Why Positive Reinforcement Is More Effective for Training

Updated on June 24, 2019
Taylor Higgins profile image

Taylor has over four years' experience training dogs, and 4 years' experience working alongside a veterinarian.

Training Dogs

Did you just bring your first puppy home and have no idea where to start with his training? Have you just adopted a dog from your local shelter and are you wondering how to fix old habits? Don't worry, many people are in the same boat as you are now. It is confusing to try to find help online, because you'll find hundreds of different training methods and techniques. Which one is the most effective? Which one will be the easiest for you and your dog (young or old)?

Well, I'm here to tell you that positive reinforcement is the best way to go.

What Is Positive Reinforcement?

Positive reinforcement is a method of training in which the trainer rewards the trainee for displaying correct behavior. For example: giving your dog a treat after he obeyed your command to sit. It is a helpful training technique because it allows you to correct your dog without inflicting pain or fear.

There are many ways to practice this system of reward. One of the most well-known and effective methods is clicker training, where the dog associates the sound of a clicker with doing a good job. Dogs have short attention spans, so an immediate reward is important. Right after a dog displays behavior that warrants a reward, it is easy to use the clicker instantly, and then give a treat.

What About Bad Behavior?

This training method is all about rewarding good behavior and ignoring bad behavior, but simply ignoring bad behavior will not teach a dog that what he is doing is wrong. Alongside this method, I also recommend positive punishment. While positive reinforcement is adding something desirable to a situation, positive punishment is taking something away. For example, if you have a mouthy puppy who likes to nip hands, positive punishment would be getting your hands out of the puppy's reach and positive reinforcement would be rewarding the puppy for chewing on a toy. Together, these two techniques can help you train and shape your dog to your liking.

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Why Does Positive Reinforcement Work?

Using positive reinforcement and positive punishment is the most effective way for people to communicate with their dogs, unlike negative reinforcement. Although negative reinforcement is popular and does elicit results, it can cause the dog to become fearful of you, and it urges the dog to do something he ultimately does not want to do. On the other hand, positive reinforcement keeps your dog happy and teaches them to want to listen to you!

Dogs have a natural urge to please their owners, and what makes you happy makes them happy! Positive reinforcement teaches your dog which behaviors you like and teaches them to like it, too. The same goes for positive punishment—it teaches dogs to dislike the same behaviors you dislike.

Examples of Positive Reinforcement and Positive Punishment

  1. You brought a new puppy into your home and are starting on potty training. Instead of punishing him when he pees in the house, praise him and give him a treat when he goes outside.
  2. You adopted a dog who loves to chew on shoes. When you catch him in the act, say "No!" and take the shoe away (positive punishment). After taking the shoe away, give him a chew toy and reward him for chewing on something appropriate.
  3. You adopted a dog who runs out the door the second it's opened. Teach him to sit still in front of the door and reward him when he doesn't react to the door being opened.

Can you tell the difference between positive and negative reinforcement?

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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    © 2019 Taylor Higgins

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