Dogs are one of the most innocent creatures roaming our planet. Just look at them! How can you look at your furry friend and think of anything other than joy and goofy innocence?
Having a dog is a rewarding experience, offering years of companionship. While your pup is only with you briefly in the grand scheme of things, you represent a lifetime of loyalty and love to your dog.
Most dog owners go above and beyond to shower their pups in love. But sometimes, anger and frustration take over. While your pooch has no ill intent, its actions can take you over the edge. Dogs can elicit less-than-loving emotions, whether by constantly eating your shoes, rifling through your trash when you're not around, or exhibiting stubborn behavior that makes training impossible.
Now, what if those emotions turn physical? Hitting your dog is never OK, and you probably already know that. We're not here to judge; your guilt likely brought you here!
One burning question dog owners have is, "Will my dog forgive me for hitting him?" Let's look at what physical aggression can do to a dog and how it affects your relationship moving forward.
Understanding Canine Emotions
When you look at your dog, it's pretty easy to read them like a book. You can turn to their tail to see if they're happy, pick up on body language to see when they're sad, and melt in love when they provide affection. Dogs are fully capable of feeling emotions. But just how complex is their emotional spectrum?
One study found that, while these animals can feel emotions, they don't experience deep emotions like humans. That means they don't have those deep-rooted traumas.
Dogs can experience depression and other powerful emotions, but concepts like forgiveness or guilt are not something canines deal with.
That's a good thing. Whenever you see a dog looking guilty, it's most likely feeling passive because it realizes it did something wrong based on your reaction. It's not as complex as guilt, despite how it comes off.
So do emotions affect a dog that gets hit?
What Happens if You Hit a Dog?
Of course, hitting a dog is not OK. These animals will feel the physical pain you inflict on them. They'll also feel some not-so-great emotions tied to your aggressive response.
Fortunately, dogs get over it pretty quickly! If you've ever scolded your dog, you'll notice that it doesn't take much for them to snap back to their happy selves. They might spend a few moments sulking in the corner. But the moment you change your tone of voice is when their tail starts wagging!
All that said, don't take that as a pass to hit your dog. They might get over the issue quickly, but there's still a risk that your pup will develop long-term problems. More on that later.
Furthermore, hitting a dog veers into the world of animal cruelty. Laws can vary based on where you live, but there's a real chance you can get into trouble if you hit your dog. Pats on the nose are no big deal. But full-on punching and repeated hitting can land you in a world of trouble.
Will My Dog Remember That I Hit Him?
Dogs get over things quickly and have fairly short memories of one-off things. For example, they won't remember someone they briefly met on the street several months ago.
Dogs learn through repetition. They create connections to experiences. That's how training works so well. You teach a dog to do the trick by repeatedly creating a great experience for them through rewarding treats.
That means that dogs will not remember one-off hits. If you only hit your dog one time and never do it again, you shouldn't have any issues. Now, if you repeatedly hit them, that's a different story.
Related: Do Dogs Remember Their Parents?
Are Dogs Forgiving?
Canines don't really have the capacity to "forgive." Your dog likes to live in the moment and doesn't hold grudges like a human does.
However, hitting can create some negativity between you and your dog. Ultimately, it depends on how often you hit them. We'll get into the dangers of repeatedly hitting your dog in a moment. But for now, let's talk about other factors that can affect your and your dog's relationship.
The intensity of the hit makes a big difference. Light taps on the nose or soft bops with a rolled-up newspaper aren't a huge deal. But if you punch your dog and cause significant pain? That's a big problem.
Another factor is who does the hitting. Your dog is more inclined to move past hits and unpleasant physical aggression if you do it. Your dog loves you with every fiber of its being. It's loyal to you and trusts you to take care of it. That bond is stronger than a hit.
On the other hand, they aren't keen on moving past hits from strangers and people they already don't trust. Hits from those people may encourage your dog to return the favor!
Finally, you have to consider your dog's personality. If your pup is naturally shy and anxious, it may have difficulty moving past hits.
The Problem with Repeated Physical Aggression
Your pup is very forgiving if you only hit him once. But what happens when it becomes a repeat issue? Here's where your pup will start developing problems.
Hitting is a form of negative reinforcement. If you habitually hit your dog, those experiences will become ingrained in their mind. Dogs are capable of recalling past traumatic events. That is why some dogs you see at shelters are aggressive or show biases towards one type of person.
Over time, your dog connects the hitting to something. If you hit them during training, they'll grow fearful of training sessions. If you hit your pup whenever they bark at a ringing doorbell, they'll get scared of the doorbell!
Aggressive negative reinforcement takes its toll. Repeat abuse can make a dog fearful of everything. It causes anxiety that causes many genuine issues. Some pups even resort to aggression because they need to defend themselves.
Worst of all, repeat hitting will damage your bond with your dog. Think about how awful it would be for your dog to start cowering when you enter a room. Instead of running up to you with a wagging tail for kisses, they hide in your presence.
Even if you eventually stop hitting, years of bad memories can make it impossible for your dog to trust you again.
How to Apologize to My Dog and Regain Trust
Whether you hit your dog just once or you've done it several times and have seen the errors of your ways, you need to be proactive in regaining your dog's trust. While they don't hold grudges, there's always a risk that your pup will develop issues from your aggression.
Repent with Affection
The most important thing you should do is replace the anger that led to you hitting your dog with love. Dogs don't understand the concept of an apology, and your pup's wagging tail may indicate they've already moved past the event. However, that doesn't mean you can just go on like nothing happened.
Show your dog that you love them. Change your body language and do things your dog enjoys to remind them that you love them. Offer gentle words, plenty of head scratches, and kisses for days.
Not only does this help your dog feel reassured of your love, but it'll remind you of why you brought this animal into your life.
Use a Calm Voice Moving Forward
Dogs don't necessarily understand the words you say. However, they can understand your tone of voice. Moving forward, refrain from raising your voice. Leave the aggressive language behind and speak to your pup with a soft and soothing voice.
Your goal is to show your dog that you'll never get to the point of hitting again. Create a safe space for your canine companion and be as loving as possible whenever speaking to them.
Consider Anger Management
This goes without saying, but you should avoid hitting your dog in the future.
We get it: Anger and frustration are strong emotions that can cloud your judgment. But you should never take that out on your dog. Consider speaking to a therapist or taking anger management classes to calm your emotions.
If you struggle to control your anger, you must find ways to avoid pulling your dog into things. Professionals can teach you powerful coping mechanisms. From removing yourself from the situations that trigger you to breathing exercises, those techniques can help you stay level-headed no matter how angry your dog's actions make you.
How to Train and Discipline a Dog the Right Way
You need to be stern and authoritative when training and disciplining your dog. But there are ways to do that without resorting to hitting. Here are a few tips to help you overcome behavioral issues and stay calm in any situation.
Sometimes, all you need to do is give your dog a firm "no." Earlier, we discussed the importance of adopting positive language and tone when speaking to your dog. There's a good reason for that.
Strong language stands out when you usually talk to your dog in a loving manner. Saying, "No!" calmly but firmly shows that you're not messing around.
Dogs notice the difference. They might not understand why you're suddenly changing your tone, but they know they better listen!
Another great training technique is to use redirection.
With redirection, you distract your pup with something more appropriate to pull them away from whatever bad behavior they're doing.
For example, if your dog has a habit of chewing on your furniture, you can use a toy to redirect that energy. Once your dog plays with the toy, you can provide a reward to teach it that this is the right behavior.
Ignoring Unwanted Behavior
If your dog does something annoying like begging for food or jumping on you when you walk through the door, ignore it. Many dog owners inadvertently reinforce bad behaviors by paying attention to their furry friends when they do something wrong. Your dog realizes that begging for food is a great way to get your attention, so they continue doing it!
Ignoring your dog shows that those actions don't provide any real benefits. It takes time, but your dog will learn nothing to gain from behaving badly.
Professional Trainers and Canine Behavioralists
If all else fails, you can turn to professionals. Professional trainers do a fantastic job of teaching both you and your dog. You'll learn techniques to encourage positive behaviors while finding ways to put bad behaviors to bed.
If you have a dog prone to anxiety or fear, go to a behavioralist. Behavioralists know how to work with dogs that suffer from deep-rooted trauma like abuse. They can help your pup work past those issues to live a much happier and more productive life.
Moving Past a Hit
Hitting your dog is never a good thing to do. While it lets you take out your frustration, everyone suffers in the end. Fortunately, you can move past those events. Avoid hitting your dog in the future, and focus on more positive training techniques.
Show your pup you love them and remind yourself that no dog is perfect. Be patient, adopt healthier ways to cope with your emotions, and shower your dog with nothing but love.