Understanding Dog Training Terms: A Guide to Operant Conditioning - Dog-Eh!

Understanding Dog Training Terms: A Guide to Operant Conditioning

No matter where you learn to train your dog you are likely to hear terms such as positive/negative or reinforcement/punishment in different combinations. These terms actually go back to the basic psychological principles of operant conditioning (remember Ivan Pavlov?). We wanted to clear up their meanings for you so that you are well informed and can make the best decision for what method you use to train your dog.

Understanding Dog Training Terms: A Guide to Operant Conditioning

Positive: the adding of a stimulus to a situation.

Negative: the removal of a stimulus to a situation.

Positive Reinforcement: the addition of a stimulus to a situation that will encourage a behaviour to occur.

Real-life examples: you cut the lawn without being asked and your dad gives you $20. On, in the case of your dog: if you tell your dog to sit and they comply, then you immediately provide them with food, a toy, or affection as a reward. Rewarding the desired behaviour as soon as it happens will make it more likely to occur again when your dog thinks “last time I sat, I got a treat, I should do that again”.

Negative Reinforcement: The removal of a stimulus that will encourage a behaviour to occur.

Real-life example: you are driving in heavy traffic to work every day which frustrates you. You find a different route with less traffic and you use that route daily which removes you from the traffic and the stress. In dog training, a martingale/prong collar is a great example of this, when a dog pulls on the leash the martingale or prong collar tightens up. When the dog relaxes and stops pulling on the leash the tightness is released from the collar and so the dog is less likely to pull again, they are reinforced by the removal of the negative stimulus (choking).

Positive Punishment: Again, positive is adding so in this case you’re adding punishment to deter a behaviour.

Real-life example: yelling at a spouse or child, or adding more chores to a child’s list as a consequence of a behaviour would be positive punishment. Yelling at, hitting your dog or using a shock collar are all examples of positive punishment. We do not advocate any of these tactics. They may work in the short term but do not create lasting results as previously mentioned in the section about positive training as your dog is acting out of a desire to avoid punishment instead of making their own choices because it knows it will be positively rewarded for making the right choice.

Negative Punishment: Negative punishment involves removing a stimulus.

Real-life example: if your child is playing video games and not doing their homework and you take away their Xbox for one week they are being punished by the removal of a stimulus. In the case of training your dog, if your dog is playing with a squeaky toy late at night and you take away the toy until morning, you are punishing the dog by removing the toy that was stimulating them.

Which is Best? 

At Dog-Eh!, we are huge proponents of positive reinforcement dog training. This is such a good option for training your dog because your dog will eventually learn to make good decisions on their own to seek out the rewards they know come from making the right choices. It has been proven over and over that this is the best way to get long-lasting results in your dog training.

If you're looking for positive training resources, check out these eBooks!


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