Every time a training article is written, the first paragraph should be begin with “Every dog is unique, every dog has different learning styles, and there is no cookie cutter technique that will work with every dog!”
There are positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement techniques that are effectively used in the training process, most often applied in behavior modification. Not all dogs respond to 100% positivity. On the flip side, no good comes from 100% negativity either. There can be a healthy balance, though.
What is Positive Reinforcement?
Owners utilize the dogs overwhelming desire to please with praise, treats and positive energy. Positive reinforcement is preferred because most owners don’t want their dog to fear them in any capacity. The positive reinforcement technique is also preferred when training a timid or fearful pup. Dogs develop self-confidence when they know they’re doing well.
The Negative Reinforcement would be…
Negative reinforcement makes use of a dogs unwavering devotion, driving them to try harder to please their human. To keep a dog away from something desirable (like the garbage) an owner may shake a can of pebbles. The dog will equate the garbage with a loud scary noise and avoid it in the future. Citronella sprayed in an aggressive dog’s direction usually redirects their attention. A pinch collar sometimes is a useful tool for exuberant dogs that can’t seem to get the hang of walking on a leash. While an owner may want to take their overly confident dog down a notch, the overuse of negative reinforcement techniques may break a dog’s spirit.
How to Effectively Combine the Two
If an owner is blessed with a strong willed dog that exploits the 100% positivity process (There are a few out there) negative reinforcement techniques should be introduced one method at a time to see what works and what doesn’t. Overwhelming a previously positive trained dog with an onslaught of negative repercussions will create confusion and exacerbate the unwanted behaviors. A good blend is 70% positive, 30% negative. While praise is always encouraged, there are some dogs who don’t respond favorably to a high pitched “YaY!” or an overly enthused “Who’s a good doggy?” When using the 70/30 blend, keep the voice neutral, no high pitched encouragement and no scolding. Dogs understand more words than owners want to admit.
When in Doubt…
If there is a question about the dogs behavior and what techniques to use, contact a certified dog trainer. There are some out there that are 100% positive reinforcement—no exceptions! There are ones that believe in mostly negative reinforcement and ones that may blend the two for the dog’s needs and the owner’s desires. Talk about goals during the initial consultation. Make sure everyone is on the same page before any training takes place. If there are any red flags, feelings of discomfort or if something feels off, find another trainer; taking the time to find a good training fit is better than hunting for someone to undo what’s been done.
Renee Moen is a veteran shelter employee and certified dog trainer. Specializing in basic obedience and behavior modification, she recognizes each dog for their unique qualities and utilizes those for positive training experiences. Renee is an advocate for dispelling breed myths and denouncing breed discrimination. All dogs are created equal, owners on the other hand…
Living in sunny Longmont, Colorado with her husband, two children, two dogs, two cats and five birds, Ms. Moen is also an accomplished writer with five romantic comedies to her credit. She enjoys hiking in the foothills (with her fur babies), roller skating and swimming.