Operant Conditioning – Negative Reinforcement

Trainers who subscribe to Positive Reinforcement Training techniques are, due to the nature of Operant Conditioning, forced to apply Negative Reinforcement. Negative Reinforcement training deters unwanted behaviour by responding to the behaviours with unwanted actions (verbal or physical). The two combined are the basis of Operant Conditioning, yet the dog-world does not openly acknowledge the inherent application of “negative reinforcement training”.

Negative reinforcements include, but are not restricted to, using a spray bottle, or a loud bang/horn/shaking a penny can, holding the muzzle shut, negative words (ie – No, Stop, Bad, Quiet, or Sssshhhh), slapping/tapping/yanking/pinning/spinning/kneeing, and using a shock collar or E collar.

Often people do not realize when they are implementing Negative Reinforcement. It is a natural reaction to negate unwanted behaviour, and can, when applied correctly, be successful – especially with puppies or with dogs who naturally (based on their personality) do not want to do unwanted behaviours. People do not hire me when Negative Reinforcement is successful.

Negative reinforcement can increase unwanted behaviours, anxiety and aggression, and should be omitted immediately if it increases stress or unwanted behaviour. I never recommend forcing a technique which, even if proven effective by experts or accepted as industry standard, causes stress or increases unwanted behaviours.

Negative Reinforcement training can often fail because it:

  1. puts too much focus on the unwanted behaviour since it relies on giving Reactive Correction, not Pro-Active Direction
  2. can be confusing to a dog because unless we develop the transferable skills and apply them, we are simply negating actions, as opposed to changing the dog’s perception;
  3. assumes the Dog cares when you give him shit for doing a negative behaviour – often dogs know their behaviour is wrong and they are doing to piss us off (and it works), or they know their behaviour is unwanted, but because the behaviour has been successful in achieving the dog’s goal, unless an alternative is provided, she will continue to do the unwanted behaviour.