Negative Reinforcement: A Necessary Evil in Dog Training?

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Heather Brennen wrote a a good piece about Dog Training and the use of negative reinforcement on All Pet News.

You can read the full story here:  Negative Reinforcement: A Necessary Evil in Dog Training?

For the most part, we have refrained from negative reinforcement techniques other than using the word “no” and using a deeper tone of voice for when our dogs were misbehaving or not following our instructions.  Our dogs always seemed so eager to please so it just felt natural to reward good behavior vs. punishing bad behavior.

Heather makes some good points in her article.  Below are two paragraphs that caught my attention (italics are mine):

Effective training is all about timing. You need your dog to associate the reward or punishment with the correct action. Poor timing on the owner’s part can cause a dog to develop a completely unrelated, and possibly worse, association. This is why punishment that is poorly timed can lead to a dog that develops anxiety or aggression issues. It also fails completely to teach your dog what you wanted him to learn.

Trainers focused on punishment often express the importance of being the dominant person in the pack. It is absolutely true that your dog must respect you as his leader. It is also true that there is absolutely no need to use force to get that respect in the vast majority of cases. Using force can backfire immensely. Some dogs will feel so threatened that they respond to force with aggression, exasperating the problem. Others simply shut down and cease working for anyone because the whole experience intimidates them so immensely.

I wonder if there are any studies done comparing training methods and if so, how would they set up the “control” to eliminate bias?  I’ll do some research on this as I am curious to learn more about this subject.

Have any of you had success with one method versus the other?  Please share your stories in the comment from below.

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  1. Woof! Woof! Interesting! It’s always “positive” on how I was trained. But we do agree on timing. I was fortunate to have a great trainer. I was never punished during training. One reason we stop going to competitive agility. Mom was upset how dogs were reprimanded if they did not do well on the ring. Golden Thanks for sharing this. Lots of Golden Woofs, Sugar
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  2. I believe in the FOCUS lesson. A simple lesson I do with all dogs to get their attention with out me saying a word…The dog gets praised when it comes to my side and looks at me. I use a leash and my collar and it takes about three minutes for the dog to understand the focus lesson. Most owners bring their dogs to me because they have just had it with the pulling and the jumping and the out of control behavior. I set their dog right in minutes or less… this allows the owners to begin to enjoy their dogs again. I am not a food trainer but I do give treats at the end of the class simply because of the jobs well done by all the dogs and handlers. Thank you… Sully

  3. I believe negative reinforcement can destroy your dogs spirit. I have seen many dogs shut down or become aggressive because of a correction the dog did not understand. I always allow the dog to figure out what I want from them. The focus lesson is the first and most important lesson one can do for their dog. This allows the dog to pay attention and move forward on their own, because they want to do better and not because they are being punished. I have found that most all problems the dog might have is a problem we created… hugs to all the great dogs out there….

  4. There are many scholarly articles that address the question proposed at the end of this article.

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