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Gentle Punishment! A Blessing or a Curse?

Updated: Sep 13, 2020

All relationships need work. Whether you are in a relationship with your partner, your parent, a friend or a dog. There are going to be times when you don't agree. When your partner does not do what you want them to, the solution or advice that follows is different compared to your dog.

No one tells you to roll a newspaper and give your partner a light wack on the nose. Yet somehow, when your 2-month-old puppy pees in the wrong place, it seems like such a good idea.

As a loving pet owner, you don't want to punch your dog in the face or yell your head off (I hope). This means the option of a "light tap" with a newspaper might seem like a better idea. "Gentle punishment" is when a milder version of punishment is administered in order to stop a behaviour from occurring again. People follow this in the hope that it stops the behaviour without creating conflict.

The following example is not intended to offend, insinuate or advocate anything, it's merely for the purpose of explanation.

Imagine, you are in a math class and you haven't understood how to solve a sum. When you get it wrong the teacher knocks you on the head. Not enough to knock you out but enough to make you not like the teacher (and probably maths). You try again and you get a knock again. Wouldn't this make you learn better?

But why not? This is a gentle form of punishment! Your teacher isn't beating you unconscious right?

Now imagine you spoke English and your teacher spoke Spanish. Now try to understand what your teacher is saying in between all the knocking, angry words and hand gestures. If you can successfully empathize with this you might understand what you're dog is going through.

If your teacher was actually any good at the subject he would find a way to make the learning fun and actually help you understand.


I am NOT advocating ANY TYPE OF PUNISHMENT, as the only thing you are teaching your dog is how to dislike you. It generates a lot of frustration in you and the dog alike. All I am doing is giving you a broader understanding of the reality of your actions.

Gentle punishment is a scam!

Scam #1: I think the saddest part of this is the punishment might have good intentions but unfortunately consequences don't care about intentions.

Scam #2: Another hoax with punishments can be perfectly summarized by B.F. Skinner and I quote: "A person who has been punished is not less inclined to behave in a given way; at best, he learns how to avoid punishment.

The same goes for your dog. If you shout at your dog for doing something like pulling food off the counter, you will only teach him/her not to do so in your presence. This will make the behaviour worse as it will happen in your absence.

Scam #3: It is simply not effective, so the owner has to repeat this type of punishment several times. This can be very confusing and you would be giving conflicting messages to your dog. You have a really good and positive relationship as you feed/pet/play with him yet you keep gently slapping him several times a day.

Do you see what I mean?

Scam #4: It appears to work in the start because it disrupts the behaviour.

If the dog has started jumping up on the bed, you decide to seek help. After an intense conversation with your Web-Phd neighbour, you come to the conclusion that you are going to roll up a newspaper and give your dog a light tap on the nose.

When you do this the next time your dog jumps up, it is a novel stimulus being brought into the equation so it might throw your dog off temporarily.

If you continue to use this method to disrupt the flow of the behaviour, it can become habitual over time (for you and the dog) and people find themselves increasing the intensity without knowing it.

Eventually, you could reach a point where you are applying such negative and aversive punishments to your dog without realizing how you ever reached this place.

Scam #5: It can create a lot of fear and anxiety. This is the very thing you hoped to avoid in the beginning. Especially so if you are not addressing the core reason as to why the behaviour you don't want is occurring, to begin with.

This next example is dedicated to all those newspaper rolling owners who try to gently punish their 2-month-old puppies. I know you are doing this out of the goodness of your heart or because you didn't have access to the right information but hear me out.

Casey was a 2-month-old Indian Pariah breed dog. Her owner would give her a "light" tap on the nose with a newspaper when she would have an accident on the floor. Obviously this didn't work and little Casey would hide the pee and poop behind sofas and curtains. This was a delightful surprise to walk into.

When they came to me I took a look at their layout and saw that there was at least 8-10ft between the puppy's bed and the pee pad. When we moved it closer so that it was only 3ft away, the puppy began to use it. The core problem here was the fact the puppy did not have enough bladder control to walk 8-10ft. All this could have been avoided if they took a minute to understand what was going wrong.

Scam #6: Defensive Aggression

You read that correctly! Gentle punishments can even lead to aggression!

If a friend kept slapping you every day, at some point you would try and stop them. I hope you won't just accept your fate and allow yourself to be slapped.

Your dog feels the same way, especially if he/she does not understand why you are doing this in the first place.

Aggression is a normal form of communication among dogs. Defensive aggression is a response to punishment that builds up over time. This simply means the dog is anxious or irritated by the owner's actions or very presence and will choose to defend themselves. In other cases, the fear can be expressed by urination when the dog even sees that person.

This teaches the dog to fear or distrust the human hand and can have disastrous consequences as these same hands are used to pet and feed the dog.

This can be so conflicting for your pet dog and I'm sure you don't want that. Over time your dog will learn to just ignore you or avoid you. This is commonly reported as a stubborn dog or a difficult dog and the corrections pile on even more. You can check out the 10 common mistakes people make when they are training a dog to see if your actions feature on that list.

So, if you find yourself in such a situation where you feel the need to start giving out some gentle punishments you need to take a deep breath and count to 10. If YOU are frustrated, can you imagine what your poor dog is going through?

Take some space and re-evaluate what is not working out. Please do consult a professional to guide you with this behaviour.

As a last resort, you can always try to slap yourself in the face, gently of course. Maybe that might work.

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