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Positive Reinforcement vs Negative Reinforcement Dog Training

The last post discussed some of the pros and cons on whether dog owners should house train or hire a dog trainer. If you’ve decided which option suits you best, great! Otherwise, don’t fret; take your time to assess both options, talk to your family and then decide! It must be noted that you can always pick do both – house train and hire a dog trainer!

Now, the next step is to come up with a strategy on how you will be training your German Shepherd. In this post, we’ll break down the types of German Shepherd training into two very broad categories – positive and negative reinforcement training. Through this, you will be able to understand which type of training dog professionals recommend and the reasons behind it. Through this article, you’ll also be able to determine the right strategy to German Shepherd training and how this plays an important role in the training of your German Shepherd.

First, it is essential to remind ourselves that dogs are of a different species than ourselves and therefore, our expectations may not meet the way they behave. In the simplest terms, you can think of dogs learning through trial and error; that is they will behave in a variety of different ways and based on the consequences of those behaviors/actions, they will either increase or decrease the frequency of those behaviors. Know it or not, your dog is learning all the time by observing its surrounding and the consequences of its actions and social interactions. Your dog (in certain cases, similar to us), will avoid a behavior that results in  bad consequences or anything that makes the good consequences go away.

Remember your German Shepherd is one of the most intelligent dog and it’s safe to say that you and your dog will have a stronger bond whenever your dog sees you as a facilitator to good consequences. Think about it, your dog’s happiness really does depend on you as the owner. From the freedom to socialize with other dogs at parks, taking walks around the neighborhood, or even having a tasty dinner, you hold the deciding key! Hence, if you do open these doors for your dog to gain positive experiences, your dog will more likely than not cooperate with you.

This is concept behind the process of rewarding your dog for good behavior and is known as positive reinforcement training. The number of things you can do to reward good behavior are countless and include anything from treats and new toys to spending more time in the dog park or petting your dog. Positive reinforcement training often works because in order for your dog to experience things that he appreciates/enjoys, he needs to earn them by cooperating with you.  Positive reinforcement training focuses on the “dos” rather than the “don’ts.”

Now, you’re probably wondering: What about punishment or what is  also known as negative reinforcement? Many dog trainers would agree that punishing your dog for something that he/she did is not going to help your dog behave in a more favorable or acceptable way. What’s more, punishing your dog is ABUSIVE! Not only that, it can also strain the bond both of you share, which as we have mentioned in our previous posts, can make training your dog more challenging that it’s supposed to be. Another adverse effect of negative reinforcement is that your dog will start displaying behaviors of submission and fear whenever you – the punisher – are around. And when you’re not around, your dog will go back to behaving the very same way he/she was punished for. Recall a time when you were younger and your parents told you “no” to certain things; what did you end up doing?

The young me, for one, would not have given in easily. Instead, I probably would have kept bugging my parents for the things I wanted. I bring this up because I feel like many of us can relate to such situations and therefore understand why negative reinforcement training doesn’t (really) work. From past experiences, I have seen individuals punishing (let’s not go into detail how) their dogs for digging holes in their home garden which only resulted in more hole digging whenever there is no one present at home. Let’s be honest, sometimes dog owners would feel so frustrated with the actions of their dogs that they have the tendency to act out of their impulse and punish their dogs. It must be reiterated that punishing your dog, as mentioned, does no good for you and your dog. In such situations, it is better to just walk away, calm down, and then plan a positive strategy to deal with your dog’s behavior.

Before we conclude that positive reinforcement training is the way to go, let’s take a step back and think about when negative reinforcement training can be used in a non-abusive manner as a way to train your dog. To better illustrate this, let’s think about something that you like or enjoy; as an example, maybe you really enjoy eating seafood. Now, this may sound extreme, but let’s say that whenever you eat too much seafood at one go, your stomach won’t feel that great afterwards. Occasionally though, you can’t resist the temptation to stuff yourself with seafood and as a result, you experience a diarrhea. Does this make you “bad”? I think most people would agree that the answer is certainly not.



Now, apply a similar scenario to your dog. Perhaps your dog really enjoys digging holes and even though he is well-trained, there may be times where he really wants to dig holes in your backyard.  Likewise, this does not mean your dog is a “bad” dog. At times like these, times where your dog displays a certain stubborn behavior, one thing that can be done is utilizing negative reinforcements so that you can redirect your dog’s behavior to something that is acceptable to you. Going back to the same example, whenever you see your dog starting to dig holes in your backyard, you could say something like “Eh, Jasper (your dog’s name), come here.” This helps keep your dog’s behavior in check and reminds your dog that the action that he is trying to attempt is a no go. Again, the point here is not to threaten your dog, but rather, to guide your dog towards other things that he appreciates which can be earned through good behavior (positive reinforcement). Interrupting the behaviors of your dog will not only influence your dog to avoid such behaviors in the future, but by doing so in a non-abusive manner, you will not induce fear into your dog.

So in a nutshell, positive reinforcement training is definitely the way to go; although at times, dog owners need to mix it up by including some forms of non-abusive negative reinforcement training.

If you’re a dog owner, what about you? What is or has been working for you? For us, it’s clear that the German Shepherd training strategy that works is wisely incorporating both positive and negative reinforcement training. Of course, during most of the time, positive reinforcement training is used more as means to train German Shepherds.

Note: Making analogies to the our personal experience can often times put ourselves in the shoes of our dogs; enabling us to understand their world and their perspective in a simpler manner. We feel that by including these analogies into our posts, it can make the post more interesting and enables us to better explain the German Shepherd training world to our readers.

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