Positive Training in Dogs: What You Should Know

You may have heard a lot about positive dog training in recent years. If you want to know how it can benefit your dog, here you will find how to apply it.
Positive Training in Dogs: What You Should Know

Last update: 13 June, 2021

Training a dog is a fundamental part of its development and directly affects the coexistence between humans and animals. That’s why more and more people are choosing to use positive training for their dog.

But what does this way of training consist of? Why is it better than traditional methods? If you’re considering learning more about this topic, here are the keys to start using positive training in the safest way possible.

What is positive training?

The first thing you should know is that there’s no operational definition for positive training. Rather, it’s a philosophy when educating a dog that seeks to be as ethical as possible. It aims to avoid the stress and suffering of the canine throughout the process.

To do this, positive training uses techniques that avoid positive punishment, such as hitting, yelling, or problematic accessories – choking or shock collars. In short, it’s based on the idea that inducing fear in the dog doesn’t teach them what to do and what not to do, but only reduces the incidence of the behavior when the owner is present.

A happy dog.

Techniques used in positive training

Even if positive punishment techniques are frowned upon, it’s impossible not to entirely avoid exposing the dog to aversive stimuli. However, the goal in all cases is to eliminate any form of abuse from the educational process.

In fact, an important part of this style of training is teaching the dog to manage these unpleasant stimuli, as they’re part of the life of any animal.

There are several widespread techniques for positive education that stem from very basic behavior modification patterns. Below, you can read about the most common ones.

Positive reinforcement

This technique aims to maintain or increase the frequency of behavior through an appetitive stimulus: it’s the prize of a lifetime. An example of this is congratulating the dog or giving them a treat when you call them and they come. In this way, they will be more predisposed to come to you on future occasions, as they will anticipate that you’re going to reward them.

Negative punishment in positive training

This form of punishment avoids violence and the presentation of aversive stimuli, as it consists of withdrawing something the dog regards as positive when you want to reduce or extinguish a behavior pattern. A good example is to stop playing – which would be a positive situation – every time the dog starts to bite.

Eliminating the conduct

If you want to carry out this technique, there needs to be a previous reinforcement for the behavior that you want to eliminate, as the whole point is to encourage the behavior to disappear in the absence of a reward.

For some behavior, it may be necessary to combine extinction with other techniques, such as negative punishment.

Imagine you adopt a dog that has been rewarded each time it jumped up on a person’s leg. If you want to use elimination techniques so that they don’t do it anymore, you should stop congratulating them and, in time, the dog will stop doing it, as they don’t receive a reward for it.

Incompatible conduct

This technique is really useful when reinforcement and negative punishment are not working. It consists of asking the dog to perform an action that prevents it from doing the one you want to eliminate. This is also useful for managing the focus of attention of dogs that are obsessed or very nervous.

A good example of this is asking your dog to follow you when they want to attack someone. In this way, if they obey you, they will never run towards the target of their aggression.

Counterconditioning and desensitization

These two techniques are complementary and are used to change the emotional value of a stimulus. Let’s have a look at them separately:

  1. Counterconditioning: This strategy consists of undoing some form of conditioning by associating the stimulus – which is linked to a negative emotion – with a reward. For example, if a dog is afraid of cars, they can be congratulated every time they go past one.
  2. Desensitization: With this strategy, the aim is to reduce the intensity of the response generated by a stimulus. It’s used especially with phobias, as the dog is gradually exposed to the source of its fear, until it stops responding negatively.

In general, being procedures that take time to be effective, they’re combined within the same treatment. In this way, the process is accelerated and new learning is better established.

Do you know what positive training is?

Positive training is a relatively new trend and is constantly evolving, as it seeks new strategies to improve the quality of life dogs that live with humans. Therefore, it’s important to stay up to date if you want to adopt this style of education.

Although punishment may appear to be quicker and more effective, positive training appears to produce stronger long-term results. It requires work and patience, but it’s the best way to ensure that you and your dog enjoy each other’s company in a healthy, stable, and happy way.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Miranda, A. P. (2010). Psicología y aprendizaje del adiestramiento del perro. Ediciones Díaz de Santos.
  • P. (2017, 26 septiembre). Adiestramiento en Positivo – La Guía Mas COMPLETA Que Existe. Adiestramiento Canino. https://adiestramientocanino.org/adiestramiento-en-positivo/
  • Ros Cuéllar, E. (2020). Alternancia de mirada en perros de intervenciones asistidas con animales: una comparación entre perros adiestrados con el método de refuerzo positivo y perros adiestrados con el método cognitivo emocional (Master’s thesis, Universidad Internacional de Andalucía).

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.