When you think of dog training, you probably imagine a pup being sternly told to sit or heel. Maybe you see images of a large, muscular dog being dragged behind a car by a man with a leash. That’s not how most people train their pet dogs. In fact, most people don’t use punishment-based training methods at all; instead, they rely on reward-based training methods to teach their dog what he needs to know. Punishment-based methods are designed for one purpose: to make your dog feel bad so that he doesn’t repeat the same unwanted behavior again in the future. This isn’t always the best strategy for training your pet, but it can be effective if used correctly and sparingly. Here are five reasons why you should reconsider using punishment as your go-to method for training your pooch.

Not All Punishment is the Same

Punishment-based training is often lumped into the same category as coercion-based training. But coercion-based training is actually a type of punishment; it’s just a type of punishment that’s done out of a sense of obligation. In other words, you feel like you have to punish your dog because you feel like you’re expected to do so. Coercion-based training is usually used to train dog manners like walking on a leash or not chewing your furniture. Punishment-based training, though, is distinct from coercion-based training in other ways, too. Punishment-based training often uses an aversive method. Aversive means “anything that repels.” It’s a fancy way of saying that punishment-based training is often just about using negative associations to make your dog stop making mistakes.

Dogs Don’t Understand Words

When you use punishment with your dog, you’re trying to establish a connection between what your dog does and what he feels. But dogs don’t think like humans. They are not self-conscious. They don’t think about what they do and how they feel about it. Even though dogs can’t “understand” words, there’s a lot they can understand through association. In fact, punishment-based training is just making connections between your dog’s actions and unpleasant feelings. If you drag your dog behind a car and make a sound, your dog will associate dragging behind a car with a painful feeling. This is because we humans also associate dragging behind a car with pain.

Dogs Learn Through Experiential Learning

Once you understand that dogs don’t think like humans, you can start to see why many of the methods used in punishment-based training are flawed. One of the most obvious things that people miss is that dogs don’t think like humans, either. Dogs are living, breathing beings with an incredible ability to understand their world. Dogs can’t “understand words,” but they do understand experiences and relationships. Punishment-based training, then, takes advantage of this understanding. Instead of training your dog through positive experiences, you use negative experiences to teach your dog what he did wrong. When you drag your dog behind a car and make a noise, your dog will associate dragging behind a car with a painful experience. He might then associate this with you, making the connection “I like you, but I don’t like what you did.”

You’re Bad-Mouthing Your Dog Already

Punishment-based methods don’t just reinforce the idea that you don’t like your dog. They also reinforce the idea that your dog is bad. If your dog did something wrong, you might say something like, “Bad dog!” If you say that to your dog, it’s not just that you’re reinforcing the idea that he’s bad. It’s also that you’re bad-mouthing him. In our society, bad-mouthing someone is just about the worst thing you can do. This is because it’s a way of showing what a person really is. Instead of being honest, you’re just being mean. If you use punishment-based methods, you’re just reinforcing the idea that your dog is bad. You might have the best of intentions when you punish your dog, but you’re just bad-mouthing him by doing so.

Punishment Reinforces Unfair Expectations

Another reason punishment-based methods aren’t the best for training your dog is that they reinforce unfair expectations about what you need to do. When you drag your dog behind a car, you might expect him to learn to walk on a leash. Punishment-based training, though, reinforces the idea that you need to drag him behind a car in order to learn better behavior. What if your dog is a runner and he just wants to run? What if he just wants to swim in the lake? Do you drag him behind the car, too? If you do, you’re just reinforcing the idea that you need to drag your dog behind the car in order to learn better behavior.

It Only Works When Conditioned Behaviors Are Repeated

This one is an important but often overlooked point. Punishment-based training won’t actually help your dog learn new behaviors. It will only help your dog learn how to keep whatever it is that he already knows to himself. For example, if your dog is a puller, he might already know that dragging behind a car is unpleasant. What punishment-based training actually does is help your dog keep this behavior to himself. He might whine, tug, get aggressive, or do other things while dragging behind the car. Or he might just try to avoid the thing that makes him feel bad. Either way, he’s still just using the same behavior that he gets whenever he does something wrong.

It Can Be Very Confusing To Your Dog

This one is probably the most important reason you shouldn’t use punishment-based training with your dog. Dogs are social animals. They rely heavily on social cues to navigate their world. These cues include body language, how a dog moves, and how he responds to his environment. Punishment-based training, though, can be very confusing to your dog because it’s very different from how he would have been trained before. After all, humans are very gentle when they train their dogs. Punishment-based training, though, is very different. It’s not kind. It’s harsh.


There are many reasons why punishment-based training doesn’t work, and this article is just a small sample of them. But, if you’re still curious about why you shouldn’t use punishment-based training, here are five more. Punishment-based training is often used at the end of training sessions when your dog is tired. However, it’s actually better to use training methods like reinforcement and shaping when your dog is in a good mood. Punishment-based training can actually be very stressful for your dog. It can also be very confusing to your dog. Punishment-based training, though, doesn’t work for many reasons. It can be very confusing to your dog, and it can also be very stressful.