Dear Sarah, Oct 16

How do I let my dog know when they’ve done the wrong thing? Wouldn’t it be better to train using both positive and punishment methods so that the dog learns right from wrong?

Sylvia C

Hi Sylvia,

This is often a hot topic amongst trainers who have differing opinions about this issue, and you would think that rewarding the ‘good’ behaviour and punishing the ‘bad’ behaviour would be the easiest method for the dog, right? Unfortunately, not so.

Imagine if you were in a foreign country where you didn’t speak the language or know the customs. Let’s say you did something very benign – perhaps scratched your head in public – which you didn’t know was illegal. All of a sudden, the police swoop in, arrest you and throw you in jail, without telling you what you did (you can’t understand them anyway). And if they arrested you minutes, hours or days later (rather than instantly), the reason why you were arrested in the first place really gets lost. Have you learnt from what you did? Will you do better next time? Or are you scared, confused and terrified of what might happen next?

Dogs live in a human world, struggling at times with our human ways and customs. Because dogs are not little humans with fur, we forget that we can’t explain to them (the way we would to another human) what behaviour is right or wrong. The best way is to teach them by focusing on the behaviour we like and rewarding them when they perform it, over and over again. Teach behaviours that are the complete opposite of the ones we don’t like, to help the dog learn an alternative behaviour. And for the best results, do so with methods that avoid fear, confusion and anxiety. Your dog will not only be well behaved, but they will love you for it!

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