Posted by: Linda Trunell | March 10, 2013

Negative Punishment vs. Positive Punishment

Izzy & MaxWhen we are using positive reinforcement to train, we are adding a reward to reinforce the desired behavior.  Negative reinforcement is the removal of an aversive stimulus when a desired behavior is performed.  For example, when a shock collar is used to enforce a recall, the dog is receiving an unpleasant stimulus which stops when he starts to respond to the recall.  PR (positive reinforcement) trainers reward the dog for coming instead of “punishing” for not coming.  Remember behaviors that are rewarded are repeated.  So how do PR trainers “punish” the wrong behavior?  Do we use negative punishment or positive punishment?  What’s the difference?

Positive sounds good and negative sounds bad if you are thinking in terms of good or bad.  But you need to think in mathematical terms where positive is addition and negative is subtraction.  Therefore, negative punishment means taking away something.  You ask your dog to sit and when he sits you reward him with something he likes (a treat, praise, affection, or play).  If he doesn’t sit, the punishment is no reward.  Simple, right?

Well then what is positive punishment?  What is added?  A leash jerk, a shock from a collar, a swat on the nose, a spray from a water bottle, a poke in the side (a la the dog whisperer), pushing, yelling, or any other physical or emotional abuse is positive punishment.  You are adding something unpleasant (an aversive stimulus) to deter the behavior from happening again.

Positive punishment creates mistrust, fear and sometimes aggression.  Some dogs will become so fearful they will totally shut down.  Some trainers would say, “Now the dog knows who is boss and has become submissive.”  Sure, the dog may seem submissive for the moment but what has he learned?  He has learned not to do that behavior in front of you because you are not to be trusted.

Here’s to being our dog’s best friend,



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