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Why Yelling At Your Dog Won't Work

If I had £1 for every time I hear a new client say "We told Fluffy off when he did it!" I would be a very rich lady. Well, I'd be a poor lady with a lot more dogs, either way. I'm constantly being hearing that people have 'told off' or 'shouted at' their dogs but it's always immediately followed with "And then he did it again." It's not working, at all, so let's take a look at why.

I'm going to use the term 'unwanted behaviour' instead of 'bad behaviour' because dogs don't do anything with the goal of misbehaving. They search reward, be it from a food source or recreation- like chewing. Bad implies they understand they shouldn't be doing it, which they don't.

Firstly, there's two types of yelling at your dog for unwanted behaviour. There's the time when you are present while they do it and yell at them while they're in the act and there's the time when you are out and arrive home to discover their unwanted behaviour.

When you arrive home to discover unwanted behaviour

If you're dealing with the latter, yelling won't work because your dog has already forgotten what they did. They did it ages ago and their brain has moved on.

When training a dog and teaching them something new, you have between 1-3 seconds to reward them before they can lose the reward-behaviour association because they've forgotten what they did. The same goes for correcting bad behaviour.

I know that when you do yell they look "guilty" (dogs don't feel guilt) and they run into their bed and cower but what you're seeing is a dog that is cowering in their bed because you raised your voice at them and they're scared. They don't know why you're shouting, they emptied your kitchen bin four hours ago, didn't think they were doing anything wrong and have forgotten all about it. All you have is a confused and scared dog that will continue with the behaviour they did because at no point did you convey to them, in a way they understand (waving bin rubbish in their face is not this) why it was bad or to not do it.

When you are present while they perform an unwanted behaviour

So let's say that you catch them in the act. You walk into the kitchen and find them tipping over the bin. They will be able to notice that your yelling is linked to their action but what they're missing is the why, which again will lead to them cowering, confused, in their bed. They don't raid your bin maliciously, they do it because when they walk past they smell food in there or have found food in it before and they want it. The yelling will possibly be enough of a deterrent to stop them raiding the bin when you're about but if you leave them unattended with it, the behaviour will most likely return. Again, you've made them scared of your reaction, you've not actually conveyed to them what behaviour you want and don't want to see.

What you need to do when experiencing an unwanted behaviour from your dog is firstly remember that they're not doing it maliciously, they're doing it because there's a reward in it for them and they think it's fine. Secondly, you need to show them not to do the thing through training.

For destructive behaviours, restricting access to the item in question is the first step. Set your dog up to win from the start! If your dog is continually raiding through your bin, keep them away from it. Crate train them and leave them crated when you go out. Keep the kitchen door closed during the day, etc.

For a lot of behaviours I recommend using an indoor lead, a lightweight one that your dog can keep on in the home (When supervised. Never leave a lead on an unsupervised dog.) because this is going to give you a handle to your dog and the second they engage in an unwanted behaviour, you can pick up the lead and pull them away, with a 'No.' I don't yell or scream because I'm not trying to scare them, I'm trying to teach and guide them. With enough repetitions, you will stop needing the lead because the 'No' itself will become enough.

For some behaviours there will be rewards-based training drills that you can implement to help, for example barking at the window can be aided with Place Training. Also sometimes redirection will be an option, especially in chewing cases with young dogs and puppies.

Ultimately, every unwanted behaviour your dog is displaying will have a root cause and a training and management method that will fix it, but shouting isn't it. As always, we recommend reaching out to a reputable trainer who will be able to help you live happily with your dog.

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