Is There Ever a Good Reason to Hit Your Dog?


No. There is never a good reason to hit your dog. All done here. Now you can go and play Candy Crush. Or look at cat videos on Facebook. Or something.

What, you want more? Well, okay, you’re right; there probably is more to be said about this important topic, because there are still people who will tell you that, sometimes, hitting a dog or using some other type of force is necessary.

Well, force sometimes, yes, but it’s a matter of degree. Technically, anytime you put your hands on an animal or a person in an effort to make him do what you want, it’s force. When a man slams his girlfriend up against a wall because she “disrespected” him, that’s force. When a mother gently places her hands on a child’s shoulders in an effort to make him pay attention, that’s also force. It doesn’t take much in the way of brainpower to know that the first example illustrates something that is totally wrong, but the second is perfectly acceptable.

So, how much force is okay when it comes to your dog?

The Alpha Roll

I want to get this one out of the way right off the bat. I’ve been called down many times for advocating the use of the alpha roll in certain situations, but I still think it’s useful, and I have no intention of backing down on that. Yes, the alpha roll is a forceful technique, but it is not cruel. It is simply placing a dog in a position that he would naturally assume if he were submitting to another, stronger dog.

Alpha rolling a dog does not mean that you slam him onto his back and hurt him. You simply put him in position, and he understands that you are stating, firmly and unequivocally, that you expect to be the boss in your relationship. Once he’s in position, your dog is going to get the idea and most likely accept his position in the pack hierarchy. The job’s done, and now you can go back to being best buddies.

Newspapers, Snout Whacking and Other Bad Ideas

I don’t know about you, but I was brought up in a time when the conventional wisdom was that if your dog did something that displeased you, you’d smack him with a rolled-up newspaper. If he nipped you, you’d give him a “tap” on the snout. And horrible as this sounds to today’s dog owners, if he really, really misbehaved, you might give him a few good whacks with the end of his leash.

I’m glad that this sort of “discipline” has pretty much gone by the wayside, but there are still people who will tell you that physical correction is sometimes appropriate. They maintain that because dogs are pack animals, they only understand dominance, which, among dogs, means biting to force another dog into submission. Therefore, they say, dogs only understand pain, and that’s why they have to be hit in order to accept us as leaders.

I call bulls*** big time.

Here’s the thing: when you hit a dog, you are delivering pain. The dog doesn’t like it, and there’s a very good chance that the pain will cause him to stop the behavior that “earned” him the whack in the first place. So you might think, okay, that worked.

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But What Does This Tell the Dog?

Okay, story time.

My Uncle Ned was a nasty, nasty man. I don’t know why he was so hateful and violent, since he was raised along with my father and my two aunts, none of whom have any anger issues or have ever mistreated their children. But something just went wrong, somehow, with Ned. I remember my cousin James being in constant terror of displeasing his father, and, sad to say, I often saw bruises on James, at least on the occasions when Uncle Ned was so out of control that he couldn’t be bothered to hit James in places where the bruises wouldn’t show.

Uncle Ned didn’t get one bit nicer as he grew older. But as invariably happens in the fullness of time, Uncle Ned did get old and my cousin grew up, and he ended up looking after his father when Ned could no longer take care of himself and the rest of the family bailed because Ned was such an abusive SOB. James cared for Ned until he died (not nearly soon enough) because he had an incredible sense of duty.

But what do you suppose was the result of all those beatings? James told me one time, “Ash, it’s a constant struggle. I remember all those beatings, and sometimes, old and frail as he is, it takes every ounce of self-control I have not to do to him what he did to me.”

Maybe I’m anthropomorphizing, but I think dogs might feel the same way. If a dog is beaten and tormented, I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to believe that if the human one day becomes the weaker person in the equation, that human could be in big trouble. After all, what you’re telling a dog when you hit him is that superior strength wins the day. The dog might not be cooperating and accepting your authority so much as he’s just thinking “Someday…”

Is All Aversive Training Cruel?

No, it’s not. There are aversive methods that don’t involve pain. I’ve already mentioned the alpha roll. Another aversive training method is the use of a shaker can: a can that’s filled with pennies or marbles or something else that, when shaken, causes a sound that dogs find unpleasant. It’s not enjoyable, but it doesn’t hurt.

That said, when it comes to aversive training, pain is a stronger stimulus and a greater deterrent than mere noise. It’s also a lot riskier.

What Are the Risks?

The biggest risk when you use physical force, like hitting or beating, on your dog is that you could end up getting hurt. Most of the time, if a dog is being hurt, his first reaction is going to be to run away from the source of the pain. If he can’t do that, though (for example, if you have him on a leash), then he’s going to go with “Plan B,” which is going to be to lash out at the source of the pain. And that, my friend, is when you get the bite that you so richly deserve.

The other risk involved in hitting your dog is that he is probably going to assume that just about anyone coming toward him, even if they’re holding out their hand to offer a treat, is planning to hurt him. Then your dog bites a neighbor or a stranger, and complaints are made to animal control officers, and you end up being told that you must have your dog euthanized.

Finally, you could end up with a very nervous, submissive dog that’s constantly stressed and just waiting for the next blow to fall. He won’t trust you. He won’t trust any human. So when he finally does bite someone or ends up being uncontrollable, the animal shelter that ends up with him will be unable to adopt him out, and again, he will be euthanized. And all because you thought that hitting him was a good way of making him behave.

I Know I Sound Angry…

….But honestly, it just breaks my heart when I see, or hear of, people who think that they need to hit their dogs in order to teach them how to behave. From my perspective, violence is always counter-productive. It either results in fear, or gives the dog the idea that violence is an acceptable course of action. There is never a good outcome.

If you hit your dog, and you’re lucky, he might just roll over and submit. If you have a strong-willed dog, you might end up at the E.R. getting a nasty bite sewn up. Either way, you’re going to lose your dog’s trust, and cause him stress and anxiety.

Over and over, it’s been proven that positive reinforcement is the best way to train dogs. So why do people still hit? Because it’s easy, I suppose. It gets the desired response immediately, in that the dog stops whatever he’s doing that has caused his owner to be displeased. But in the long term, it’s useless at best and harmful at worst.

Instead of inflicting pain when your dog does something wrong, reward him when he gets it right. Ignore bad behavior or remove its source, and reward good behavior. Or, more simply stated, if your dog is chewing your shoes, don’t punish him; just take the shoes away. Give him an acceptable toy, and when he gnaws on it instead of your shoes, give him a treat. The lesson is simple: I chew this toy instead of Mom’s shoes, and Mom is happy, and then something good happens!

This type of reward training is less stressful on both you and your dog. It also helps to cement the bond that you have with your dog instead of driving you apart the way punishment-based training can.

Some people will tell you that reward-based training won’t work on stubborn dogs, but that’s not true. In fact, stubborn dogs do much better with this type of training because if they’re offered a reward, they’re more likely to be cooperative than to try to fight back.

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The Final Word

I think the best way I can end this post is by asking you how you would like to be treated. If someone hit you, how would you react? Would you hit them back, run away, or accept it but never trust that person again? That’s exactly how a dog that is hit or beaten is going to react. Violence in the human/dog relationship is never a good thing, and never has a positive outcome. So please, please, don’t hit your dog. It’s just wrong, and it’s so damaging to your relationship.

There are other bad training methods, and I talked about some of them in 15 Worst Things You Can Do to Your Dog. The absolute worst thing you can do, though, is hit or beat your dog. There is never a situation when it’s okay, and never a time when the outcome will be good. Just don’t do