Positive vs. Negative Reinforcement For Dog Training


When it comes to training your dog there are a lot of different opinions about the best way to do it which can feel really overwhelming!

Before Steve and I got Boo Boo, we watched a lot of Dog Whisperer. The show was so popular at the time and we really bought into his seemingly effortless method of turning dogs around.

And we definitely believed in the whole idea that dogs needed an alpha, and that that alpha had to be us.

It wasn’t until we actually had boo boo in our house and I was around more dogs and dog trainers that I realized how uncomfortable many of these methods made me.

You catch more flies with honey …

When considering positive (reinforcement) training vs negative reinforcement (also called aversive) it suddenly it really seemed wrong to me to be trying to enforce this idea of dominance and submission with my dog.

The idea of jabbing him in the neck with a claw-hand or side-kicking my dog in the gut, or pinning him to the ground until he relaxed just seemed stupid and hyper-macho to be honest. As did yanking him by the collar. Or using prong or shock collars.

I have seen many people jabbing their dogs or suddenly flipping them over or wrestling them to the ground until the dog “submits” and most of the time, honestly, it was men with german shepherds, pitties or rotties, and it felt like a big show of man-power for the others in the dog park, like “look how big and strong I am, I have mastered the dog”.

These methods may appear to be effective on the short-term, but there is evidence that in the long-term they can backfire, and in fact create a ton of fear, anxiety, stress in the dogs.

This can actually make behavior issues much worse and can also lead to an escalation that can lead to the dog eventually turning on its owner or another dog.

What Is Positive Reinforcement?

Using positive reinforcement to train your dog means you reward the behaviors you like and ignore the behaviors you do not like.

You can use treats, praise, or life rewards (such as gameswalks, or car rides) to reward your dog's good behavior.

A Real Life Example

It’s kind of like this: I really want my husband to put down the toilet seat. I decide tp use an aversive method in which every time he forgets to put the seat down I kick him in the nuts.

This may be a really effective way to get him to put the seat down, but it’s sure not going to make him like me very much, so much so that every time he sees me coming toward him, anticipating a kick in the nuts, he’s going to recoil and run away from me.

Or he may decide enough is enough and lash out at me before I can hurt him again.

Conversely, if I use a positive reinforcing method, like kissing him, hugging him, giving him something delicious, telling him how wonderful he is or give him a slice of pizza every time he does put the seat down, he is going to have such positive feelings about putting that seat down, and about me, he will want to put the seat down every time to ensure he gets more and more treats.

Which method would you rather use?