Disciplining a Dog – Dealing with Behavior Problems

There are about as many theories on disciplining a dog as there are dogs. There are numerous television shows, special articles, and loads of books written on the topic to help weed out the theories based on research versus those that “just seem like a good idea at the time. Of course, every individual human is going to find they have their own style, their own belief system, and their own unique four legged pal to try to communicate with.

One of the first basic concepts to consider when disciplining a dog is that no matter how much we love them, no matter how smart they seem, and no matter how deep our relationship is with them, they are still of the canine (as opposed to the human) variety. Your pup is not a child. And while you may feel better explaining with an abundance of logic and reason why their behavior is completely unacceptable, they really aren’t grasping it. Even when they wag their tail. They are dogs. With their own communication system and their own understanding of the world around them. To really send the message across to your favorite buddy, you need to work with him on his level, and meet him in his world. This sounds quite complicated and even a bit mystic. However, it is actually very basic, remarkably simplistic, and easy to interpret once you train yourself.

One of the top rated train at home programs requires their trainers to attend a six week training seminar in Colorado. Just for kicks, we investigated what the first week of training looked like, considering that they guarantee the dog’s behavior for life we thought we’d ask them to put their money where their mouth is. The first week in Colorado, new trainers do only one small task. They watch dogs. They watch them as pups before their eyes are open, they watch them as a playful litter, and they watch them throughout various stages of young dog-hood through maturity. 40 very long hours of watching the way dogs communicate with each other.

What did every group of students in every training session discern from this long week of puppy watching? That all dogs, regardless of age, status in the pack, or physical or mental condition responded to a very simple system of communication—invariably.

We are all taught that when our precious pooch messes up, we are to scold him with a firm, “No.” I have been just as guilty myself until recently, when it was pointed out to me that “no” is a completely useless word to my hound because it is also the most overused word in the human language. “No, I don’t want to.” “I don’t know.” “No, thank you.” Hearing this word as often as they do, it’s no wonder that our guys were perpetually living in a state of confusion. Thus, it is easier and more effective to discipline them in their own language. The canine communication barrier has been breached, thankfully, and our world is a little more peaceful because of it.

When a dog is pushed to his limitations by another dog, he starts with a warning. He growls. If he is not able to snag his attention that way, he continues on to snap at the offending mutt. This happens 100% of the time in the dog on dog world of communication.

Puppies are controlled by the mother dog through two sounds. If the pup wanders away, the mother growls. If the pup returns, the mother whines in a high pitches pleasing tone. These two sounds instinctively tell the puppy what is wrong (growls) and what is right (high pitch whining sounds.)

Sure, I felt a little silly trying to mimic a growl. My first attempts were more of a pathetic mewing. Then I got frustrated, and a nice loud “AAARRRRGGGHHH” came from my throat. And our puppies stopped in their tracks. I told them to sit. They did. I told them in a happy voice they were good. They were pleased. Simple.

But what about when you are disciplining a dog and your growling aaarrrgggghhh approach doesn’t work? Placing pennies inside an empty (cleaned and washed out) soda can dropped with authority at their feet really grabs their attention. Thus, discipline in our home has become simplified.

If our boys are misbehaving or not listening, we make a noise that resembles a growl. Most of the time this is more than enough. We tell them to sit (or whatever our command of choice may be) and then we tell them in a happy tone how good they are. When they seem to have forgotten that our word is law, we stand up straight and with complete authority we drop our pennies in a can at their feet, mimicking the natural communication of a snap. This communication works wonders.

Of course, we are imperfect people and we make errors. You do want to try to avoid actually hitting the dog with the can of pennies. You also want your discipline to be consistent. If you want them to stay off the bed, you can’t invite them up when you’re sick or lonely only to admonish their behavior later.

Disciplining a dog should never be done with force or violence. In fact, while you may retain a certain amount of leadership roles in your pack through this type of discipline, your dog doesn’t respect you and will continually vie for leadership. The humans who overhear you and witness your violence don’t respect you either of you’re beating your dog. You are an intelligent human being. I’m pretty sure you can outwit your dog with your more intelligent and overpowering brain rather than your fists.

Dogs can be frustrating just as often as they are one of our best sources of devotion, love, and forgiveness. Working through various strategies of dog discipline requires a certain amount of patience and a willingness to try new approaches and new theories. The one written about here has been proven successful time and again. While you can mimic what you see on television, always remember that they are not apt to show you all the tricks of their trade, otherwise, why would you tune back in next week?

When disciplining a dog next time, try these simple communication techniques and see if you can catch your dog’s attention, get him to perform better, and reward him for his efforts. It may take several tries, depending on his level of dominance. However, those who have practiced consistently and have refused to give in have altered their dogs’ distasteful behaviors for the long haul.



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