Don't Rub His Nose In It

If you are housebreaking a puppy or dog, you’ve heard the age-old advice: “When he has an accident, just rub his nose in it!” Somehow that old chestnut has survived several revolutions in dog training, even though behaviorists and trainers have not recommended this method of discipline for many decades. However, it’s not helpful, and may even be damaging both physically and behaviorally.

Why People Rub Dogs’ Noses in Messes

Finding a mess on the carpet is an unpleasant experience for a dog or puppy owner. At the very least it means a messy cleanup, and it can result in carpet-cleaning expenses if the stain is severe. If others are present when the mess is discovered, the dog owner is subject to humiliation and feelings of guilt due to their dog’s undesirable behavior, and will usually be offered quite a lot of unwanted advice.

Punishing the guilty animal is satisfying to an angry owner, although they may feel guilty later for treating their pet roughly. Confirmation bias predisposes owners to see what they perceive as “guilt” in the expressions of dogs who’ve had accidents indoors, so it’s easy to delude oneself into thinking that a pet whose nose is rubbed in a mess understands what it did wrong and why it is being punished. These factors combined to make a totally ineffective remedy for housebreaking problems into one of the most persistent and pesky urban legends of dog training.

Why You Should  Never Rub His Nose in It

Rubbing a dog’s nose in a mess is a useless training tactic and constitutes a form of abuse in my opinion, due to the permanent damage it can do to a dog’s sensitive nose. Dogs and humans do not perceive the link between past actions and current consequences in the same way.

Owner Thinks: “He’s made a mess in the kitchen, so I’ll scold him, show him what he did wrong, and rub his nose in it. That will be so unpleasant that the dog will realize he’s never permitted to make a mess in the house, and he’ll know that if he does it again, his nose will get rubbed in it again.”

Dog Thinks: “My owner is yelling at me and pointing to some waste on the ground. Now my sensitive nose is being rubbed in this mess. My olfactory passages burn painfully. Dog waste makes my owner yell and hurt my nose. Next time I see urine or feces, I’ll hide so my owner can’t find me to hurt me again.”

The same “guilty” response to having made a mess on the floor will be observed in most dogs even if another dog made the mess, dog poop was brought in from outdoors, or even if an owner or trainer puts plastic dog poop on the floor. Dogs don’t think back to the past and differentiate between their accidents and other messes. If dogs associate urine and feces with punishment, all they will learn is to be afraid of urine/feces + human owner, because that combination means they’ll be  punished. This can lead to a dog who refuses to toilet on a  leash even outdoors.

In short, rubbing a dog’s nose in a mess is counter-productive, delays housebreaking, and can cause fear, aggression, and damage to the olfactory passages. Doesn’t sound so good now, does it?

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13 Responses

  1. jelenawoehr
    | Reply

    @nullandvoideaccount PetLvr [Blog] \\ Don’t Rub His Nose In It

  2. _McLaughlin
    | Reply

    If you are housebreaking a puppy or dog, you’ve heard: “When he has an accident, just rub his nose in it” well don’t

  3. Clara
    | Reply

    yuck, that’s so old fashiuoned . . . and it doesn’t work.

  4. Fun Dogs
    | Reply

    Why you should never rub your dog’s nose in it: – Plus 5 more housebreaking tips:

  5. tomtom
    | Reply

    so i guess this would work for small children who pee their beds etc because human minds will be in-sync with the thinking and will not do it again. awesome! next time my kid pees her bed or anywhere else i am going to rub her nose in it.

  6. Scott
    | Reply

    I’ve owned 3 dogs in my life. All of them happy and loving. When they peed or pooped in the house I shoved their noses in it and spanked them. They all learned to hold it until they could go outside. If it “never” works, why did it work on all three of my dogs? This is just liberal, tree hugging, BS…Put his/her nose in it and watch them learn.

  7. Justine
    | Reply

    This seems like utter bunk. Smelling his own poop might cause “permanent damage to a dog’s sensitive nose”? Based on what evidence? I’ve seen dogs happily shove their noses not only in other dogs’ poop, but in the most revolting messes out there. If it’s vile enough, they might even try to eat it. And of COURSE a dog can differentiate his own mess from another’s. Dogs don’t have highly attuned olfactory passages for nothing. “that’s Charlie’s poop, that’s Buddy’s poop, that’s Sargeant’s poop, that’s MY poop…”

  8. Gary
    | Reply

    Scott, I am right on with your thinking. Too many tree hugging liberals. I had the same experience with my dogs. Although I don’t shove my dogs face in it, just enough to touch, because I can see how they don’t like it. Then take them outside…Done. their isn’t any abuse. We love our dogs, but remember they learn different that is because they are DOGS(animals). To compare to a child to an animal is beyond me. I don’t believe in having to go overboard to get it through to them.

  9. Aaron
    | Reply

    Well as far a I’m concerned I am NOT a tree hugging liberal… And it IS wrong to rub it’s nose in it. I’m 12 and even I know that! I got my dog last sunday (one week exactly) and I have already trained my (8 week) dog to sit and almost lay down plus I potty trained her too… When she has an accident I instintly put her outside and it worked in less then a week.. (she’s been trained for a couple of days

  10. Billy
    | Reply

    This is so tree hugging! i love my pooch to death!
    when i found him going i would pick him up and take him to the area where he released him self and just simply tell him NO! Naughty boy.
    I took him out every few hours and when he went potty i went crazy with attention and praise. Now he goes outside and does his thing and he gets excited because he knows he has done right.

    They are animals not people don’t forget!
    I don’t think its right to rub their noses in it but when they done wrong to act like nothings happened they will think that “Hey i done right” or if anything confuse them even more to some extent.

    They are animals at the end of the day.

    And for people to be comparing dogs with children that really makes me laugh now that does make you think doesn’t it?.

  11. Not Ignorant
    | Reply

    Even if this wasn’t a complete scientific research/survey, it is still wrong to put your dog’s nose in their mess. Dogs are smarter then we think..and honestly, I think dogs are SMARTER than a LOT of humans out there. Dogs want to learn..They want to please their owners, so it might not be because you put his/her nose on their pee or poop, it’s because they love you unconditionally and they want to please you. I have a dog and I have never put his nose on his pee/poop and he is very well trained! Consistency and patience are key to training any dog!!
    It makes me sick to my stomach how many people are uneducated about caring for animals..They should ban them..You compared it to children and dogs..but I’d like to see the people who agree with this technique to have someone stick their head/nose to smell their pee or poop.

  12. Latitude
    | Reply

    You guys are so full of it. I took this advice seriously for about two weeks and I’ll agree with you about one thing – dogs are very intelligent creatures. “They ALWAYS WANT TO PLEASE THEIR OWNERS” is the first blatant lie on this page. What they want is to be fed, play outside, given toys, and given attention.

    The trick to training them is to make their wants fit your wants so it can please you.

    I have a 5 month old husky and every time she pee’d inside my wife and I would patiently take her outside to the same spot. But guess what happens now.We go to the park for 3 hours having fun. As soon as she in the house and out of my sight (literally less than 60 seconds. No exaggeration) She pee’s…

    (We’ve used vinigar. Steam cleaning, special foam stuff. Everything. Blocking her off to certain parts of the house – she just chooses a different spot.)

    ….See’s me then runs to the back door. Why? Because she knows when she pee’s I’ll take her outside.

    So guess what. Now I say, “NO” rub her face in it, and put her in a kennel in the garage. She stays there until I can take her outside and have her pee. If she doesnt then I take her back inside to the tiny little kennel.

    Guess what. It worked in 2 days. You think if she was running with the pack of wolves in the wild the alpha leader (or any of the other pack mates) would be any kinder doing that in the den.

    Also you were already caught in the lie of, “it damages their noises” So happily just end the BS now.

    “Would you do that to a child?”

    How about this. Would your child find 3 baby bunny rabbits and rip them up in her teeth as they screech in terror and pain? Because thats what my dog did the other day. Because she’s an animal. Nature is not kind.

    God you whining little *****. Would you sit down and talk to your dog about it’s plan of going to college, driving a car, or the reason for existence in the universe.

    How about your gerbil or cat?

    No? Great. Now shut the **** up.

    But for the other posters who share the same opinion. Let’s not drag voting affiliations into this. It makes it sound like your a foaming at the mouth political talking piece.

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