Defining Positive and Negative Reinforcement In Pet Training

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reinforcement in pet training

What is reinforcement?   Simply stated, a reinforcement is a consequence of a behavior that increases the likelihood of a behavior happening again, and even strengthening. But not all reinforcement adds to the animals quality of life.

Positive Reinforcement or R+ are consequences such as food, play, or other fun interaction. These are consequences of value that are added to the animal’s environment.

Negative Reinforcement or R– are consequences that re removed from the environment. Some examples include removing the  pinch of a pinch collar by walking on a loose leash or removing the proximity to a towel for a bird by stepping up.

All of these consequences occur after a behavior, and serve to cause an increase in that behavior’s occurrence. However, which consequence do you think will teach the animal  that doing the behavior is a great choice because of the valuable outcome?



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  1. I just witnessed this the other day. As I was driving through a nearby (very!) small town, I saw a Rottie scampering around the road and sidewalks. I slowed and smiled. He was obviously having fun with his freedom. The thought started to cross my mind to try to lure him to me, to see if he had a collar and I could contact the owners (one of my dogs got hit by a car and I’m uber-aware of loose dogs!). Before I could do anything, though, a mini-van approached going in the opposite direction as me. The driver stopped the van and got out. He immediately started yelling at the dog to come. “Get over here!” he shouted angrily. “What are you doing?” “Come here, NOW!”
    I saw the dog stop–he recognized either the van or the man/voice. He stopped and looked at him, and in my mind, I saw the dog weighing his options. I sighed. I would not want to go to that shouting, angry man. But, the dog decided that going back to his family was better than his temporary freedom. I sighed again, and drove away, shaking my head.
    I try very hard to praise my dog when he comes to me, no matter what he was doing 5 seconds before that. The point to me is that he STOPPED what he was doing and came when I called.

    • Lisa Desatnik says:

      Hi Heidi, Thank you for sharing that story. What you describe is a really great example of why it is so important to always reserve that recall you for a positive outcome. Animals learn by the consequences of their behavior. If we want our dogs to reliably come when called, it is our responsibility as their caregiver to make that decision a valuable one for our pet.