Please Stop Yelling at the Dog

When the dog engages in unwanted behaviors, it is our human nature to shout, “no!” or “stop!”.  Rather than a calculated response, it can be described as a knee jerk reaction.  Sometimes the dog will – at least momentarily – halt the action.  For a while, this, like other positive punishment techniques, can appear to be effective.  When people say, “the dog doesn’t respond to no”, I wonder exactly what behavior is expected.  The dog is usually left wondering, too.  There are more effective and sustainable ways to use no reward markers and redirect behaviors. 

Why yelling can work……

Yelling at the dog can work for two reasons:  it functions as a startle to interrupt the dog’s behavior AND it can intimidate the dog.  (Intimidation is not training.)  Often the dog will halt what he’s doing at a person’s yelling…..for a few moments.  In the face of no alternative activity, he is likely to resume the same behavior.  Some dogs offer appeasement gestures, such as sitting and averting their eyes.  They also display fears behaviors, such as placing ears back, drawing the tail between the legs, or cowering. 

Until it doesn’t.

A common reason that owners yell at their dogs is a reaction to over threshold arousal behaviors:  zooming around, jumping, and nipping at clothes and body parts.  The solution rests in quelling the dog’s excitement, not throwing fuel on an existing flame. 

Adolescent and adult dogs are not as readily intimidated as puppies.  Yelling stops working when the teen-ager “yells” back.  The situation is likely to further unravel.  Any “punisher” that is used too frequently loses efficacy.  With yelling, the dog can become de-sensitized to it.  It is irrelevant, and he just tunes you out. 

A Better Response

Dogs look to us for benevolent leadership.  Strong leaders don’t need to yell.  Calm people tend to have calm dogs.  Take the emotional element out of it and respond clearly and quietly.  The dog isn’t chomping on the shoe, because he has made a moral decision to damage your belongings.  Shoes smell interesting and have an appealing texture.  A simple, “Ah oh, what are doing?” can get the dog’s attention while you replace the forbidden object with a dog toy or chew.  This strategy teaches the dog what is appropriate for him to chew.

There are many effective training and management strategies to discourage, halt and redirect undesirable behaviors.  Yelling at the dog isn’t on the daily list.  Setting up the environment to minimize the dog’s “mistakes” maintains an order and boundaries as well as avoiding frustration. 

Copyright © Kimberly B. Mandel   CPDT-KA, 2019 all rights reserved

Kimberly Mandel Canine Behavior and Training LLC