Positive vs Negative Training

Most people think Positive Training means giving a treat during training when your dog responds correctly to a command you have given them. It does not.

Let’s talk about how dogs learn for a minute.

There are four ‘quadrants’, if you will, which describe what happens when the dog is making associations between their behavior and what happens in their world as a result of their behavior. This is also referred to as Instrumental Learning. This type of training can be described as ‘cause and effect’ because the dog begins to make associations between their behavior and what happens as a result of their behavior, both good and bad.

Positive does not mean ‘Good’, we tend to think of Positive meaning Good and Negative meaning Bad. Positive means we are adding something to the training equation and Negative means we are taking something away.

Reinforcement means the behavior is more likely to occur in the future while Punishment means the behavior is less likely to occur in the future.

Positive Reinforcement means we are adding something during training. It could be food, a toy, or praise. We are rewarding the dog for their behavior. This particular behavior is reinforced because they are more likely to do it again in the future.

Positive Punishment is giving your dog a correction. It is Positive because we are adding something to the training, a correction. This is reinforced because the dog is less likely to exhibit this behavior in the future.

Negative Reinforcement is usually thought of as giving the dog a correction, but is not. The dog’s behavior turns off something which is happening to them. For example, you pull up on a leash which causes the dog to sit. Once he does you release the pressure on the leash because you got the expected behavior. Therefore, the dog’s action caused you to stop pulling on the leash. It is ‘Negative’ because you took something away, the pulling on the leash, and it is Reinforced because it is likely to continue in the future. Something unpleasant is happening, the dog’s behavior stops the unpleasantness from continuing to happen.

Negative Punishment is simply withholding a reward from your dog. An example would be your dog sees you have a piece of food and jumps on you. You take the food away and dog sits on the ground. It is ‘negative punishment’ because you took something away from the dog.

Giving treats to reward behavior is totally against good pack mentality. In the wild, the basis for how dogs think, a pack leader will never give food for good behavior. Your boss doesn’t give you a treat each time you show up for work on time! In the dogs mind anyone who willingly gives up food to another is the weaker member of the pack. So, if you never go down this path there is one less thing you will need to correct later.

We are going to use Instrumental Training where the dog learns his behavior has consequences, good and bad. It is that simple.

To Treat Or Not To Treat

…that is the question.

I would suspect that any training systems or methods suggest you use treats to train your dog. The theory is basically the will do whatever it is you want them to do because they are food driven and through repetition the dog will eventually learn what is expected of them. All of these Treat Based methods provide you a way to gradually remove the treats from training.

A couple of questions you should consider before going down this path…

First, if they want to you to stop using treats, why would you want to start with treats in the first place?
Secondly, these methods suggest you use a ‘high value’ treat, that is, a treat which the dog really enjoys. So here’s the question…you want to teach your dog to come to you; what happens when your treat is not of a higher value than the cat he is chasing? What happens then is the dog continues to chase the cat and then may or may not come to you. Certainly, he will not give up the ‘higher value’ of chasing the cat for the ‘lower value’ piece of bacon! Moreover, he will focus on the cat and chase the cat where ever the cat goes, this includes across busy streets! You can see this can put your dog in danger of getting hurt.

Our methods value the safety of your dog very highly. In fact, it is fair to say the better your dog is trained in Basic Obedience the safer he is going to be. We do not use treats in our obedience training.

With that said, I’m sure treats have a place in training your dog to do tricks. Treats have no place in training your dog to be obedient. You want your dog to come to you when you call him because you told him to, not because he is going to get a treat.