People here say "Dont hit your pet after its aggressive toward you, it doesn't understand why!".

I think people are being over sensitive and not considering the most basic methods of communication between all animals. Agression and retaliation is a very basic interaction between mammals.

One animal attacks, whether it be playfully or aggressively, and the other growls and/or retaliates. Animals understand this behavior. It's basic communication animals naturally understand. Pain. You hurt me I hurt you. Don't mess with me. This isn't something new or confusing to my dog or cat.

So why do people think retaliation after aggression from a pet is an ineffective way of communicating "Don't hurt me. I'll hurt you back."

We shouldn't hit our kids, even though it feels like a natural punishment, because we've evolved into creatures so intelligent that we can verbally communicate effectively. But ai cant explain to my dog or cat that biting is wrong.

Why would retaliation (non damaging, careful) against a pet that bites agressively without reason not be understood?

This assumes we know our pets history, and the animals has not been abused or mistreated, that would be a different case. I'm only talking about the situation where the animal is simply misbehaving.

3 Answers 3


You can find plenty of resources on the internet, including studies, on the effect physical discipline has on pets, such as this study on dogs: http://www.realclearscience.com/blog/2013/07/why-you-should-never-hit-your-dog.html

The summary of that particular study is that researchers found dogs were much more likely to respond aggressively to aggressive forms of discipline.

Physical disciplining is likely to provoke a fear or anger reaction in your pet, and provides no alternative to the undesired behavior. Positive reinforcement relies also on redirection, that is, encouraging the animal to do an alternative positive behavior in place of the undesired behavior. It also has no risk of being misinterpreted, which I think results in a much more positive relationship with your pet.

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    Children who are physically punished are much more likely to be aggressive, too, and to hurt other children. There's a huge imbalance of power between an adult and a child, and maybe the dog sees it the same way -- you're not equals at all, the human is in control. I don't know, just agreeing here --
    – ewormuth
    Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 16:47
  • What about the old "bop on the nose" technique? I've heard of doing that, really as more of an attention-getter than "retaliation" per se, particularly for when the animal is too caught up in its behavior to notice an auditory cue. Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 22:31
  • No bop unless you want the animal to start being nervous about being touched. Placing a hand on their nose and pushing away gently may be workable as a "go away, you're bothering me" signal -- it's one that some cats use -- but again you need to be very clear about distinguishing this from a face-grooming caress. Patience, clarity, remember that unless you catch them at the animal literally has no idea what you're complaining about even if you "shove their face in it", remember that they aren't trying to annoy you...
    – keshlam
    Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 22:41
  • @Dan your dog's nose is probably it's most important, sensitive and vulnerable sensory organ. You might think it's just a light "bop" but you could be doing long term damage affecting your pet's quality of life
    – ThomasH
    Commented Aug 26, 2015 at 14:43
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    I should note that this isn't something I've done any time recently, but was taught many, many years ago, and then with a similar amount of force as you might use to tap someone on the shoulder. That said, thanks @ThomasH for reminding me that their noses are far more sensitive than ours, so I'm now considering how the same "bop" would feel against a human eye, and, you're right: even a tap is too much. Commented Aug 26, 2015 at 15:24

I'm sure you probably wanted answers more geared towards cat/dog psychology, but the question is open-ended and I think this is an important addition.

I certainly wouldn't recommend using this method with small furries. We'll go with rats for the example, since I have the most experience with them, but this should be applicable to most small prey mammals in packs.

The primary form of misbehavior in rats is biting. The logical retaliation then is to 'bite' back, or pinch the rat sharply with your fingers. Depending on why the animal was aggressive in the first place, this could have several outcomes.

There are two primary reasons why a rat will bite. Firstly, dominance aggression; either the result of hormonal imbalance, injury, lack of socialization, or just plain old personality. The animal has to be in a pretty bad mindset to bite you, and when you 'bite' back? You're starting a fight. Small rodents live in a world of shifting social dynamics that oscillate between 'dominant' and 'submissive'. A dominant rat will regularly remind submissive ones of its strength, usually through forceful grooming, but occasionally through biting. Any retaliation is seen as a challenge and the challenger becomes a threat. Continuous retaliation will result in a fight. You absolutely do not want to get in a fight with a rat, the odds are never in your favor.

The secondary reason a rat will bite is fear, usually a result of lack of trust and handling, former abuse from humans, or psychological damage from previous fights with other rats. The rat fears you are a threat and will do its utmost to avoid confrontation, but will bite if cornered. And if you retaliate? You're attacking, and validating the animal's fear, making it harder to undo this damage later.

Now, all of this becomes moot if the animal is simply being naughty. Rats, being social animals, accept their human in to their pack, and expect you to behave as such. For example, when I am going through my rat cages to see who has eaten what food, I am often pushed or gently bitten as a way of saying 'hey, that's my food, hands off'. I immediately gently pinch the rat on the butt to remind him that he's out of line and that I can go through his food stash whenever I want. It works: the rat realizes he's in the wrong, and I can keep track of everybody's diet without getting bitten. None of this is aggressive or worrying behavior - the rats do it to each other 24/7, reminding each other who is more dominant, who was sleeping here first, who got hold of this banana chip first, etc. They push and shove and nip, and they aren't shocked or upset if their human reacts the same way - it's very hard to get through to small animals without using their own language.

In short, retaliation is not recommended as a method to discourage aggression. In other cases, you have to consider what message you are sending to the animal in question - what your actions translate to in the animal's language.


Snakes are a good example.

When there is a snake, and a dog gets bit, the dog doesn't think "Oh, I'd better stay away!". Instead, the dog thinks "I ^&@#$@#$ HATE snakes!". The next time there is a snake, the dog hates it all the more, and will very likely get bit because of its behavior.(This is why snake avoidance training exists).

I understand that your question is not animal specific. Many cat articles will point that cat discipline is not very effective and positive reinforcement is better.

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