How To Discipline A Dog And Stay Friends

yellow labrador puppy on a mat with some cuddly toys

Many people feel very strongly that dogs, especially big bouncy Labradors, do need to be disciplined if they are to be good canine citizens and fit in with life in our human world.

Pet parents want to know how to discipline their dogs for fighting, stealing, and other canine misdemeanors! I’ll give you some links to help with specific problems first, then we’ll look at the general principles that will help you discipline your dog without causing harm or pain.

Get Help With Dog Discipline

We have a range of articles to help you with a dog that’s acting up. I’ll also link you to a support group below

If you want help with a specific problem then we’d love to see you in our Facebook dog network and support group. It’s called Dogsnet Training And Support.

photo of a sweet yellow lab puppy looking into the camera

I think we can all agree that badly behaved pets are a great source of embarrassment and annoyance. But what does discipline actually mean?  Do you need to hit your dog to teach them right from wrong? Does discipline need to involve the use of punishment at all?

Discipline And Punishment

For many of us discipline is or was, synonymous with punishment or correction.  And you can’t have failed to notice that punishing dogs is falling out of favour.

Punishment of dogs is a subject that arouses very strong feelings, and many people feel it is wrong and simply are not prepared to punish their pets.  The chances are you are one of them. So where does that leave you when you need to teach your dog right from wrong?

Learning Without Fear

It’s important to be clear on what your objectives are when trying to change your dog’s behavior.

The word discipline comes from disciple or scholar and its original meaning was all about learning and acquiring knowledge.

When we talk about discipline for our dogs, what we really want is for the dog to learn to follow a  code of conduct and to obey the commands given to him by humans.

The great news is that this important aim can be achieved very well by modern training methods. Your dog can learn to be a good canine citizen and without the use of punishment or fear.

A New Way To Train

The world of dog training has changed immeasurably over the last two decades. Modern dog training is focused on teaching dogs what to do in any given situation, not on punishing their mistakes

You can find a whole range of guides on this website for training your dog without any punishment at all. They all work, and they are all methods internationally recognised and used now, by successful obedience trainers worldwide, including service and military dog trainers where obedience is very important indeed.

Guides like this one for example: Train your dog to come when you call (even when he doesn’t want to)

The good news is that not only is discipline without punishment possible, learning through rewards and smart management techniques has now been proven to be more effective than using punishment to discipline your Labrador.

Some dog trainers are not up to date with modern training methods, and may even try to undermine your efforts to avoid harming your dog. So to finish up, let’s take a look at four key arguments against the use of punishment whilst you are training your labrador or any other breed of dog.

That way you’ll be able to choose whether to ignore them, or explain why you have chosen a better path!

 4 Reasons to discipline your dog without punishment.

  • Punishment reduces a dog’s desire to share your company
  • Punishment is difficult to apply effectively in many different training situations
  • Punishing dogs may impair their ability/willingness to make decisions
  • Punishment may impair the ability of the handler to remain calm

1. Punishment reduces the dog’s desire to share your company

Let’s face it,  if you are being mean to your labrador,  it is inevitable that he will be less enthusiastic about sharing your space.

This is particularly important in recall training, where the objective is to get the dog right up against you.

I have found that the fastest and most effective recalls are obtained when a dog has been recall trained using rewards.

2. Punishment is difficult to apply effectively

There is no doubt that punishment applied accurately can be effective.   But to be accurate and effective it must be both

  • immediate
  • unpleasant to the dog

The mechanism of accurate punishment is not straightforward.   Try chasing your dog round and round the kitchen after he has thieved your dinner, or catching him in the act of raiding the bin,  and you will soon find that the word ‘immediately’  becomes a major problem.

There is no doubt that people today have neither the inclination nor the stomach for being horrible to dogs.

And many dogs are not easily upset.

Which means that to achieve a training effect through punishment, ‘horrible’ is what you will need to be.

Applying an effective punishment is therefore neither desirable nor obtainable in many training situations.

3. Punishment impairs a dog’s decision making process

Dogs that are never or rarely punished are able to make decisions quickly and confidently.

Regular punishment inhibits that ability.  It introduces in the dog,  a fear of making the wrong decision.

In this situation,  the dog is likely to freeze and do nothing.   This can slow up the training process.

And whilst some skills are unlikely to be affected by a tendency to freeze ( the sit/stay for example) it is possible that the effects of the punishment during the process of training this skill,  will spill over into the dog’s relationship with his handler.

So, if you use punishment to keep a dog sitting at a distance for example,  and then move on to some ‘recall’ work,  you may notice that the dog’s willingness to approach you is (at least temporarily) impaired.

4. Administering punishment can impair your ability to remain calm

Another negative effect of punishment is on the handler of the dog.   Punishing a dog effectively often leaves the handler feeling stressed and irritable.  No matter how outwardly calm they may seen.

This is not a good state to be in whilst training a dog.

Punishing a dog is bound to put you in a bad mood.  It’s just no fun. Fortunately there is another way.

Training with rewards

Training with rewards is a powerful and effective method of changing your dog’s behavior.  With certain provisos.

Just like punishment,  reward based training needs to be accurate and effective.

You cannot just bribe and coax. You need to learn how to use rewards properly in order to get a ‘training effect’  and change your dog’s behavior permanently.   This will take a little time,  but it is well worth the effort.

There are lots of different types of rewards,  and different ways to use them.  Check out  The Use of Rewards in Dog Training and Training Treats: should you use them?  for more information.

You can find out more about the different training methods and techniques available to you on the following section of the website :  Labrador training methods and techniques

How about you?

Share your reasons for avoiding punishment in dog training in the comment box below!

More help and information

The Labrador Handbook

If you enjoy the Labrador Website, we think you’ll love the Labrador Handbook

The Labrador Site Founder

Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.

She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program 

Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website


  1. My 8 month old labradoodle is lunging & biting me hard. She has ripped holes in most of my shirts. The only way to stop her (treats don’t work) is to put 2 hands on her collar and make her sit until she calms down. I’m sure this isn’t correct but I am at a loss of what else to do

  2. My lab is a year and 3 months old, she likes chewy everything. She chewed our garden hose in a few pieces and this is the third replaced garden hose my husband keeps beating her with the same hose and i dont like it how can i help to get her ti stop damaging things.

  3. Our chocolate labrador is nuts at 20 months.
    Having suffered lockdowns is not properly socialised yet. She pulls and is very anxious, not aggressive thankfully. We are vigilant with her training and try to calm her.
    Hopefully we will win eventually. Beautiful dog with a big character

  4. If you are on this site its because you love your dog. I Adopted a rescue Lab who was born down south and dumped in a high kill shelter. All because his fur was black. I would never think of punishing him. He has overcome so much. He looked like he had given up at 4 1/2 months.

    They do need serious training though. My vet said just about every lab coming into the practice was over weight and out of control so that tells me many people don’t bother with training. I hired a trainer to set me on the right path. My boy is fairly well behaved. Walks by my side, knows his commands, loves his treat rewards and has just enough mischief to tell me he is enjoying life. He is home.

    My vet said he is the most perfect speciman of a lab that he has seen. He is sleek with beautuful muscle definition and that black fur shines like silk!

  5. I remember when my lovely boy was about one he started to ignore my calls then one day I looked at him and instead making trying to make big commands I knelt down and just said come here boy…he wagged his tail and wandered over and I gave him the biggest hug ever and I thought then he needs a good reason to come back …and that is a good one..and I have done it ever since
    He is three now .. and yes every now and then he gets distracted but in the long run he is more than happy to come back and have his cuddle… We love him to bits…

  6. My golden Labrador retriever boy is 8 years old. Teddie is one big pleasure. He is such a good boy with brilliant manners!! Never had to punish him. And I am more than proud of him. I do a lot of reading and I also want to learn better ways to communicate with my dog in “dog language” and that we understand each other. One problem – he don’t take orders of other people even my husband… He first make sure if it is “ok” with me. Thank you for all the advice… Labrador’s became part of the family and after all they are family!!

  7. Why would you punish someone you love and who will be with you such a short time relative to the scheme of things.

  8. We rehomed highly reactive 16 month old yellow lab last July. Totally out of control around dogs on leads but not nasty. I thought our lives had ended! With patience, determination, kindness we now have a fabulous well adjusted boy. Many hours spent stalking other dogs on leads around the village, every single evening after work, click and treating to get the behaviour we wanted. Constant reading of Labrador Handbook. Many different types of harnesses and headcollars in the process. He now walks calmly on the same side as other dogs, brilliant off the lead and is now very good at agility too and I’m so proud of him!

    • Yes we are going through the same thing with our 2 1/2 year old lab great with people but other dogs lunging acting crazy she was a rescue we now have a trainer hoping she will pass with flying colors

  9. Fantastic bit of reading. Our dog is trained much like our children were, with a positive attitude and rewards.i cannot believe that people still punish their dogs negative behaviour. There is nothing better than teaching your dog a new trick or correcting a behaviour with a reward, that feeling when the dogs brain fiinally clicks and you have achieved a goal. We adore our dog and work together as a family to avoid confusion. The early days were a whirlwind of madness, extremely tiring and repetitive. But wow, the hard work paid off and Marley has become a truly loved member of our family. 🙂