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Do the words “Negative Reinforcement” put you on edge?

I’ve seen my client’s faces get serious one too many times when I tell them I use positive and negative reinforcement as my training method. Obviously it’s the “negative” aspect that worries them. Why does this word make them so uncomfortable? It’s simply because we live in a generation where “positive only” methods are being over used. Today, my goal is to open you up to a different kind of method. Yes, it is unconventional, and often not the popular choice, but, IT WORKS! And it works fast!

Now, when I say “negative” I’m sure some people start thinking the worst. I’m here to tell you now; this does NOT mean we will abuse your dog. It’s quite possible some of my readers have experienced this type of training and left feeling like their dog was, in fact, being abused. Unfortunate as it is, it does pave an ugly path for those trainers who do use this method effectively. So, that being said, I’d like to begin by going over what positive and negative reinforcement is exactly. I also want to describe some of the dog psychology that goes on when they are implemented PROPERLY, and just how significant each of these are to the dogs understanding. And to take it even further, I will explain just why this method works so well.

Firstly, it is important to know that dogs can’t comprehend a “grey area”, meaning their instructions need to be BLACK and WHITE, not grey. They don’t understand that sometimes it’s okay to beg for my food but others it’s not. They won’t get corrected out of laziness or simply just not noticing them there (dogs are sneaky), but when at the table, with company, you will get in trouble. This doesn’t make sense to them, they get confused and it shakes their confidence. This is why CONSISTENCY is the key to all kinds of training methods. You must be consistent with any information otherwise the area becomes grey and your dog becomes confused. And furthermore this why my training method works so well and so fast. It tells the dog in a small period of time EXACTLY what to do and what not to do. Because the instructions are so clear your dog responds by being confident, happy and obedient.

So, positive reinforcement is typically pretty self explanatory. It can be given in MANY different ways. Toys, treats, playmates, verbal praise, outings, fun games you get the idea. To put it literally, positive reinforcement is ANYTHING the dog enjoys and finds rewarding. My favorite way to describe this is by using the word “paycheque”, think of the difference in your mind-frame when you’re being paid, rather than if you were being asked to do work free of charge. Essentially it is the same with your dog, if they know they are working for something then they are that much more likely to WANT to do it, and it can even become fun for BOTH of you! Fortunately for us dogs are easy to please, so even just verbal praise is often a big fat paycheque to them.

I’m sure I’m not the only person who’s wondered “What’s going on in that head of yours pup?” Well, we can touch on that to an extent thanks to studies. Dogs work in a pack mentality, and within this pack is kind of like a ladder, with the alphas at the top and then so on down the ladder. Any dog under the alpha (if comfortable with the alphas ability to control the pack) will only want to “please” and “obey” their alpha. (I could dabble MUCH more into why it is important for your dog to be comfortable in your abilities to control the pack, BUT that’s a topic for another day isn’t it?) So, to answer that question, to the best of our abilities, your dog is feeling reassured in their place in the pack, this makes your pet feel confident, comfortable and safe, BUT only when you properly apply negative reinforcement.

Without it your dog will feel confused, unsafe and uneasy about your alpha status. Without it, your dog will not know right from wrong. Just like our children, we have to TEACH them right from wrong and without that guidance your “child” can grow up to be a mess. This is why the two types of reinforcement combined are so important to training your furry family member.

ANYTHING Now on to revive the battered reputation of negative reinforcement. As you probably already guessed, negative reinforcement, being the exact opposite of positive, isyour dog doesn’t like or find rewarding. Why did I make “anything” red? Well, because it means literally anything. Some dogs only need a verbal correction; others just hate a sound such as a horn or pennies in a can. Some only need to be squirted with a bottle water to get the idea. At this point I could leave you to your imaginations like I did with positive reinforcement, but in this case that might lead to unwanted conclusions, so I’m going to go on. Sending your dog to time out, not giving up that tasty treat they smell in your pocket, not giving them their reward(toys, praise ect), turning and walking away from the object of their desire (a person or another dog) and many more light, hand off corrections. The corrections are determined by what affects the dog, by how sensitive your dog is and how they respond. Some dogs (such as fighting breeds) need much firmer corrections while other dogs hardly need verbal corrections to get the picture. As well as the fact if your dog doesn’t find the correction disagreeable enough it won’t be effective, if your dog turns their nose up to a verbal correction then you may just have to move onto the shake can instead.

Next I’m going to get into “corrections” that can stir up some questions, but my goal is to give you the knowledge to support these corrections to help you understand why they CAN become necessary. Starting with the most extreme, there are only TWO cases in which I will use hands on, hard corrections for. 1: AGGRESSION, this is because aggression can and has gotten both dogs and people hurt and killed. 2: BOLTING, why bolting? For the exact same reason, if your dog bolts for another person, animal, car ect someone could get seriously hurt or even killed (hit by a car, or attacked by another animal ect). Yes, that’s right, I said hands on... NOT abuse. Notice that all my other corrections are virtually hands off? That is what is meant by hands on. But hands on, hard corrections? What I mean by this is any kind of corrections your dog would receive for the same behavior within another dog pack. These kinds of corrections are usually applied to the scruff, sides or chest of the dog, and often can even become a full frontal correction. But we aren’t dogs right? So we use your hands to mimic what an alpha dog would do. For your sake (and mine), I want to describe this to you.

Think strong and firm, not out of control and spastic. I am working on aggression resolution with your dog, at some point your dog challenges my position and responds aggressively. Growling, snarling, hackles up, ears back, tail down, looking to bite or already on the move for the bite. My hand on, hard correction is this: Hand on the scruff, lifted off their front two paws and given a very hard, stern, growly “NO!” applied with 1 or 2 CONTROLLED “shakes”. No, we aren’t looking to shake the brains out of your dog this isn’t our prey, it’s our pack member. We are mimicking the shake used when corrected by another dog...again not when they shake their prey to kill them, when they shake their pups and teenagers for corrections. Honestly that’s the worst of it.

Now that I’ve gone over the worst of it, I can move into other “questionable” corrections, such as a leash correction. Again, when used improperly, yes this can become abusive to your dog. However when used PROPERLY it is extremely effective. This is a firm but gentle snap on the leash. NEVER with the “brakes on” meaning we snap and release, we don’t snap and hold, which turns into a choke and therefore abusive. This mimics a snap by another dog or a body shove. If you haven’t already noticed this yourself, dogs respond best when their natural instinctual behaviors are mimicked, it’s when we try and muddle up our human perspectives that we muddle up our dogs.

As you can see, in a case where you aren’t properly armed with the knowledge needed to execute such a training technique it can quite easily become abusive, which is why I’ve stressed so much how imperative it is to use PROPERLY. This is why it is so critical to seek help when training your dogs. Without the proper knowledge and guidance it is very easy to confuse your pet and in turn get unwanted behaviors from them and even becomes abusive. If you found this information informative and helpful, let me know! Follow my blog for regular updates, and dare I say it, give me a call and hire some help! Thanks so much for taking the time to read my blog, the information provided is very important to me, so I appreciate your interests!