Dear Labby: Does Yelling at your Dog Work?

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Dear Labby_oldDear Labby,
Our neighbors just got a new dog, not a puppy, but an adolescent. Judging by how often they YELL and SCREAM at the dog, I would guess he’s a teenager full of hormones and bad behavior.
I want to tell them that yelling doesn’t really help and may harm their relationship with the pup, but I’m not sure how to come out and say it without offending our neighbors. Do you have any advice?
Needs earplugs

Dear Earplugs,

We all know friends or family members who yell at their dogs. They yell at them to call them away from danger or trouble, they yell to get them to stop doing an unwanted behavior or they yell at them to follow a command or they yell, just to yell. They probably think it works, but you are right, it just doesn’t.
But knowing that and acting on it are two very different things.
Yelling accomplishes nothing. It may stop the behavior momentarily, but the dog will return to it, because they didn’t learn anything from the yelling. Yelling may actually increase their excitement…remember they don’t understand English, they just see you talking more loudly and excitedly…so they get excited too.
Sometimes it’s hard not to yell – if your dog has his head in the trash, or is about to run into the road – these are times you would raise your voice. But if yelling is the mode of communication you use most often, it loses any impact it might have in those situations where it might be effective.
We are believers in using positive training methods to shape the behavior of your dog. Yelling isn’t positive…I mean really, did you like being yelled at by your parents? Of course not. Shaping wanted behavior as well as UNWANTED behavior through positive reinforcement and praise is much more effective.
yelling at your dog
You asked about advice – how to gently inform your neighbor about the ineffectiveness of yelling both for the dog and your eardrums. That’s a tough one – what we normally do when faced with a situation of a friend or family member who is using techniques we know don’t work (or feeding a dog food we know is crap) is approach with as much diplomacy as possible because you don’t want to put them off, you want to shape their behavior 😉
If it’s a training related matter – I usually tell them about the wonderful dog trainer that we have, how I used to have to yell at Jack all the time and how our trainer taught us better training methods to get his attention. Yes, I use the exact behavior they are doing as an example of a problem we had that was solved with a few visits with a good dog trainer. That way, they don’t take offense, because I am admitting to the bad behavior myself and I don’t even mention them at all. Does this work, yes it actually does – not all the time, but enough to be useful. Typically, people know that what they are doing isn’t working and are looking for solutions – so offer one.
If any Dear Labby readers have additional suggestions, we welcome them in the comments.

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  1. It bugs the heck out of me when people yell at their dogs, but I do understand. It can be so frustrating when our dogs are barking and barking and barking or doing something else that I don’t want them to do. And since we have 4 dogs, things can get out of control fast.

    When I yell, it just riles them up more and makes it worse. Our dogs don’t really understand my yelling – to them, I think they see me as joining in the fun. I’m rewarding bad behavior.

    So I work to bring down their energy by relaxing my own. Someone suggested this to me, I thought it sounded dumb, but it works every single time.

    And so does lots of exercise. A tired dog is a well behaved dog.
    Kimberly Gauthier recently posted…Why Do Dogs Shake Their Legs When Scratched?My Profile

  2. I so agree, it’s hard to stay cool when it comes to special situations. I try not to yell or to scream (it works not always, I’m just a human). Mostly it’s self-defeating to yell and to scream, so I rather avoid it :o)
    easy rider recently posted…easyblog TV-TUESDAYMy Profile

  3. Yelling at a dog really has the opposite outcome of what it intended to do – fueling the situation instead of toning it down. I once read that dogs interpret us yelling at them as the human joining into the barking, which I think makes a lot of sense.
    When we lived at our old rental, a neighbor across the street kept yelling at his dog Charlie to come back inside every single day, which, of course, never happened (at least not in a timely manner). Honestly, I wouldn’t have wanted to come back inside if I was approached this way either.
    Barbara Rivers recently posted…Missy’s & Buzz’s Homemade Turmeric PasteMy Profile

  4. Yelling at us really does only increase the excitement level, but there are times Mom just has to yell out of frustration. I think if nothing else, it makes her feel better for a moment, and then we can all move on! Actually, mostly she yells at cat bro Bert because he drives her crazy with his non stop antics.
    Emma recently posted…Back To Dog SchoolMy Profile

  5. It makes me insane to hear people yelling at my dogs. Never more when it’s my own husband. 🙂

    Because the pup is new to this family, he’s not bonded to them yet. So he doesn’t pay much attention. And they don’t know how to teach him to pay attention. They think yelling will work, like it does with many humans.

    I hope your reader takes your advice to refer the neighbors to a trainer. It may not stop the yelling. But perhaps that dog will end up with a happier life.
    Pamela recently posted…Why I Don’t Take Pictures At The VetMy Profile

  6. Speak softly and carry a big treat!

  7. I’m with Pam 100% — “never more than when it’s my own husband”!! Gads, my husband drives me up a wall at times! He yells at Ducky to “shut up!” ; and instead of getting Ducky to quiet down, it makes poor Shadow stress-out! No, I’m not perfect. I yell at Ducky at times, too; but I immediately go to Shadow and give her some extra loving.
    Callie, Shadow, and Ducky’s Mom recently posted…Callie’s Lymphoma JourneyMy Profile

  8. I think there’s a big difference between yelling and raising your voice with a firm “no” or “leave it”. Though I can’t say that I don’t yell, but I’m trying not to so much. When I do yell, it’s usually when I’m outside and I wonder if my neighbors hear me (I guess I’ve got the answer to that question – LOL). But that’s good to know because that gives me even more incentive to stop doing it so much!
    Jan K recently posted…Luke is Going Back to “School” – #52SnapshotsMy Profile

  9. Nobody wants to be yelled at, but most humans deserve it more than their dog! Dealing with neighbors is sticky business. I always fear repercussions against my dogs. I have had to speak with neighbors about their unruly kids taunting the dogs, but that was for everyone’s safety.
    M. K. Clinton recently posted…Natural Balance and PetSmart Make Great Retail Shopping Therapy #PetSmartStoryMy Profile

  10. Yes, the yelling can be pretty annoying. And then there are people that just repeat the dog’s name over and over and over when trying to get its attention. No wonder their dogs ignore them most of the time.
    Elaine recently posted…Are Sticks Safe for Dogs?My Profile

  11. I’m afraid I’m in your camp and want to (a) throttle them and then (b) yell at them. I’m not known for subtleness. 😉
    Monika recently posted…Doglish 101My Profile

  12. Yelling at barking dogs just adds to the stress! What’s the point, when it will only make an aggravating situation even worse? Yes, it can be frustrating when our dogs behaviour badly, but there’re much more effective ways of dealing with this. By yelling and screaming, you’re being just as bad as your barking dog…!
    Earl Lover recently posted…Our Doggy Nail Trimming SecretsMy Profile

  13. I think that worded as a question or as an example (eg my dog used to do so and so and this is what worked for me) likely has best chance of not putting the other person on defence.
    Jana Rade recently posted…Summer Dangers: Cookie Gets Stung by a Bald-faced HornetMy Profile

  14. I’m guilty of yelling and mainly it is at Gman when he is wrecking something and yes it stops him right away cuz he’s like what do you want and then he keeps on doing it so I’m just wasting my energy.
    Sand Spring Chesapeakes recently posted…Puppy Fitness Videos~FitDog FridayMy Profile

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