If you’d decided that you should get a dog, training will be one of the first challenges you’ll face. There are many ways to train your dog and many theories about the best and most effective way to do it. The American Kennel Club describes four quadrants of operant conditioning as follows: positive reinforcement, positive punishment, negative reinforcement, and negative punishment. Many dog trainers focus solely on negative punishment and positive reinforcement dog training because they are the ones that deal with what dogs want rather than removing or adding unwanted things.
Negative reinforcement dog training, under the right circumstances and for the right reasons, can be an effective method of training. Many people use it for simple things like obedience training or to teach simple commands. When teaching things like that to your dog, some form of positive reinforcement is more appropriate and effective. The following include a description of negative reinforcement, when to use it, and some alternatives that may be more effective.
Prior to getting into the details of negative reinforcement dog training techniques, it is important to understand where the idea comes from. Operant conditioning is based on the idea that consequences drive your dog’s behavior so that if you control the consequences that your dog experiences, you can also control their behavior. In general, you can either remove or add something (negative or positive) to increase or decrease (punishment or reinforcement) the frequency of your dog’s behavior . The following is a list of the four quadrants of operant conditioning:
- Positive Reinforcement means to add something to increase a certain behavior.
- Positive Punishment is when you add something to decrease the frequency of a behavior.
- Negative Reinforcement is when you take something away to increase the frequency of a behavior.
- Negative Punishment is taking something away to decrease the frequency of a behavior.
Obviously more could be said about each quadrant, but for now, it is simply important to know that the quadrants exist and that negative reinforcement is one of those quadrants.
What Is Negative Reinforcement
Negative reinforcement, in its simplest form, is when you take something away from your dog to increase or maintain a certain behavior. You can either take away something negative when a dog does something right or take away something positive when a dog does something wrong. Think of taking away something negative as the equivalent of doing chores as a child so that your parents would stop nagging you. Taking away something positive is the equivalent of putting one of your child’s toys away until they act the way that you want them to.
The “negative” refers to something being removed and the “reinforcement” means that the frequency of a response or behavior increases. Do not get negative reinforcement confused with negative punishment because it is not that. When it comes to dog training, negative reinforcement is always taking away something negative from your dog because they will not understand if you take something away that they like.
Examples of Negative Reinforcement
There are numerous examples of negative reinforcement when it comes to dog training, some are good and effective while others do very little to help your dog. The following are some examples of common negative reinforcement tactics people use when training their dogs:
- Shock training collars
- Using the best bark collars
- Using water sprayers
- Choke collars
- Cayenne pepper for crate training
- Pushing your dog’s bottom to make them sit
Why Use Negative Reinforcement
Using negative reinforcement can be tricky when training your dog, but there are times when it is good and useful. You do not want to use negative reinforcement when you begin training your puppy because positive reinforcement is shown to be both more effective and nicer to introduce to a young pup. But as your dog grows and matures, you want to go deeper into training than simple obedience or following commands. In this case, positive reinforcement may no longer be enough by itself. We would highly suggest hiring and using a professional dog trainer when negative reinforcement is necessary because they will know when and how to use this risky training technique most effectively.
One of the most useful times to use negative reinforcement is when your dog is scared of something. Not necessarily things that you cannot control like storms or fireworks, but things that scare your dog that you can control the how often and when your dog is exposed to that fear. For instance, if your dog is scared of other dogs or certain people in your family, you can use negative reinforcement to teach your dog to no longer be afraid. To use negative reinforcement to help your dog’s fear, you wait until whatever your dog is afraid of comes close. At that point, you hold your dog in place until a certain behavior is achieved and then you let your dog move away. You are taking away a negative situation, the proximity of the other dog, to promote positive action and feeling from your dog.
Risks of Negative Reinforcement
As was mentioned before, using negative reinforcement is a tricky approach. There are risks involved with introducing something unpleasant to your dog, but to take it away at a later date it has to first be introduced. For instance, your dog does not ever have to experience the negative effects of a shock collar, but if you decide to use that type of training, you must be ready for the potential negative impact on your dog. For example, while many owners turn to today’s best dog training collars or the best dog muzzles as training tools, keep in mind that there are potentially counteractive effects of these training mechanisms.
On a psychological level, research shows that dogs who are submitted to negative things like shocks from a collar or a push from their owner can exhibit more fear and aggression to stimuli than other dogs. On a practical level, your dog may experience anxiety and fear that would not have been there had the negative stimuli not been introduced.
Positive punishment is usually the first step in negative reinforcement. You may not think of it as “punishment” in the normal sense, but adding (positive) something negative (punishment) to your dog’s life is by definition positive punishment. This positive punishment can be confusing for your dog because most of the time the introduction of the positive punishment is not in conjunction with a negative action on the part of your dog. A confused dog is oftentimes not a happy dog.
Two Alternatives to Negative Reinforcement
There are many different behaviors in dogs that need to be created or modified that no single method of training could or should encompass. Negative reinforcement is a viable option in certain situations, but there are some training methods that are both more effective and nicer for your dog. The following are two alternatives, among many, to negative reinforcement that you may want to consider when training your dog.
Positive and negative reinforcement are, obviously, opposite approaches to dog training, but they can be used together for greater effectiveness. Positive reinforcement is when you add something to your dog (treats, praise, affection, etc.) so that it makes them want to repeat the action or behavior that they just exhibited. Positive reinforcement is the best way to train your dog for obedience, manners, and tricks and is widely regarded as the primary form of training a dog. There are very few negative outcomes from positive reinforcement and it is also a great way to build and strengthen your relationship with your dog through the training process. When possible, and unless it is necessary to use another form of training, positive reinforcement should be the goal when training a dog.
Counter-conditioning is a form of classical conditioning and is especially useful when your dog exhibits fear or negative behaviors that need to be modified. Counter-conditioning is useful because you are trying to change what your dog associates with certain behaviors or stimuli. For instance, if your dog is scared of another dog, you do not try to change your dog’s behavior (ie. barking or running) but you try to change how your dog views the thing that scares them.
To accomplish something like this through counter-conditioning, your dog does not even need to get close to the dog that scares them. In fact, from a safe distance, you allow your dog to see the other dog and immediately give them a treat no matter how they react. Over time, every sighting or run-in with the dog is immediately accompanied by a treat until your dog no longer associates fear with the dog, but a treat. At that point, you have conditioned your dog to think of something positive (a treat) rather than negative (fear) every time they see the other dog.
What is negative reinforcement in dog training?
When it comes to dog training, negative reinforcement should only be used sparingly and in specific circumstances. When possible, positive reinforcement is the ideal way to teach your dog obedience, tricks, and manners because it is the kindest and best way to build a relationship with your dog while training. Negative reinforcement occurs when something (whether positive or negative) is taken away from your dog to promote a specific behavior. The word “negative” is used to describe the thing that is being taken away while the term “reinforcement” is used to describe the desire to make the frequency of the behavior increase in frequency. The bottom line is that you remove something to make a behavior stick.
What is an example of negative punishment in dog training?
Negative punishment is when you take away something from your dog to decrease the frequency of a specific behavior. A great example of this is ignoring your dog when they jump on you. The action of jumping on you is done to elicit a response of love and affection. Taking that away from them every time they jump on you is a form of negative punishment because you are removing something that they want to decrease the frequency of the behavior they are exhibiting.
What is an example of negative reinforcement?
There are many examples of negative reinforcement that could be given in dog training. Many people have seen or taken part in methods of this type of training like shock collars, choke collars, or even putting physical pressure on your dog to do what you want them to and then removing it when the action is completed. When teaching your dog to sit, an example of negative reinforcement is to place your hand on your dog’s bottom and force them into a sitting position. Your hand is the thing that you will take away (negative) to hopefully increase the frequency (reinforcement) of the sitting behavior. This is a simple and humane example, but it gives you a great way to think about what negative reinforcement can do for your dog.
How is negative reinforcement different from punishment in dogs?
The key to answering this question is to contrast the words “reinforcement” and “punishment.” When you reinforce a behavior, you do whatever you can to increase the frequency of that behavior. Whether you take something away or add something to your dog’s life, you want the behavior of your dog to increase. When you punish a behavior, whether positively or negatively, your desire is to decrease the frequency of the behavior of your dog. There are such things as positive and negative punishment, but either way, you are trying to make the action that your dog did happen less often.