Instead, interrupt what he’s doing, and take him outside. Then, enthusiastically reward his behavior when he does successfully go outside, simply to let him know that he’s done a great job! This will teach your dog the difference between what is right and what is wrong.
  • Misbehaving on a walk – some dogs either simply won’t heel, will stop dead in their tracks and refuse to move (especially if they’re puppies), or will bark at every dog they see. Get your pup’s attention to move him away from this behavior, whether that’s gently tugging on his leash, or making a loud noise to get his attention. Once he starts showing good behavior, reward him like he’s just taken his first steps.
  • Chewing on anything but their toys – all dogs simply adore their toys. But, let’s face it, they probably love your slippers more! It’s something different for them and, as a bonus, they smell like you! However, you don’t want to go through life with your favorite slippers full of holes. Next time you see your dog chomping away at your silky slippers, distract him, remove your slippers from his mouth, and redirect his toward a toy. Always encourage him positively once he moves on to his actual toy.

Withholding Treats and Affection

Yes, it can be heartbreaking for your dog to expect a treat, and then not get it. After all, there are few things dogs genuinely love in this world more than treats and getting them from their favorite human. However, your pup has to learn that he doesn’t get a treat regardless of him being good or bad. If he knows that no matter what he does you’re going to give in and give him the treat, he has no incentive to learn good behavior. Only reward your dog if he is behaving in a positive way, and withhold the treat until he does. This also applies to giving your pup affection. You cannot be verbally or physically praising your dog if he is misbehaving, regardless of how adorable he is. If your pup is jumping up at you and misbehaving when you have been teaching him not to, you must completely ignore him until he calms down. Potentially heartbreaking for you, yes, but if you’re continually being scratched in the face (albeit accidentally), not so much!

Leave the Room

Another hard one to do, but sometimes it’s got to be done! If your pup is really misbehaving, especially in a way that involves you (nipping, jumping), leave the room for a few moments after exclaiming “Ow!” The last thing in the world your pup wants to do is hurt you or lose your attention, so leaving the room is bound to initiate that connection between them engaging in this behavior, and not being able to spend time with you. When you come back into the room, do something productive with your pup, where you can give him a chance to behave and for you to reward him. Play a game of fetch, work on a new trick, or practice that old trick you’ve been trying to master. As much as you may dislike having to do this, it’s all part of providing some sort of structure and discipline, and at least this is in a much more positive way.

As you can see, there are plenty of ways to positively discipline your dog. While trying to correct a misbehaving dog can be a little frustrating, you want to tackle it head-on in the most productive way possible. Always remember: your dog is still learning, and he may have had a past trauma that is triggering one or more behavioral issues. Being patient and loving in the way you discipline your dog can have wonderful benefits for your bond with your pup, both now and in the future.


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And remember, puppyhood is fast and is gone before you know it. Make sure to savor the time when your pup is young, and take lots of pictures along the way!