Dog Discipline – Four Reasons To Avoid Punishing Your Lab


In this article we will look at the realities of dog discipline. Investigating the use physical punishment or fear to stop a dog misbehaving. We will give you the pros and cons of dog discpline, and let you know why we think the alternatives are much better options.


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?

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 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.

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 Claire Austin

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.


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