How to Let a Dog Know They Did Something Wrong

Chewed shoes, a broken garden, and accidents in the house. These are some inevitable scenarios that occur when you have a dog. 

We all know we should never scold a dog for misbehavior. The best way to tell your dog they did something wrong is with immediate action. 

Find out whether dogs understand when they do something wrong and how long they remember it. 

Learn what you should do if your dog does something wrong and how you can discipline them in the best way possible.

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Let a dog know they did something wrong

Do Dogs Understand When They Have Done Something Wrong?

Dogs only understand they have done something wrong based on your reaction. 

Even a well-trained dog won’t understand why peeing inside the house is not the right behavior. But they still won’t do it because they have been trained not to.

Dogs have no sense of guilt because they have no moral concept of “right” and “wrong.” 

They only react based on our gestures and tone of voice. That “guilty” look on their face when we scold them is not because they scratched your couch. It’s because you got upset at them. 

Pets inherently focus on survival first. 

Do you think your dog feels ashamed for scratching your sofa because it’s expensive? No, they feel embarrassed because you’re mad, and you might take away their treats.

But despite not having a moral sense of “right” and “wrong,” you can still train your dog to differentiate between the two.

How Long Does a Dog Remember What They Did Wrong?

Your dog may only feel ashamed for their bad behavior for less than two minutes. Later on, they will act as if nothing happened.

That’s because studies show these creatures have very short-term memory. Anything that isn’t associated with their survival won’t be remembered.

But dogs do have a sense of time. Dogs react differently depending on how long you leave them. That’s because you have a pivotal role to play in their survival.

You can discipline your dog for randomly destructive behaviors. However, they won’t remember most of them unless you’re talking about food or attention.

This is why it is important to correct your dog’s behavior immediately after they do something wrong. Otherwise they won’t remember what you are trying to teach them.

What Do You Do If Your Dog Did Something Bad?

Be gentle when your dog does something you don’t like. Do not get upset or angry with them as it will only cause fear and mistrust.

Some dogs, especially puppies, will take your anger as a reward. Anything in the form of attention is precious to them. So they may continue doing the bad behavior because they know they will be rewarded with your attention.

Instead of being angry, try isolating your dog. Say “no” to your puppy, then ignore them. It’s the opposite of scolding them and giving them your special attention.

Or you can ask them to “sit” after saying “no”. It will divert their attention from the thing that triggered their undesirable behavior. When dogs sit, they usually can no longer do whatever they want.

However, isolation is not a long-term solution to bad behavior. Train your dog at a young age so they will grow into well-behaved creatures. 

And remember that you should never yell at your dog.

How Do I Tell My Dog Not to Do Something?

The best way to tell your dog not to do something is to say a command or remove a reward.

Some dogs need redirection, just like babies who throw tantrums. Switching their focus from the bad behavior helps remind them that they shouldn’t do it.

For example, if your dog destroys your living room carpet, say, “stop!” Then, give them a time-out away from the living room, without your attention.

That way, your dog will connect their bad behavior and the undesirable consequence of the time-out and being alone. 

You can also tell your dog not to do something even if they haven’t done it yet. 

Let’s say your dog looks like they’re about to get aggressive at the park. A command word or a clicker will help. It will signal them to sit or come to you. And if they do, reward them.

How Do You Discipline a Dog After They Do Something Wrong?

Take a look at these steps for disciplining your dog immediately after they’ve done something wrong.

Try Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is the best way to discipline your dog. It’s humane, effective, and easy to perform on all dog breeds.

Positive reinforcement relies on two things:

  • Praising and rewarding your dog for good behavior.
  • Removing the reward when your dog performs bad behavior.

You’re most likely to start positive reinforcement training for puppy owners when potty-training your pup. Give them a treat every time they pee or poop in the right place. It could be on the grass or on a puppy pad.

Aside from treats and toys, attention is another form of reward to give them. Pat them on the head, give them some praise, or a cuddle, or give them a few minutes of playtime.

Reward-based discipline builds and improves your bond with your furry friend. And it will be beneficial for both of you in the long run.

Don’t Be Too Harsh

There are two types of punishment:

  • Positive punishment is when you punish your dog to decrease bad behavior.
  • Negative punishment is when you take away a reward to reduce bad behavior.

Negative punishment can include:

  • yelling
  • hitting
  • depriving them of food
  • locking them out of the house.

We do not recommend negative punishment because it will only make them more scared of you. 

It can also result in destructive behavior. No matter what your dog did, the consequences for their bad behavior should never be harsh punishment.

Have a Command Word

Instead of using punishment to discipline your pooch, have a command word that lets them know they did something wrong. 

If your dog bites a little too hard, say “ouch!.” Or say “out!” if they enter a room where they shouldn’t be. Or a simple “no” works as well.

Follow these command words with gentle consequences, like removing access to the room or not giving them your attention.

Don’t Accidentally Praise Bad Behavior

A puppy digging the ground or destroying a cushion may seem cute at first. But don’t do anything that will make them think their behavior is acceptable.

Do not speak affectionately to them. It would help if you also didn’t give them treats to make them listen to you. It will only lead to mixed signals and unclear communication.

Another bad behavior you shouldn’t tolerate is leash pulling. Don’t ignore them when they think they should lead the walk.

Do Dogs Know When They Hurt You?

Dogs know when they hurt you based on your reaction to your pain.

If your dog playfully bites you without the intention of harming you, and you say a command word like “stop” or “no,” they don’t necessarily understand that you’re in pain. They are only following a trained command.

They know, because you have previously taught them, that you don’t like it. Your reaction to the bite tells them you are hurt.

There is a correct way to let them know their behavior is unwanted. Positive reinforcement training and redirecting their bad behavior are the two best methods.

Find out more about dogs knowing when they hurt their humans.

Do Dogs Know How to Apologize?

Yes, dogs know how to say sorry.

Dogs do not have a moral sense of “guilt” or understand right from wrong. 

But dogs know how to feel ashamed based on your gesture and tone of voice. They won’t know it’s wrong to eat your food. But they’ll know you’re upset with them.

You can’t teach your dog to “apologize,” but you can train them to reduce their bad behavior.

Find out more about how dogs say sorry.

Communication is Key to Correcting Your Dog’s Behavior

It’s normal for your dog to be oblivious to their mistakes. After all, they are dogs, not humans.

Your job is to let them know proper behavior through positive reinforcement. They may not understand you on a deep level, but dogs are brilliant animals. And they can learn quickly.

Check out how to let your dog know if they hurt you.