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The "Dog Shaming" Phenomenon


Guilty dogs make for popular web videos (see below). And who could forget But is it really fair to “shame” a dog after he or she does something unacceptable? Quick answer: nope!

Example scenario:

  1. Dog rummages through purse.
  2. Dog chews up expensive MAC lipstick while you are in other room.
  3. You walk in, lipstick all over dog’s face, cracked plastic cartridge as evidence on floor.
  4. You: “Bad dog!” “Go to your crate!”
  5. Cut to: Dog gives the “I didn’t mean it, mom” face, and cowers in the corner of room with lips covered in Tahitian Sunrise.
Sound familiar? We’ve all been there. 
How can you not get angry when your pricey makeup is ruined, or your $300 heels are in a million pieces around your bedroom floor, or the beautiful knitted scarf from your grandma becomes a pile of unkempt yarn? Well, you’ll just have to contain your frustration.

Below are some opinions on the matter, inspired by the recent article from Psychology Today, “Does Punishing a Dog After a Transgression Really Work?“. 

We asked Certified Dog Trainer Anthony Newman of Calm Energy Dog Training for this thoughts:

Delayed punishment is ineffective because dogs live in the moment. If you pull your dog over to rub his nose in some old pee and say “bad dog!”, he’s far more likely to think you’re punishing him for going near the pee – or for looking at it, or for sticking his nose in it! – than for having left it there it so many minutes or hours ago.

To understand what your dog is going to think when you communicate to him – whether punishing or rewarding – ask yourself “What was he just doing, right beforehand?” Whatever he was doing or thinking right before the punishment or reward, that’s what’s going to either be reinforced or lessened.

The widespread lack of understanding that dogs live in the moment in this way is one of the main reasons so many people have trouble with obedience training. For instance, many people ask their dog to sit, then say “good boy!” and hold out a treat that he jumps up to grab and gobble. What was rewarded in this scenario is the dog’s jumping up, not his sitting! Then they wonder why they can’t get him to sit and relax for any significant period of time. Or people shout and shout for their dog to “come!” from far away in the park; when the dog finally does come, instead of immediately rewarding him they grab the collar and say “sit! Lie down…Stay!” Only then do they pull out a treat; so what was rewarded is the sitting and lying, not the coming (in fact the coming was punished, by making the dog do more work!) Both of these last two examples are based on the same fallacy as delayed punishment: delayed rewards work no better.


NYC dog owner and previous foster mom Sara C. says, 

I think what I realized when “punishing” a dog is: I was getting more out of it than they were. I thought yelling at them was helping the situation when in reality they were confused and unsure as to what I was trying to get across. I try to have more of a calm energy and a clear direction. The prong collar correction (although many might disagree) has helped me out a tremendous amount in really specifically and clearly showing my dogs what “not to do.”

Dog behavior specialist Dr. Stanley Coren states:

Data shows that punishing a dog after it misbehaves is ineffective. (…) If you can catch a dog just as he is beginning to initiate an unwanted act, then that immediate punishment may prevent the dog from performing that behavior in the future. However, if you punish a dog after he has already performed the unwanted behavior, or even while he is already committed much of his misbehavior and is in the middle of the act, it simply won’t work. Instead the dog learns to be afraid of the entire situation, but will still give into temptation even though his own actions seem to evoke fear in him. Remember that we are really talking about short time intervals between the dog’s action and the application of punishment in this study, so imagine how ineffective punishment is when applied to a dog a minute after his transgression, let alone 15 minutes or an hour later when you discover what naughtiness your dog has performed while out of your sight.


What do you think about punishing your dog?  Helpful… or hurtful? Comment below!

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