Negative Reinforcement Works Too!

If you’ve trained even one dog in the past 20 years, then you’ve likely heard of positive reinforcement training. If you haven’t heard of it, and you have been training dogs, it’s time to do some research! Most people assume that positive reinforcement training is just giving your dog a lot of treats. But, it’s so much more than that! I employ both positive and negative reinforcement methods in my practice. Yes, that’s right, I said it… negative reinforcement.

Two Dogs Sitting at a door wearing Kurgo Harnesses
My two border collies waiting patiently at the front door for their morning walk.

Now, before you blow a gasket and start sending me angry messages about the horrible consequences of negative dog training, please know that I would never intentionally do anything to harm, scare, or agitate any animal. Positive and negative reinforcement training methods are both reward-based. Positive simply refers to adding a reward, negative refers to removing or withholding a reward. See, that’s not so bad, right?

There are, however, two other types of training that you should get riled up about: positive punishment and negative punishment. Can you guess how those work? Positive punishment is the addition of an adverse or unwanted item or action (a punishment) and negative punishment is the removing or withholding of the same. While most people have prescribed to reinforcement style training, there are still many trainers in the world who use “tools” such as prong collars, and who encourage you to scare or hurt your dog. Don’t give those trainers your money. They will only make your dog’s problems worse.

Positive and negative reinforcement training tend to go hand-in-hand. You provide a reward when your dog does something correctly (positive) and you withhold a reward if your dog is not listening or not doing what you’ve asked (negative). Rewards come in many forms from treats to walks outside. Toys, praise, attention, belly rubs and even eye contact can be rewarding. The more your dog enjoys the reward, the higher its value. In my house, cheese is basically the highest value reward on the planet (that, and trips to the mountains… but this is Oklahoma so cheese is much easier to come by). My dogs also really enjoy going for their daily walk. But, I employ negative reinforcement by withholding the walk until they’ve each located their Kurgo walking/seatbelt harnesses and are waiting calmly and in a sit position at the front door.

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