Why Positive Reinforcement Dog Training Beats Negative Reinforcement

While a combination of positive and negative reinforcement may be adequate to discipline a human child, positive reinforcement dog training is far superior to any negative reinforcement plan with your pets. The fundamental reason behind this is that dogs are pack animals and are accustomed to a stratified social hierarchy. In the wild, dogs take their cues for behavior from an alpha leader of the group. Rather than punish bad behavior, the alpha will tend to reward good behavior, and as a result, dogs tend to work to be in favor with the alpha dog.

Negative Reinforcement Causes Fear

One of the primary reasons why negative reinforcement is not an adequate or appropriate form of canine behavior training is that it leads to fear. If you reprimand your dog harshly for a misbehavior, he may come to associate the punishment incorrectly in his mind. In many cases, the dog interprets your punishing him for cruelty or meanness on your part and fails to link the admonishment with the behavior that you were addressing. As a result, your pet may come to fear you and may still continue to misbehave in the same manner.

Fear is a dangerous thing in dogs, as it can often lead to aggressive behavior. As a result, your punishing your pet with negative reinforcement can lead to biting, growling and other undesirable behaviors.

Negative Reinforcement Trains Dogs to Avoid You

Punishing your dog for a bad behavior can also train the dog to avoid committing that action in your presence. Pet owners who reprimand their dogs harshly for urinating inside the house, for instance, may find that the dog discontinues this behavior in your presence. However, he may continue to urinate inside when you aren't home or when you are in a different room. This behavior is somewhat linked with fear as well.

Positive Reinforcement Solidifies Your Authority

By rewarding your pet for good behavior instead of punishing him for misdeeds, you help to reinforce your dominance over him. Dogs that recognize their dependence upon their owners for food, treats and affection are more likely to see their owners as authority figures in the family pack. Once your dog respects you as the alpha, you will find that training him becomes much easier. In the wild, dogs tend naturally to respect and defer to the alpha dog for leadership and guidance. Your pet will follow your commands and obey your training methods much better if he sees you as the dominant member of your pack.

This is not to say that negative reinforcement has no place whatsoever in pet training. When training puppies not to bite, for instance, a sharp yell immediately after a bite is a good way of notifying the dog that his behavior was wrong. Do not continue to admonish him for the action, however, as a punishment any more than a second or so after the misbehavior will be confusing to him. If you have questions about proper training techniques for your pet, speak with a veterinarian or professional trainer for additional advice.