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Negative Reinforcement Training – Evil or Essential?

Negative Reinforcement Dog Training E-collar

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Training a dog can seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be! There are several methods you can use to train your pup – including negative reinforcement training.

 In this type of training, a trainer encourages a dog to show a certain behavior by removing an unpleasant consequence.

There’s a lot of confusion out there about negative reinforcement in dog training. Some people view it with disdain, while others see it as an effective training necessity. So, what is negative reinforcement really? Keep reading to find out.

Table of Contents

What is Negative Reinforcement Dog Training?

Operant Conditioning Quadrant

Negative reinforcement training is one of four types of operant conditioningOperant conditioning involves learning by observing the consequences of one’s actions.

In other words, operant conditioning is a way to shape your dog’s behavior using Reinforcements (to increase behavior frequency) or Punishments (to decrease behavior frequency), by either adding something (Positive) or removing something (Negative) from the dog’s environment.

Positive reinforcement refers to adding or giving something (a dog treat, verbal praise, etc.) to the dog to encourage more of that behavior. Check out our guide on positive reinforcement to learn more about this superior training method.

Negative reinforcement, on the other hand, subtracts or takes something away from the dog’s environment to increase the frequency of a particular behavior

Dog Training Operant Conditioning Methods
Operant Conditioning Methods Explained from Boogie’s Blog

Instead, negative reinforcement involves taking away (negative) something unpleasant from the environment only when the dog performs the desired behavior, thus increasing the frequency (reinforcement) of the behavior.

Negative Reinforcement Training Examples Include:

  • Turning off the low continuous shock of an electric or shock collar ONLY when the dog sits
  • Releasing the pressure you hold on the dog’s rump once it sits (this one starts by pushing down on the dog’s rump until it sits, then releasing your hold or pressure)

In both instances, you’ll be removing an unpleasant stimulus or sensation once the dog performs the desired behavior. The dog’s behavior is encouraged by avoiding a negative outcome or removing a stimulus that causes frustration, anger, or aversion.

Negative Reinforcement Versus Positive Punishment in Dog Training

As previously stated, it’s important to note that negative reinforcement is different from positive punishment. Positive punishment happens when an unpleasant condition is introduced after an undesired behavior occurs. For example, if you loudly scold your dog AFTER he’s already peed inside the house, that’s positive punishment.

Positive punishment makes the behavior less likely to occur in the future because it’s associated with an unpleasant experience. Negative reinforcement, on the other hand, makes the desired behavior more likely to recur because it’s associated with the removal of a negative experience.

Negative Reinforcement Dog Training in Action Looks Like This:

Negative Reinforcement Dog Training Example Sm

Let’s say your stubborn dog has a bad habit of jumping on visitors when they enter your home. One way to correct the behavior with negative reinforcement training is to give your pet a continuous shock or vibration from his electric collar while he is misbehaving. Only when your dog performs the desired action (in this case, keeping all four paws on the ground), will he stop receiving the unpleasant consequence.

A Controversial Dog Training Method

While negative reinforcement can be effective in some cases, it is also highly controversial. Some dog trainers argue that negative reinforcement is cruel and can lead to behavioral problems down the road. Other trainers argue that negative reinforcement is a necessary part of training and that, when used properly, it can be an effective tool. The truth likely lies somewhere in between.

In 2014, behavior researchers set out to answer the question we’ve all been wondering: does negative reinforcement dog training actually work as an effective training method?

This study, which was published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, investigated the use of negative reinforcement in dog training and its effects on both human-to-animal interactions and animal welfare.

…more dogs trained with the negative reinforcement-based method displayed signs of stress compared with dogs trained with the other [positive reinforcement] method.

The study found that negative reinforcement training methods, such as electric shocks and choke collars, are associated with poorer human-animal relationships and increased negative emotions in dogs.

In addition, negative reinforcement training was found to be less effective than positive reinforcement methods in teaching dogs new behaviors. The study’s authors suggest that negative reinforcement training should be avoided in favor of humane, positive reinforcement-based methods.

Choosing the Right Training Method for Your Dog

So, what’s the verdict? Should you use negative reinforcement training with your dog? Ultimately, that decision is up to you as the pet parent. However, it’s important to keep in mind that this type of training is not without its drawbacks, so be sure to weigh all of the pros and cons before making a decision.

When used correctly (and sparingly), negative reinforcement can be a powerful tool that can reinforce your pup’s good behaviors, while also preventing bad habits from forming. However, this method also has the potential to cause increased fear and anxiety in your pup when not used appropriately.  Whatever training methods you choose for your dog, be sure to use them consistently and correctly so that your dog will understand what’s expected from him. 

Morgan Messick
Morgan Messick

Morgan is a content creator for Dog Training Newbie, a website that is all about dog training tips, techniques, news, and more. Morgan has two dogs, three cats, and a lovely wife who support her passion for writing.

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