Close X

Home ยป Dog Training

Positive Reinforcement and Negative Punishment

Paul Thrasher  |  Apr 30th 2010


I don’t buy into dominance theory, but even if I did, I have seen time and time again that dogs know the difference between a human and a dog. I do not use only positive reinforcement (R+) training and don’t know anyone who does. My training style is based in R+ (about 85%), but includes negative punishment (P-) the rest of the time. Behavior is behavior. Be it the most complicated freestyle routine, obedience level or just walking my dog down the street, it is all behavior and can all be taught using R+ based methods. When you are dealing with positive punishment (P+), you are looking at what you do NOT want. I find it very helpful to have pet dog owners focus instead on what they DO want. Rather than “I don’t want my dog to jump” I prefer “I want my dog to sit.” Rather than “I don’t want my dog to pull” I prefer “I want my dog to walk nicely with a loose leash.” When you are focusing on what you don’t want, you leave a world of options open. If I tell you do not think of red, what color are you thinking of? Well, maybe red, because it was the focal point of my cue, but maybe blue, maybe green, maybe pink. Maybe what I really mean is “Think of purple.” Simply saying “Don’t think of red” does not tell you what you SHOULD do. Let me also add that punishment of any type is subject to the pitfalls of punishment, some of which are detailed here. While not every dog will fall prey to these pitfalls, why would we ever risk them? I really don’t think it is a nature vs nurture thing. As an R+ based trainer, I certainly acknowledge and even use the genetic predispositions that a dog comes with. Taking advantage of genetics does not mean I need to use punishment to train, it does not mean I discount the fact that a dog is a dog, it simply means I avoid two of the four quads. Be it a pet dog or a working dog, I want a dog that works to get something, not one who works to avoid something.