Pet Parenting: The Line Between Discipline and Abuse

With the holiday weekend upon us, it’s time to prepare for the masses of people and their pets filling the streets, parks, and beaches to celebrate this great country and bask in the sunlight until the nighttime fireworks.

People-watching is inevitable on holidays – everyone comes out with their families and pets.

Have you ever seen someone treating their dog in a questionable manner? If you felt uncomfortable about it and wondered if the owner crossed the line from discipline to abuse, you’re not alone. Unfortunately, this happens in many levels of severity.

A reader recently shared that he was out at the park with his family and witnessed another family whose dog was barking ferociously towards a man nearby. Whenever this happens in a public setting, it tends to make people skittish. For one, not everyone knows this dog’s personality – it could be out of character for him and indicate that something terrible might happen (like a dog fight or an attack). Or, the dog could have a very aggressive personality, which doesn’t necessarily make the situation any better, because surrounding patrons will still be afraid of what could happen.

Naturally, park patrons shielded their children and apprehended their dogs for protection. The dog’s ferocious barking and the people’s genuine fear of it caused the dog’s owner to react. This is when things took a turn for the worse. When the owner’s verbal cues didn’t stop the dog from his aggressive stance and barking…well, I’ll just say, the owner physically apprehended the dog in ways that were clearly abusive. Other pet owners were in shock, children were terrified. A few shouted to the owner to stop, but he argued he was only disciplining the dog.

There’s a line between discipline and abuse.

Here are the acceptable and unacceptable things pet parents do, and what you can do if you see them happening.



Informed pet owners use tactics like positive reinforcement. This can be things like giving praise (saying “Good boy!”), petting the dog, or giving a treat. The best method in training your dog is to use positive reinforcers. Dogs do not learn by fear.


Sometimes pet owners get firm commands confused with yelling. While yelling at a dog isn’t cause to call PETA, it also does not teach the dog anything, and instills fear. Poor pups that get yelled at typically just have owners who don’t know better.

When a pet owner puts a dog’s face in his or her urine or fecal accident, it does nothing to help the dog learn better. While this is not considered abuse, again, the pet owner is wasting energy, making the dog feel afraid, and not teaching the dog anything.


There’s a ton of misinformation out there. Often times, people learn methods that not only don’t work, but are actually abusive. Any physical aggression that causes the dog to yelp or whimper is incredibly traumatic for the dog. It’s hard to even list them, but dragging, choking, throwing or slamming, kicking, twisting and hitting a dog is wrong. If you ever feel the need to report someone, please contact your local animal protection authorities.


There are so many loving, loyal and special dogs out there who have been rescued from abuse. They need parents who know between right and wrong. Adopt, or foster a pet. They make great additions to the family and make holidays like the Fourth of July that much more special.



  1. What do you do in that situation when your dog is planning on attacking someone else or something else because I don’t think calmly saying bad boy is gonna help

  2. Jared — exactly. If people knew the things required by dog whisperers and all that to stop repetitive aggressive or even annoyance behaviors, they would cringe. People who want to see the world as never requiring negatives should just hook their cars up to the positive terminal of their battery and see how well it works. The real world requires both, as PM Neville Chamberlain accidentally demonstrated for all time trying to treat Hitler positively. I personally have had tremendous success with variable-shock collars which, after the first incident or two, often just need to vibrate as a reminder that they are present and most dogs will settle right down.

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