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Will My Dog Forgive Me For Hitting Him? What You Need To Know - PawSafe
Dog Training

Will My Dog Forgive Me For Hitting Him? What You Need To Know

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

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Research reveals that dogs have the ability to forgive, similar to humans and we call this reconciliation behavior. But does this mean a dog will forgive you for hitting them? The answer is complicated. In short, their forgiveness depends on personality traits and past experiences. Their memory of an event may also affect how they forgive a person. 

As pet owners, it is essential to comprehend canine companion’s emotions and behavior to build a happy relationship and win their trust back. Using the right tools, like a no-pull dog harness on walks can go a long way to prevent conflict that can result in feeling like you want to hit your dog. As can learning better communication and training skills to deal with your dog’s unwanted behaviors.

To really answer this question, we are going to refer to the groundbreaking work by expert trainer, Karen Pryor, in her book, Don’t Shoot The Dog. We are also going to delve into the behaviorist handbook, Canine Behavior Insights, to get to grips with this tricky topic. 

But before we continue, remember that punishment that is harsh or violent can cause fear in dogs and may have a negative effect on their emotional state. They may become aggressive or anxious towards the person who hit them even after forgiving them. Dogs easily recognize danger or fear; so, it is critical to understand their reaction to punishment.

Every dog has separate emotions, experiences, and personalities that come into play when dealing with forgiveness. Some dogs may forgive swiftly while others may require time and space to process emotions following significant events like punishment or trauma.

Comprehending the psychology of forgiveness in dogs can help us establish better relationships with our pets based on mutual trust, love, and respect between both owner and pet without any fear of retribution or aggression. But before we can look at whether a dog will forgive you, we need to look at what a dog experiences when you hit them.

How Dogs Process Physical Pain and Trauma

To gain a better understanding of how your beloved furry friend processes physical pain and trauma, delve into the science behind dog pain tolerance and reaction to pain. This will help you recognize signs of pain and discomfort in dogs, resulting in better management of their suffering.

How Dogs Process Physical Pain and Trauma

The Science Behind Dog Pain Tolerance and Reaction to Pain

Dogs have their own way of coping with physical pain and trauma. Knowing the science behind it is important to give them proper care. The table below shows the factors affecting their pain tolerance and the effects of pain on dogs.

Factors influencing pain toleranceEffects of pain on dogs
BreedBehavioral Changes
AgeLoss of Appetite
GenderDifficulty Sleeping
Previous Trauma ExperiencesAggressiveness or Fearfulness

In our article on how to discipline dogs, we delve into the difference between discipline as a behavior that is reinforced versus a reaction based in anger in fear that leads to kicking or hitting. To be clear, hitting a dog is not discipline, and how the dog responds is going to depend on factors like their titration level, single event learning, and their survival response.

Titration Level in dogs

Titration level is a term in dog training that refers to how much correction a dog can handle. A dog with low titration levels can crumble if you raise your voice. We call these dog’s “handler soft.” Winning a handler-soft dog’s trust after hitting them is going to be a much longer process than a dog with a high titration level.

High titration level dogs are something you see more often in terriers, some guarding breeds, and working service dogs meant for police or military work. However, remember, many tough-looking mastiffs and Dobermans can be extremely gentle souls with a very low tolerance for heavy handedness. 

A dog with a high titration level may:

  • barely acknowledge being hit, 
  • are far more likely to meet your aggression with their own aggression, and
  • ignore you entirely even if you are hitting them.

This doesn’t mean it’s okay to hit a dog with a high titration level. Not only can these dogs respond with aggression, making it dangerous, but they also learn to disengage from you. They will no longer see you as a trustworthy partner and hitting them is one way to ensure they won’t listen to you

A Dog’s Survival Response When Punished Or Hit

Another factor that is going to determine the outcome of what happens when you hit a dog is their survival or flight or fight response. There are actually four different responses, and these can really interfere with an owner’s ability to understand what really happens when they hit a dog.

  1. Fight: a dog with a strong fight response may meet your hitting with bared teeth, growling, or even biting. This happens more often than you might think. For owners of powerful breeds like Rottweilers, this is dangerous. It is also dangerous for the dog, as responding to harsh treatment with a bite will typically end with them being euthanized.
  2. Flight: a dog who defaults to flight response will fall into avoidant behaviors like running away and hiding. These dogs have not learned a lesson from being hit, rather they are trying to get away from danger.
  3. Freeze: one of the saddest responses in dogs to hitting is “freeze.” These dogs will simply lay down and accept their fate. This is called learned helplessness and it happens when a dog cannot fight or run away. The freeze response can wrongly let owner’s think their dogs are “submitting” to them. Really, the freeze response is just a dog that is so overwhelmed and flooded with negative stimuli that they are mentally shutting down.

The final survival response a dog may have is “fawning.” This is when the dog may engage in reconciliatory behaviors like licking your face, averting their gaze, lowering their head, tucking their tail, trying to approach you, or other behaviors to repair the rupture between you. 

When dogs fawn, they have not learned a lesson, they are just trying to appease your anger and persuade you to be nice to them again. It is as much a survival response as fight, flight, or freeze. Fawning is extremely problematic because it makes some dog owners believe that hitting their dog was effective. 

To understand how damaging fawning is, think of a child in a volatile or violent household. This child may do anything to appease their parent’s anger. They may clean their room, bring the parent flowers, and generally walk on eggshells. But just because the child is compliant does not mean that the child isn’t experiencing serious stress and trauma. 

Single Event Learning

Another factor that is going to affect your dog’s ability to trust you again has to do with how they learn. Some dogs are “single event learners,” meaning that one bad experience will cement in their brain and take months or years of hard work to undo. 

In dog training, we sometimes also use this term together with what we call “pessimistic” dogs and “optimistic” dogs. 

A family member of mine has an optimistic young Bull Terrier puppy called Arthur that is born optimist. Arthur is intent on playing with my Bullmastiff, Jack. Jack is a patient, gentle soul but he doesn’t like Arthur much. He will repeatedly use a giant paw to put Arthur down. 

When he is really annoyed, he will put Arthur’s whole head in his mouth and hold the puppy on the ground. But Arthur takes these experiences in his stride and when Jack lets him go, he jumps right up and tries to get Jack to play again. 

Arthur can have a 100 bad experiences, and just one good experience (the very few times Jack will play with him) is enough to keep him going. Arthur is an optimist and this is dangerous for him, as pestering older and bigger dogs for attention can lead to serious issues in future.

On the other extreme is my rescue mixed breed, Josie. Josie is a pessimist and a dog with an extremely low titration level. She can have 100 good experiences but just one bad experience is enough to evoke a survival response. 

For example, I once clipped her nail too short and cut the quick. Josie avoided me for two days, even refusing to sleep on my bed, which is where she has slept since the day I rescued her. It took two full days for her to forgive me for clipping her nail too short. 

Neither of these dogs have ever been hit. But you may see how if Josie was hit once, the damage to my bond with her would be far more difficult to repair. She is usually a single event learner, and it only takes one bad experience to make her permanently wary and fearful.

Which raised the question, what do dogs really learn when you hit them?

What Dogs Learn From Hitting

In all my years working with dogs, and occasionally witnessing people react violently to their dogs, I have never seen a dog really “learn its lesson.” But that doesn’t mean they don’t learn something.

When it comes to hitting dogs, I always think of a Border Collie I once saw during a group obedience lesson. A woman arrived with her dog in the back seat, and opened up the door, only to have the excited Collie sprint out and dash around the field causing general mayhem. She chased behind him, calling his name. But he was having a great time. 

Only after much shouting and calling, did the dog eventually tire of greeting everyone in the park, turn and go back to her. Furious and embarrassed, she snatched his collar and hit him. 

The Collie did learn a lesson that day. The lesson he learned was to never go back to her when she calls because he might get hit. He had no reason to connect being hit with running around the park, only with the part where he actually came back to her.

Indeed, I never did see that dog learn to respond to a recall after that. Instead, when his owner called him, he turned tail and ran in the opposite direction.

This is sadly often the case when people hit their dogs. The lesson that the dog learns is typically the wrong one. For instance, they don’t learn to stop chewing the furniture; they learn to stop chewing the furniture when you can see them. 

Also, they learn that you are dangerous and unpredictable. Yes, they may still fawn over you, but as we’ve discussed above, fawning is survival response, and not a sign of secure bond.

But, if you’re reading this article, chances are you already feel bad if you hit your dog. So let’s get into if your dog will forgive you and what you can do to repair the situation.

What Dogs Learn From Hitting
Reading Between the Lines: When Your Dog Can’t Speak, Recognizing Signs of Pain and Discomfort Can Make All the Difference

Effects of Physical Punishment on Dogs

To understand the effects of physical punishment on dogs, you need to know how dogs feel when interpreting being scolded by humans. Negative effects of physical punishment on dog behavior and emotions can be severe. In order to avoid them, it is important to know what impact physical discipline can have on your dog so they don’t hold a grudge.

How Dogs Interpret Physical Punishment from Humans

Physical punishment can affect dogs drastically, making them view human interaction as hostile. It hurts and harms their trust in their owners. This might cause dogs to feel scared and anxious when around people who use physical punishment.

Studies repeatedly show that using punishment or negative reinforcement on dogs is not good for their emotional or physical well-being. It creates more incidences of anxiety, fearfulness and even aggression in dogs.

Hitting Dogs and Behavioral Suppression

One point that we should also address is the difference between suppression and dealing with a problem. Suppression means the unwanted behavior is suppressed. For instance, your dog may love to bark all day. So, you may get a barking collar that zaps your dog with an electric shock every time they bark to stop the behavior. 

This can work, and if it does, then you’ll have suppressed the unwanted behavior of barking. The trouble is suppressing the behavior does not mean you dealt with the cause. When a dog is barking excessively, it’s a sign that something is wrong. They typically bark excessively because they spend long hours alone. They are bored, frustrated, and lonely.

Yes, many problem barkers are barking because they are alone.

By removing their ability to bark, you have not dealt with the issue that caused it. So they will still feel the frustration and loneliness, but no longer have an avenue to express it. This can cause other problem behaviors like digging. Or, your dog may begin to shut down and withdraw into their kennel, essentially becoming depressed.

Think of it as punishing a child for crying. If you do it enough, a child may learn not to cry or to hide the crying. But you will have done nothing to address the reasons that they cry.

Suppressing behaviors rather than dealing with the underlying can be extremely abusive.

Choose Kindness, Think Twice Before You Raise Your Hand
Choose Kindness, Think Twice Before You Raise Your Hand

Building Trust and Repairing a Damaged Relationship with Your Dog

To repair your damaged relationship with your dog after hitting them, trust-building strategies are crucial. Rebuilding trust and strengthening your bond should be your priority, and seeking professional assistance should be your last resort. You can read more about how to cement your dog’s bond with you in our article on being a dog’s favorite person.

 In this section, we’ll explore various trust-building strategies that can help you repair your bond with your dog. Additionally, we’ll also briefly introduce seeking help from professional dog trainers and behaviorists.

How to Rebuild Trust and Strengthen Bond with Your Dog

Gaining a pup’s trust? Don’t be daunted! It may seem impossible, but there are ways to rebuild trust and strengthen your bond.

  1. Offer Consistency

    Dogs love routines. They give them stability. Adhering to set feeding, sleeping, walking, and playing schedules will help them trust you.

  2. Use Positive Reinforcement

    Treats or positive affirmations reward good behavior. This reinforces good conduct and boosts confidence in your pooch.

  3. Boost Exercise and Play

    Engaging in physical activities like walks or playtime strengthens your bond. Exercise releases endorphins, making you and your pup happier.

  4. To further solidify your relationship:

     • Tactile stimulation like massages or brushing creates an even deeper bond.
     • Patience and persistence are key – it takes time to earn back trust.

True Fact:

NIH study: Pets offer emotional support. This reduces stress hormones such as cortisone, leading to a healthier lifestyle.

Don’t be shy to seek help from a dog trainer or behaviorist to mend your furry friendship. Even Michael Jordan had a coach!

Patience, Love, and Consistency are Key to Rebuilding Trust with Your Furry Friend
Patience, Love, and Consistency are Key to Rebuilding Trust with Your Furry Friend

How to Handle Accidentally Hitting Your Dog

If you accidentally hit your dog, it’s important to take a step back and assess the situation. First and foremost, make sure your dog is okay and not injured. If your dog appears to be injured, seek veterinary care immediately.

Once you have ensured your dog’s safety, take some time to calm down and avoid any further aggressive actions toward your dog. Offer your dog some comfort and attention to show them that you still love and care for them.

It’s also important to recognize why the incident occurred and take steps to avoid accidentally hurting them in the future. Consider seeking the help of a professional trainer or behaviorist to develop better training techniques or identify potential triggers that led to the accidental hit.

Think Before You Act, Your Dog May Not Understand The Situation
Think Before You Act, Your Dog May Not Understand The Situation

What To Do If I Can’t Stop Hitting My Dog?

If you find that you cannot stop hitting your dog despite your best efforts, it’s important to seek help immediately. Continuous hitting can cause physical harm, emotional distress, and damage the relationship you have with your pet. 

If you are hitting your dog then be sure to take the following steps:

  • Look for a temporary or permanent new home to take your dog to ensure their safety. If you are struggling to control your anger, it’s better to remove the dog from the situation for their sake.
  • Seek immediate professional help from a therapist to address problems with emotional regulation. If you are suffering from disruptive outbursts of anger that are causing violence, there are a variety of intensive therapeutic options to help you learn to control and process your emotions in a healthy manner.
  • Look for a professional dog trainer and behaviorist to help give you the tools and skills to deal with unwanted behaviors in your dog effectively, without resorting to hitting.

Remember, it’s never too late to seek help and create a loving, healthy environment for both you and your dog.

Seeking Assistance from Professional Dog Trainers and Behaviorists

When trying to restore a broken bond with your four-legged friend, it can be wise to consult professionals who specialize in dog training and behavior. They possess valuable knowledge and experience which can help you comprehend your pup’s conduct, inspiration and needs. Working with an expert may assist you in figuring out any underlying issues and aid you in cultivating trust and positive interaction with your pet through tailored methods to fit your unique situation.

Many common behavioral issues such as separation anxiety may not appear obvious can be easily identified by trainers

Professional trainers and behaviorists use science-backed strategies to identify the source of troublesome or hazardous behavior in your pup. They’ll then develop particular solutions specifically for your pooch that will center on shifting any negative behavior while motivating good behavior using positive reinforcement procedures such as rewards and compliments.

Moreover, they also assist owners in understanding their dogs’ emotions by giving specialized advice on how to read their feelings accurately.

Professional Dog Trainers and Behaviorists Can Improve Your Dog’s Life and Your Relationship Together
Professional Dog Trainers and Behaviorists Can Improve Your Dog’s Life and Your Relationship Together

It is important to understand that getting help from specialists should be done early, before the problem becomes critical resulting in serious harm or fatalities. Furthermore, reaching out to animal rights organizations may help one find certified professionals for their fur babies.

One example of this was when a family had trouble dealing with their recently adopted shelter dog’s scared aggression towards strangers after attempting to train him themselves with little success. They chose to consult a specialist who favored a step-by-step approach that completely turned the dog’s training around, giving love and hope to the family. Seeking assistance from professional dog trainers saves time, money and is safe and humane for both the owner and pet.

Remember, trust is like a boomerang – throw it correctly and it will eventually come back to you. Throw it wrongly, and you may not be so lucky!

Frequently Asked Questions

Will my dog forgive me for hitting him?

It is possible for dogs to forgive their owners, but hitting a dog can cause fear, anxiety, and damage to the owner-pet bond. Owners who hit their dogs need to put an actionable plan in place to repair the bond and prevent this happening again.

How can I apologize to my dog after hitting him?

The best thing to do after hitting your dog is sit down and create a plan for how to stop this behavior in future. Speak to a therapist for tools in dealing with anger, and speak to a trainer to get help dealing with unwanted behaviors in your dog. You can apologize best to your dog for hitting them by creating a safe and fulfilling environment for them going forward.

What are the long-term effects of hitting a dog?

Hitting a dog can lead to aggressive behavior, fear, anxiety, and a weakened bond with their owner.

What should I do if I feel like hitting my dog?

Take a break and breathe. Walk away if you can. Use positive reinforcement methods to train your dog, and seek help from a professional if necessary.

Is hitting a dog considered animal abuse?

Yes, hitting a dog is considered animal abuse and can result in legal consequences.

How can I prevent hitting my dog in the future?

Use positive reinforcement training methods and seek help from a professional if necessary. Always take breaks and breathe if you are feeling frustrated.

Conclusion: Making Amends with Your Dog and Moving Forward

Have you ever hit your pup? If so, will they ever forgive you? Yes, it is possible to regain trust with your dog. Firstly, apologize and take responsibility for your actions. Secondly, spend time playing together and reward them for good behavior. Thirdly, identify triggers and address them. Finally, create a safe environment with open communication, respect, and positive reinforcement. Remember, dogs remember everything and are loyal! Put in the effort, care, and patience and you can heal past mistakes.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe

Author

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.