top of page

When and how to correct a bad behaviour.. when to Use Positive Reinforcement?

After 48 years of training various types of dogs, my extensive experience has led me to firmly believe that correction is an essential aspect of dog training. While I am a proponent of positive reinforcement, I also recognize the significance of incorporating correction into the training process. The debate surrounding whether to punish unwanted behavior or redirect dogs towards desirable actions has long been a subject of contention.

In my journey, I've come to understand that training a dog without any form of consequences is impractical. While there are indeed exceptional trainers who exclusively employ positive reinforcement techniques, it's essential to note that none of them have consistently achieved national-level recognition in competitive dog sports. Moreover, their dogs often require more time, typically aging between 4 to 6 years before being competition-ready for the first time. I've engaged in discussions with trainers who exclusively rely on positive reinforcement, and their confidence in their dogs varies. Some are unwavering in their belief that their dogs will obey commands under all circumstances using positive reinforcement alone, while others acknowledge that their dogs may not respond consistently in every situation but hold the personal conviction that corrections should be avoided.

Despite these nuances, there is a consensus among experienced trainers that corrections, when judiciously employed, can expedite the training process. With that context, it's crucial to explore the rules and principles of utilizing corrections effectively.

First and foremost, it is essential to emphasize that physical punishment, such as hitting a dog, is unequivocally unacceptable and constitutes animal abuse. While it may produce results, it is morally reprehensible and should never be considered a correction. Instead, there are tools, techniques, and experts available to provide guidance in humane training methods. Employing such resources ensures that dogs are taught with respect and without fear.

To administer corrections appropriately, it is essential to have the right tools at your disposal. Fur savers, like those crafted by Herm Sprenger, are a suitable choice for dogs that are more sensitive and require gentler corrections. For dogs with resilient temperaments, such as those that exhibit strong drives or pull vigorously, the Herm Sprenger prong collar is often the preferred option due to its effectiveness. Proper usage of these tools is paramount, and resources are available to assist in their correct application.

Additionally, for individuals working with qualified professionals or who possess expertise themselves, the remote trainer, commonly known as an e-collar, can be a valuable tool. However, it should be noted that using an e-collar without proper training can be detrimental. Surprisingly, when employed at low-level stimulation, an e-collar can provide a gentle form of correction compared to other collars.

Furthermore, timing is a critical factor in effective correction. Corrections must occur while the undesirable behavior is happening or immediately afterward, within a second at most. The same principle applies to rewards; positive behaviors must be marked instantly with a clicker or verbal cue like "Yes" to ensure a timely reward. Accurate timing is vital for fair and effective training.

Motivational, positive reinforcement-only training is a comprehensive system that can nearly stand on its own. Corrections, on the other hand, do not constitute a complete training system. Although it is possible to teach dogs everything using corrections and force, it's essential to acknowledge that this approach is rooted in older training methodologies, some of which involved animal abuse. Modern dog training has evolved significantly, and motivational training has become a game-changer.

In addition to the discussions on correction and motivational training, it's worth mentioning another training methodology that has been employed in both dog and horse training. This approach involves the application of negative pressure followed by positive reinforcement, effectively transitioning from a negative phase to a positive one.

This method, often used in traditional training systems, acknowledges that pressure, when appropriately applied, can be an effective means of communication with dogs and horses. The principle is simple: when the dog or horse complies with the desired action, the pressure (negative stimulus) is released, making the experience positive for the animal, and it is followed by a reward in the form of treats, praise, or other positive reinforcements.

This approach essentially leverages the concept of pressure and release. Pressure can be applied through cues, leash tension, or body language, signaling to the dog or horse what is expected of them. Once the animal responds correctly, the pressure is promptly removed, creating a sense of relief and positivity.

For instance, in dog training, if you apply gentle leash pressure to guide the dog into a sit position, once they sit, you release the pressure, and their compliance is rewarded with treats or praise. This method is particularly effective for dogs that respond well to clear cues and structured training.

Similarly, in horse training, this technique has been employed in various forms, such as with the use of reins, leg aids, or body cues. When the horse responds correctly to these cues, the release of pressure serves as positive reinforcement and reinforces the desired behavior.

It's important to note that while the negative-to-positive transition method can be effective for certain dogs and horses, it may not be suitable for all individuals, as animals have unique temperaments and learning styles. Therefore, the choice of training method should always be tailored to the specific needs and characteristics of the animal.

In the evolving landscape of dog training, where modern techniques often prioritize positive reinforcement and motivational training, this traditional approach highlights the diversity of methods available. Ultimately, the effectiveness of any training method depends on the trainer's skill, the dog or horse's temperament, and the specific context in which the training takes place. A well-rounded trainer may draw from a variety of methods to create a training program that best suits the individual needs of their canine or equine companion.

I strongly recommend investing time in learning about motivational training, positive reinforcement, and rewards-based techniques. This approach represents 99% of modern dog training. The remaining 1% pertains to corrections, which should ideally be used sparingly, only when necessary. The ultimate goal of incorporating corrections is to minimize their use, as this signifies a well-executed and effective training program that relies primarily on positive methods.

Visit our TikTok Videos



bottom of page