Positive vs. Negative Training


Positive Reinforcement
The process of encouraging or establishing a pattern of behaviour by offering a reward when the behaviour is exhibited.
Providing a treat when a dog ‘sits’ when asked.

Negative Reinforcement
The process by which an animal learns a behaviour to stop an unpleasant experience.
A dog learning to walk to ‘heel’ to avoid being choked by their collar.

Positive PunishmentConfusion-About-Negative-Reinforcement-During-Dog-Training-1.jpg
Presenting an aversive or unpleasant consequence after an undesired experience is exhibited.
Pulling on a choke lead when a dog is walking too far in front. Sending a dog into their bed or other room after excessive barking, biting or other undesirable behaviour.

Negative Punishment
Removing a reinforcing stimulus after an undesired behaviour is exhibited.
Removing a dog’s toy if they are chewing instead of playing. 


puppy  play.jpgSeveral studies have compared these different training methods to test their effectiveness. Lalli et al, 1999 found than the compliance of participants was higher when it produced an edible item rather than a neutral response such as a break.

Blackwell et al. 2008 sent out a questionnaire survey to dog owners to discover which training methods they used. 16% only used positive reinforcement, 12% used a combination of positive and negative reinforcement. 40% used a combination of all methods and 72% used some form of positive punishment. The mean number of undesirable behaviours was 11.3 per dog and formal training classes didn’t significantly affect the total numbers of undesirable behaviours reported. However, dogs that attended puppy socialisation classes were less likely to exhibit undesirable behaviours suggesting that socialisation at a young age is much more important than training in order to reduce the incidence of undesirable behaviours.

Unknown.jpegHiby et al. 2004 found that owner’s ratings of dog obedience correlated positively with being trained using rewards. They also found that when dogs were training using punishment, they were more likely to exhibit problematic behaviours; because of this it was suggested that positive training methods are more useful for the pet owning community.

Judging from the above studies, it seems that the best training method is positive reinforcement as a way to reduce undesirable behaviours; but perhaps the best way to avoid undesirable behaviours developing is to ensure that puppies are properly socialised from a young age.


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