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In dog training, positive and negative have specific meanings. Positive means add something and negative means take something away - just like in maths. We can reinforce behaviours that we want, or suppress behaviours we don't want. In behavioural science terms the word ”punish” is used, but it has the specific meaning here of suppressing, reducing or stopping behaviours we don't want. We do these things by using either positive or negative methods. Some examples.

Positive reinforcement - your dog does something you want like getting off the sofa so you add a reward. Or you go to work and get paid.

Negative reinforcement - your child studies hard for a test so you take away the duty of household chores for a week. It's just easier to explain with children - a dog example is using a particular type of harness that causes discomfort if the dog pulls - by him not pulling and walking nicely, the discomfort is taken away.

Positive punishment (suppression) - your dog does something you dislike so you add an unpleasant thing like a leash pop, nipping his ear or even yelling at him. We don't recommend this as it is often only a temporary fix, it addresses the symptom rather than the cause of the problem and can have unwanted consequences. It also damages your relationship and it doesn't teach the dog what you do want from him. There is a lot more information here - Suppression, Modification, Shutdown, and Fallout.

Negative punishment (suppression) - your dog nips/ mouths you so you take away the object of his fun by removing yourself and leaving the room for a few moments.

Ok, so now looking at why we use positive reinforcement rather than positive punishment. It's pretty simple - it's because it works far more reliably.

There is a saying in dog training that if you want a dog to sit in only one corner of a room, you can reward him (positive reinforcement) when he does, or you can beat him up (positive punishment) when he goes to any of the three wrong corners. The end result will be the same but you will have two very different dogs.

If you want the science behind that, look up
Brian Iwata's Functional Analysis of problem behaviour studies with children. He shows that instead of punishing them when they get something wrong, undesirable behaviour markedly decreases when it is ignored or when desired behaviour is rewarded. The same applies to behaviours in dogs.

A reward based approach also has the benefit of not setting them up for failure; punishment by definition has to allow the dog (or child) to make an error first. And, you could even argue that punishing a bad behaviour could make it worse - because it gets your attention, the dog/child might even repeat it for that alone!

By encouraging and rewarding good behaviour we mould a better behaved dog who will be more confident in making good behavioural choices.
 
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