Are You Confused About Dog Training?

A great question came in from a longtime reader of the ADTM’s daily email.

Eric –

“I read your emails daily, and learn from them. I appreciate your attitude and demeanor, and my dog, Bella, benefits from them as well. You frequently mention that negative consequences are necessary to stop undesired behavior, and that there seems to be a community that finds fault with what you say. I, on the other hand, grew up in an era before you, where negative punishments were the norm rather than the exception, and they did not border on cruelty. They WERE cruelty. I don’t know what you mean when you say, “negative punishment”. I suspect that professional trainers might, but I, as a layman, don’t know what you are saying. Could you give an example or two of what you deem appropriate negative punishment, perhaps in a video? This might even have a positive effect on your business as well. Maybe some of your detractors would tone it down a bit.

Respectfully and appreciatively,”

Russell F.

Great question and thanks for allowing me to clear this up for you.

First: About my detractors. I COULD CARE LESS ABOUT THEM! Just yesterday I was threatened on YouTube by the very people that get all in a huff when you talk about negative consequences. I only care about you, the dog owner that comes here for answers without the fluff and B.S. that is so prevalent in the dog training world today.

Second: I am a kind and patient man and I understand my critics. I’ve been in the dog training game for a lotta years and I know and have seen first-hand that dog training was and is still cruel. There are old school “yank and crank” dog trainers that are cruel and this is why the “all positive” crowd is in such an uproar. Which leads us to your question:

When I am talking about training I am referring to what is called operant conditioning. A good way to sum up operant conditioning is: behavior is the result of positive or negative consequences in a given situation.

There are four components to operant conditioning:

Reinforcement. Two kinds of reinforcement

1. Positive reinforcement: Behavior is strengthened as a reward is presented after behavior occurs.
2. Negative reinforcement: Behavior is strengthened after removal of something unpleasant.


3. Positive punishment: Behavior is weakened as an unfavorable event or outcome is presented after behavior occurs.
4. Negative punishment: Behavior is weakened when a favorable event or outcome is removed after behavior occurs.

So the confusion starts because there are so many dog trainers that preach that you can only use the first quadrant which is positive reinforcement. They will also allow and tell you that negative punishment is okay because there is no way around it.

To get a behavior to happen and increase, you use the first two quadrants (reinforcement). You have a choice of positive or negative reinforcement. I use positive reinforcement when I am training a dog. I reward the behavior to increase the likelihood of it occurring again.

A good example of negative reinforcement would be the buzzer or bell in most cars. The buzzer will not shut off until you put your seatbelt on. The unpleasant sound increases the chances that you’ll do the desired behavior (fasten your seatbelt)..

In Russell’s question he states: I don’t know what you mean when you say, “negative punishment”

What I often say is negative consequence. Negative punishment and positive punishment are technical behavior terms and can be a little confusing.

Negative punishment is often referred to as “punishment by removal.” So when you put a dog into a crate you are using negative punishment. You are removing the dog’s freedom – negative punishment.

Positive punishment is where the “all positive” “force free” crowd goes out of their minds. This is when you present an unfavorable event (a negative consequence) to weaken or stop the behavior.

There are many examples of positive punishment that you can use and it really is according to the dog. Let me give you a simple example:

My inlaws have a sweet, soft, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Charlie. Charlie has one annoying behavior that no one likes. He barks like crazy when anyone walks past the door. The way to stop this is to use positive punishment and apply an unfavorable event when the behavior (barking) happens.

By saying the word “QUIET” and then pairing it with a squirt of water, he learned to stop barking on command. Now when he barks all you need to say is “QUIET” and he stops.

A dog that is confined to a yard with an Invisible Fence is another example of the use of positive punishment. As the dog approaches the boundary that has been set up, the dog receives a warning, usually a vibration or beep. The dog quickly learns that if they walk past that warning a negative consequence (positive punishment) will happen.

Dog learns to stay behind the boundary.

I hope this helps clear up some of the confusion. Dog training is learning how to apply the correct technique from the correct quadrant at the right time. It’s not that difficult once you get the hang of it.

And I’ll help you. The best place to get started is The Dog Training Inner Circle. There is no fluff, no fantasy, just real world results with a balanced dog training approach.

Here’s where to go NEXT:

Dog training Inner Circle




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *