Searching for dog training advice can be confusing. To make matters worse, a lot of that information is loaded with technical terms, industry terms and a good dose of marketing designed to sell rather than inform. When it all boils down there are really only two theories in dog training. All dog training techniques fall into one of those two categories. Understand those and all the confusion can be avoided.
Those rewards can be given or they can be taken away. That is exactly what positive and negative mean. "Positive" means to add. "Negative" means to subtract.
Positive Reinforcement: Give the dog something it likes to reward (reinforce) a behaviour so you get more of it in the future.
Examples: Give a dog a treat for lying down; opening the door only when the dog has first sat; moving forward on a walk only when the dog is beside you.
Concerns: Owners should make sure their pet receives a balanced diet by choosing healthy treats.
Positive Punishment: Give the dog something it dislikes to suppress (punish) the dog so you get less of the behaviour in the future.
Examples: Tugging on a leash to curb pulling; kneeing or pushing a dog to stop it from jumping; poking at the dog's shoulders to stop barking; muzzle grabs; verbal reprimands like shhhsst, no, aaahk; muzzle grabs; alpha rolls; spraying water...many dominance based training techniques fall into this category.
Concerns: Animals can learn to misbehave when the owner is absent, too far away or "behind the owner's back". Fails to teach the dog what it should be doing and owner may not like the behaviour the dog engages in as a replacement. Research indicates these methods can trigger aggression leading to an increased bite risk to the people who surround the animal resulting in a safety concern. Dogs may associate the punishment to the punisher.
Negative Reinforcement: Remove something the dog dislikes to strengthen a behaviour in order to get more of it in the future.
Examples: Shock collars and ear pinches often use this technique. A command is given and the pain is started. Pain continues until the dog obeys. The dog is rewarded/reinforced when the owner stops the pain.
Concerns: Many experts express concerns that these types of methods can trigger anxiety and aggression. Some manufacturers include warnings that these types of products should not be used on animals with behaviour problems or anxiety and can create aggression. Dogs may associate the pain to the punisher.
Negative Punishment: Taking something away the dog likes to suppress or reduce the likelihood of the behaviour happening in the future.
Examples: Time outs. The dog loses free time or attention when it nips or jumps. The dog learns to jump or nip less to avoid the loss of attention.
Concerns: Does not teach the animal what it should be doing. If the dog is seeking attention, the time out will not work. Owners should be cautious about reaching and grabbing the dog's collar to give time outs - it can easily lean into the realm of positive punishment. Dogs can learn to misbehave behind an owner's back and associate the punishment with the punisher.
Remember! Reinforcements and punishments depend entirely on the individual dog. They can switch categories. Example: If a dog loves water then a squirt bottle is a reward - not a punishment.
Classical Conditioning/Pavlovian Conditioning
Example: A dog is afraid of vacuum cleaners. The owner brings the vacuum out at a distance and gives the dog a treat. The owner keeps repeating the exercise gradually bringing the vacuum closer - but only when the dog is capable of handling an increase in difficulty.
Concerns: Dogs can make negative associations if owners are not careful in keeping the dog at a level it can handle.
Remember! There is an expression in dog training that, "Pavlov is always sitting on your shoulder." Dogs are always making decision based on whether something is good or bad. If they have repeated bad experiences, they will make a negative association. If they have positive experiences, they can learn to enjoy a situation.
Exceptions and other terms
Most training falls into one or both of these two categories. Some terms owners might see are: systematic desensitization, counter conditioning, reinforcing the absence of a behaviour.
There are times when exercises need to be modified. One example is instinctive drift. Facing species specific problems just means that exercises need to be modified in a creative manner.