Positive Vs Negative Reinforcement Training In Puppies

One of the biggest responsibilities you take on when adopting a puppy is their training. Training a puppy well is essential if you want to ensure they grow into a well-adjusted and well-behaved adult dog.

Of course, humans have been training puppies for thousands of years and many different reasons. That means you’ll find a wide variety of training methods you can use to train your particular pup.

The training method you choose is usually based on the particular results you want to achieve with your puppy. For example, if you’re training your puppy to be a seeing-eye dog, your training methods will be vastly different than if you’re training them to be a house pet. 

The same goes for military dogs, police dogs, and other professional working dogs. However, those types of dogs make up a small minority compared to the number of dogs trained to be caring, affectionate family pets.

When it comes to training a puppy to be a pet, there are two training methods you can choose from; positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement. Both methods have their advocates and detractors and their pros and cons. 

The question many new pet parents have is which method is best; positive vs. negative reinforcement training in puppies?

The answer to this intriguing and controversial question is that both positive and negative reinforcement training have their place. Most experts agree that you should start with positive reinforcement training to teach a dog certain behaviors. Later, if they aren’t complying, you should use negative reinforcement.

It must be noted, however, that some believe positive training is the only method that puppy parents should use, while others believe negative training is best. In other words, a consensus on the best training method has yet to be reached.

I realize that isn’t much of an answer, so below, I’ve got more questions and answers to help you decide which puppy training method is best for you and your pupper. Read on if that sounds like the actionable information you’re searching for today.

What is Positive Reinforcement Training?

It’s best to think of positive reinforcement like you used to think of getting an allowance for doing chores as a child. Back then, you did your chores and got your allowance, a reward for doing them. This made you want to do your chores again the following week to get another allowance. 

For a puppy, positive reinforcement means using a reward like a treat, toy, or praise to get them to perform the desired behavior, learn a trick or respond to a command.

Like your allowance as a child, the reward you give your puppy makes it more likely they will repeat the behavior you want them to perform. They do what you want and get a treat just like when you did your chores, and your parents gave you an allowance.

What is an example of Positive Reinforcement in Dog Training?

Let’s say you want to train your dog to “shake hands.” Using positive reinforcement training, you would say the command “shake!” and hold out your hand for your dog to give you their paw. 

If your puppy followed directions and raised their paw to your hand to shake, you would positively reinforce this action by giving them a treat, rubbing the top of their head vigorously, or saying, “good dog!”

One thing to keep in mind is that your timing needs to be perfect. If you say “shake!” to your pup, you should give them their treat as their paw is still in your hand.  If you give them their treat after they’ve placed their paw back on the floor, your puppy might think that they’re being rewarded for placing their paw on the floor. 

What is Negative Reinforcement Training?

Negative reinforcement training is a training process for dogs that utilizes taking something away from a dog or puppy to increase, or maintain, the frequency of the desired behavior.

The “negative” part of negative reinforcement training refers to something negative being removed, which would be something your dog doesn’t like. The “reinforcement” part refers to the behavior you want to increase in frequency. 

One thing to remember is that the word “negative”  in this conversation has nothing to do with the effect on your puppy or dog’s behavior. It is not about doing something unpleasant but rather about removing something the puppy was experiencing.

What is an Example of Negative Reinforcement in Dog Training?

One excellent example of negative reinforcement training is when you want to teach your puppy to sit. Using negative reinforcement, you would push your pup’s backside down, so they go into a sitting position. At the same time, you would say the command “sit!”. 

After doing both, you would release your dog’s back side and remove the pressure from their body. This is the reinforcement stage, and, in most cases, they will realize what the word ”sit!” refers to.

Is Negative Reinforcement Bad for Puppies?

For several reasons, many dog experts and veterinarians believe that negative reinforcement training is bad for puppies. First, research shows that using negative reinforcement can increase a puppy’s risk of fear or their level of aggression.

One study from 2014 Found that puppies trained with negative reinforcement rarely looked at their owners when on a leash. Also, they licked their mouth, yawned more, and had low body posture, all signs of stress.

Is Spraying a Dog with Water Abuse?

One training method used for decades has been to use a spray bottle and spray a dog to try and stop their unwanted behavior. (The same has been used for cats.) 

The problem with using a spray bottle and spraying your puppy when they do something you don’t want them to do is that puppies are intelligent creatures. What will inevitably happen is that they will practice the behavior when you and the spray bottle aren’t around. 

Is spraying a dog with water abuse? Technically, no, because water won’t harm them (although it might sting their eyes for a moment). However, as a training method, most veterinarians and dog experts will tell you that it simply doesn’t work.

Indeed, some dogs become so used to getting sprayed that they start to enjoy it. That certainly won’t deter them from the behavior you don’t want them to perform.

Final Thoughts

Today’s blog article only scratched the surface regarding positive vs. negative reinforcement training in puppies. However, most experts and vets agree that positive reinforcement is the better choice.

Many experts, however, also agree that, in some situations, negative reinforcement can be a useful training tool. For example, police and rescue dogs are trained with negative reinforcement so that they still comply with commands even when they’re distracted. 

Whatever method you choose, be consistent, timely, and keep your pup’s health and well-being in mind. You can only get excellent results and a well-trained dog by correctly using both training methods.

I hope today’s blog was helpful and answered your questions about this important subject. If you have more, please see my other puppy blogs. (There are a lot of them!) I do my best to fill them with helpful info and advice that will help you raise a happy, healthy, and well-trained dog.