How to Avoid Reinforcing Bad Dog Behavior

It’s easy and very common to unintentionally reinforce bad dog behavior. Reinforcing behavior means doing anything thatincreases that behavior by encouraging the dog to do it again. Punishment weakens a certain behavior while positive reinforcement or negative reinforcement strengthen or encourage a behavior. It's important to learn the difference between all of these types of conditioning. Learning what will best reinforce your dog's positive behavior will help you replace bad dog behavior with good dog behavior.

Negative Reinforcement, Positive Reinforcement and Punishment

Both negative and positive reinforcement strengthen or encourage a behavior. Positive reinforcement teaches a dog to do something to make something happen. For instance, if she sits, she gets a treat.

Negative reinforcement teaches a dog to do something to make something else stop happening or to avoid a negative consequence. For example, if a dog won't eat her food as soon as you put it down, you take it awya and she misses her meal. She will then be conditioned with the idea that she may miss out on her chance to eat if she lets it sit there, reinforcing her to eat as soon as you put the food down.

Punishment, on the other hand, weakens or discourages a behavior because the dog experiences the negative outcome as a consequence of a certain behavior. In the case of being yelled at in the event of an accident, the dog thinks that if she poops in front of her owner, she'll get scolded. It's easy to understand how positive reinforcement works but negative reinforcement and punishment often get confused with one another. But it's important to know the difference or you end up strengthening a behavior that you were hoping to weaken.

Examples of Punishment Not Working

What a dog owner perceives as punishment may be perceived by a dog as positive reinforcement or negative reinforcement. Let's say the dog is barking when someone comes to the door. This is most likely an act of protecting the house. If the owner starts yelling at the dog, the dog most likely will perceive this as just another form of barking. She may perceive it as positive reinforcement because she got attention from the owner once she started barking. This is also often the case when a dog touches a dog to push her off when she jumps up.

The Power of Positive Reinforcement

Punishment can erode the positive relationship with your dog. By ignoring unwanted behaviors and rewarding desired behaviors, you harness the most powerful aspects of conditioning. Your dog will want to earn treats, love, playtime and whatever else she finds the most rewarding. She'll quickly learn how to do it, and bad dog behavior will become a thing of the past.