Reinforcement VS. Punishment


I get a lot of phone calls about dog behavior and how to correct it, some of which includes punishment some includes reinforcement and most times people fail to understand the difference between the two so I wanted to take a short moment, especially with today’s world in dog training and the use of e collars and other pieces of training equipment out there to explain the difference between the two.

Reinforcement by definition is: the action of strengthening or encouraging something

Under the guise of this there is both Positive (which is the only one some people think of) and Negative
For example, a Positive Reinforcement would be the issuance of a treat after sitting on command. Now we all have seen the dog that only sits for the treat, right? When there is no treat present then the dog looks at you like you’re a space cadet and says “NAHHH not today boss”. So, you reach in your pocket and grab the treat and the dog sits. This can mean one of two things. The dog is deliberately ignoring you without the presence of treat OR the fact that the dog has yet to really hear what you are saying and is keying his sit command off body language or the presence of the treat. Either of which needs to be corrected so that’s when we move to Negative reinforcement. Negative reinforcement is taking something away from the dog for exhibiting the correct command. An example of this would be that you ask the dog to sit while applying a light constant stimulus via the e collar until the dog sits. In the initial stages of this we mix both positive and negative reinforcement together so that the dog isn’t confused. So, the first session of negative reinforcement would encompass both the positive and negative reinforcement. The dog is show/given a treat while receiving the stimuli and once dog sits the treat is issued and the stimuli is removed. After the dog understands what is going on the positive reinforcement goes away and the negative reinforcement is carried through. The dog is then happy to sit because he has understood upon command he can turn the stimuli off if he sits putting the dog in the driver seat of his own training. Now let’s talk about punishment.

Punishment by definition is: suffering, pain, or loss that serves as retribution

For example, a Positive Punishment (not warranted very often) would be a diversion or replacement command. The dog is chewing on shoes as a puppy so taking the shoes while vocalizing a loud NO! and replacing with a chew toy would be an example of a Positive Punishment. Negative Punishment however would be best described as withholding reward from the dog while issuing a form of correction until behavior is exhibited. For example, for the dog that is pulling on the leash. The forward motion should be stopped and correction via training collar exerted until dog is back at heel. Once dog is back at heel the correction goes away and forward motion proceeds. This teaches the dog that if it pulls that the removal of reward of forward motion as well as correction will occur decreasing the dog’s likelihood of continuing to pull.

NOW!!!! This is not something that happens overnight which is why most reputable trainers keep dogs for programs of 6-12 weeks to ensure they are able to go through all the motions of this process with each command. Will your dog always turn out to be an "A+" Student? Not necessarily, however most reputable programs can greatly affect the chances that your crazy canine becomes as well-mannered four-legged society member. For the group session trainers, they can accomplish some of this but most of them are scared to talk about negative anything or punishment anything which means most of the time you get a treat conditioned dog who knows to exhibit commands only when there is a form of reward present which typically means instead of the handler being in control of the dog....the dog is in control of the handler. Thanks for taking time to read this month’s blog and we will see you soon and until next time........"GET OUT OF THE DOG HOUSE!!!!!!"


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