Reading the title of this blog, you might be wondering who on earth would punish their dog for doing a behavior they want. But the truth is that many of us do this without even realizing it.
For example, you catch your dog digging through the trash and call him to you. He stops digging and comes running over to you, at which point you yell at him for stealing garbage! Let’s unpack that just a little. Dog is doing something we don’t like (stealing garbage). We give an instruction (Come Here) and the dog DOES! And then we yell at him (“Don’t dig through the trash!!!”). Our words and our focus on the trash will not resonate with our dog. We have just punished the dog for coming when called, making him far more likely to keep digging in the trash and far less likely to come the next time you call him.
I know what you’re going to say. You’ll say ‘yes, but I brought him to the trash and pointed at it when I scolded him’. But in that moment, he happily followed you and looked where you directed, and then you punished his undivided attention on you by yelling at him. When your dog comes when you call, you should thank him and praise him happily for being such a good and obedient pup. You might be asking “even when he was just misbehaving???” I say resoundingly YES. Especially when he was just misbehaving. We want him to learn that coming to us doesn’t end his fun. It doesn’t get him in trouble. Coming when we call is always his very best option.
Let’s look at another example. You walk into your room and find your dog chewing on your favorite pair of shoes. You tell your dog to ‘Drop’ and he does. Don’t yell at him for ruining those great pumps. Instead we need to praise him for Dropping immediately when asked. Of course, you want to then promptly redirect his attention to an appropriate chew toy. And we need to remind ourselves to manage his environment, so he can’t access our shoes in the future. But that’s on us. He dropped when we asked him to. If we then yell at him, he will be less likely to Drop in the future, and may even become defensive.
In short, when our dogs are getting up to no good, if they follow our instruction to stop, we MUST praise them for following the instruction. We must let go of any irritation we have for the mischief they’re up to and focus on the wanted behavior they just performed. Praise them and reward them for doing these wanted behaviors. Then manage the environment so they can’t practice those unwanted behaviors.
Author - Jody Epstein
Jody Epstein is a certified behavior consultant, certified professional dog trainer, and holds a master’s degree in animal behavior from Tufts University. She has been training professionally for more than 12 years and is pleased to be part of the Academy of Pet Careers team, teaching the next generation of trainers. Look out for her blogs on all things dog training and animal behavior.