Should I Yell At My Dog: Lessons From A Dog Named Dammit Gabby

Should I yell at my dog? This question really doesn’t come up too much. People yell at the dog to train it and to convince it to do what I want. But the question is a good one…should I yell at my dog. If you are in a hurry, you can jump to the end summary. But, if you will, let me first tell you the story of a couple of dogs.

Black_Labrador_Retriever_portraitThe first dog I encountered while I was a member of a hunt club in Harvard, IL. While a member, I got to watch several people interact with their hunting dogs. One particular dog/owner combo really stood out. The dog was a a black lab. The dog easily could stand to lose 20 pounds. This dog was the definition of morbidly obese. I quickly learned that the dog had a very unique name…

Dammit Gabby

Dammit Gabby did not come when called. Her owner would sit there and yell and yell, “Dammit Gabby, come!” and the dog would ignore him until she happened to come by. The dog would not come when called, but the dog would wander by occasionally. At which point the owner would shut up for a while, until Dammit Gabby wandered off again.

There is a lesson to be learned from Dammit Gabby: If all you do is yell at your dog, she’ll eventually tune you out.

Dogs are pragmatists. They do or use what works to get them what they want. Dammit Gabby couldn’t care less about the screams, wails and pleas of her owner. Dammit Gabby learned that the owner was all bark and no bite. Sure, the owner seemed displeased sometimes when she wandered off, but no harm comes from it. Dammit Gabby enjoyed sniffing the flowers, grass, and other dogs, and when she wandered back to He-Who-Feeds-Me, he seems happy again, so all is good.

512px-Drill_sergeant_screamsIf you are repeating and swearing and sweating and getting red in the face as you wail commands at your dog, it means it is time to do something different. Either the command has no meaning for the dog or the reward for complying or consequences for not complying are not great enough. Stop. Save your breath. By repeating the command that the dog is ignoring, you are teaching the dog that it is acceptable to ignore the command.


The story of the second dog is about my own dog Shiloh. I just don’t yell at my dog. By either nature or by choice, I just don’t yell at my dog all that often. Coworkers, traffic, computers, and blenders, sure, I’ll raise my voice. But not really with dogs. Now, when Shiloh was about a year old, my wife and I were heading off on vacation. Shiloh was to stay with a good friend and her two dogs. Shiloh was housebroken, but there was a lot of new dog smell at this new location. Plus he is an intact male dog with an instinct to mark. My friend was watching Shiloh as he was circling the corner of the couch. Sniffing. He was considering if this might be a good place to make his mark in the world…

My friend rained down fire on that young pup. She yelled and screamed. Out into the yard he was sent without friend or company. Never before had Shiloh heard such words or seen such rage. The result? He has never again considered marking indoors.

How To Yell At Your Dog

There are two reason the yelling at my dog worked so well and yelling at Dammit Gabby worked so poorly. The first reason it worked so well with my dog was due to the level of intensity. Dammit Gabby just heard yelling. Shiloh heard extreme yelling in his face and was thrown out of the joint. When my friend yelled at the dog, it was not just a slightly raised voice. She went crazy! Maniacal. The extreme shift in attitude is perceptible by even the most dimwitted of dogs.

The second reason it worked so well is because it is rare. She rarely yells. I don’t have much occasion to yell. So, when it happens, the dog sits up and takes notice. In contrast, it appears that Dammit Gabby hears yelling every day.

A good example of an infraction suitable for yelling would be when the dog is about to run out into traffic. If that were about to happen, you need to run that dog down and unleash some holy terror. The running up to the dog is part of what makes it extreme for the dog. Think about it: if someone is yelling at me, it is annoying and disquieting. If someone is yelling at me and running after me, I am now distinctly aware that there is an issue. Running that dog down and screaming at him will definitely reinforce that running into traffic is a non-starter behavior.


Should I yell at my dog?  If it works for you…if you get the compliance you need, then, by all means, keep at it. If it doesn’t work for you, then you need to stop and rethink it.  If you choose to yell at your dog, choose to go big on the intensity, and go small on the frequency. Save it for the big stuff. Otherwise, it will become just noise to your dog. Once it becomes noise, your dog may also adopt the new first name of “Dammit”.

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