Dog Discipline – Four Reasons To Avoid Punishing Your Lab

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We all want a well behaved Labrador. So, sensible dog discipline seems like a logical step in achieving that aim.

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 are simply not prepared to punish their pets. So where does that leave us when we need to teach our Labs right from wrong?

‘Dog Discipline – 4 Reasons To Avoid Punishing Your Lab’ was written by our founder, best-selling author Pippa Mattinson. Pippa’s online dog training courses are available here.

The Need For Dog Discipline

Badly behaved pets are a great source of embarrassment and annoyance.

So, many people feel very strongly that owners need to discipline dogs, especially big bouncy Labradors, if they are to fit in with society.

But what does discipline actually mean?

And does it need to involve the use of punishment at all?

The Meaning Of Discipline In Dog Training

The word discipline comes from disciple or scholar. 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.

Fortunately that can be achieved very well by modern training methods and without the use of punishment.

Dog Training Without Punishment

The world of dog training has changed immeasurably over the last two decades.

Modern dog training focuses on teaching dogs what to do in any given situation, not on punishing their mistakes.

This website has a whole range of guides for training your dog without any punishment at all. They all work. Plus, successful obedience trainers worldwide recognise these methods.

And for more reward-based training ideas, you can also get my Training Tips delivered directly to your inbox. Just drop your email in the box below.

The good news is that not only is discipline without punishment possible, it has now been proven to be more effective than using punishment to discipline your Labrador.

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.

Four 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

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.

dog discipline

In my experience, the fastest and most effective recalls are obtained when a dog has been recall trained using rewards only.

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

Giving an accurately timed 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.

And even if you are ready with a perfectly timed consequence when your dog disobeys you, it would still need to be something the dog found unpleasant, to be an effective punishment.

There is no doubt that most 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,what you really need to be is not just unpleasant, but ‘horrible’.

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

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 on the recall is (at least temporarily) impaired.

This side effect can slow down your overall training, even if it had seemed to speed up the previous task.

Punishing A Dog 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 seem.

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

Punishing a dog will put you in a bad mood. It’s just no fun.

Fortunately there is another way.

Dog Training With Rewards

Dog discipline is achievable without punishment.

Training with rewards is a powerful and effective method of changing your dog’s behaviour. 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 behaviour 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 How to Use and Choose Rewards to Train Your Dog or Puppy for more information.

Learning to train like this may seem a little daunting at first, but there are lots of resources out there to help you along, from articles like the one above, to our detailed step by step training courses.

Learning to train with rewards is fun for you and your dog.

How About You?

Why not share your reasons for avoiding punishment in dog training in the comment box below! How are you getting on with teaching your dog discipline without punishment?

You can let us know about your experiences in the comments box below.

Remember, you don’t need to punish a dog to have a well disciplined pet.

Good luck with your training, and have fun!

About Pippa Mattinson


Pippa 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.

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

7 COMMENTS

  1. 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!

  2. 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…

  3. 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!!

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

  5. 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!

  6. 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. 🙂

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