What’s so great about being positive anyway?

This month’s Positive Training Blog Hop theme is reviews. Product reviews actually, but I’m going to review myself instead. Or rather, my effort to use All-Positive language during April’s A to Z Challenge.

It wasn’t that hard to come up with topics for each letter… what was hard was expressing my point of view without using any negative language.

Look at that last sentence. Based on my own rules, I couldn’t use “wasn’t,” “hard,” “without,” or “negative.” I found ways to work around words that either conveyed something bad (“hard”) or focused on what was being taken away, rather than what was being given (“without”). At least I hope I did. It’s possible I slipped up. Let me know if you catch anything.

Even when one has an optimistic, upbeat attitude, one tends to use a lot of these words. I had to work last weekend at an event where some Karelian bear dog handlers demonstrated how the dogs train bears to leave people alone. This saves bears’ lives because they don’t have to be euthanized. Awesome, right? My Instagram post read, Not hard to talk me into working on a Saturday if dogs will be there. I could have written Easy to talk me into working on a Saturday… but I didn’t.

It’s interesting to realize how often we frame our experiences by talking about what something isn’t, instead of what it is.

What does this have to do with dog training? I think you know.

Positive training is the best! But we spend a lot of time talking about what it isn’t. We don’t use aversive methods. We don’t use punishment… except when we do.

I read up on the quadrants of operant conditioning for my Reward-based post and was reminded that negative punishment isn’t as bad as it sounds.

I couldn’t talk about it then because both of those words violated my all-positive pledge, but I’m pretty sure no puppy would live to adult doghood without some negative punishment being employed during the nipping phase. With both Isis and Leo, we thought the nipping would never end. We had scratched and bruised ankles, and Leo actually tore a few jacket sleeves by jumping up and biting our arms during walks.

I can’t even say for sure that negative punishment worked, because I kind of think you just have to wait for them to outgrow the nipping, but the only way for both you and the puppy to come out alive is to remove yourself or the puppy from the situation. Time out.

That’s negative punishment. Taking away something good (you) to decrease the repetition of a behavior (biting).

I just discovered this David the Dog Trainer in the negative punishment link above, so I haven’t full vetted him. But based on his website and the video below, I think he gets it.

This is why “reward-based” is a great way to describe my positive pet training philosophy. Read the story of how positive training helped my reactive dog Isis in my book, Bark and Lunge!

Positive TrainingThis post is part of the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop hosted by Cascadian NomadsTenacious Little Terrier and Rubicon Days. Join us on the first Monday of every month to promote positive pet training and share advice and experiences. The hop is open all week long! The next hop begins June 1st with the theme of training multiple pets.

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Published by Kari Neumeyer

Writer, editor, dog mom, ovarian cancer survivor

10 thoughts on “What’s so great about being positive anyway?

  1. How funny you posted about negative punishment today since I just embarrassed myself in a FB comment today by saying that punishment by definition was the application of something unpleasant, completely forgetting about negative punishment since I was focused on the positive reinforcement quadrant. Sometimes I think I’m not qualified to talk about training at all! None of the labels are quite right, but I like the idea of reward-based. That bear dog training looks fascinating!

    1. I don’t know how they train the dogs (at least they were wearing harnesses, not prong collars) but the bear training definitely involves aversives. They trap the bears, let the dogs harass them from outside the trap (barking) and then bean bag the bear when it leaves, letting the dogs chase after them. But if it saves bears’ lives, and reduces encounters with people, I’m for it.

    2. I totally know what you mean, Lara! I actually try not to worry so much about the quadrants or get too caught up in them. I understand how the science works but I have a hard time explaining it! Also, we have to remember it’s only “punishing” if the dog thinks so. Some dogs couldn’t care less about certain “punishments” and that’s why they don’t work.

  2. I think you did great with you A-Z challenge, although I probably wouldn’t notice those negative words. LOL I haven’t seen any other videos of the trainer you mention but the one thing I was thinking was “how is that puppy going to put two and two together?” Since the punishment took so long. I think it might have been better for him to stand up and step away from the puppy than take all that time to put the puppy in the crate. WAY too long for a tiny puppy brain to get it. I usually recommend x-pens to people with nippy puppies, that way you can just get up, step over the pen and there’s the punishment.

  3. Ever since I was a kid, we gave a puppy something else to nip/chew on. No punishment. No emotion. Just remove the hand and put in a toy. I thought I was just teaching my dog to like toys! Now I have studied the same technique for other inappropriate behaviors like jumping. My experience is that positive isn’t always as easy to describe as it is to just do. Doesn’t a smile often say a lot more than any words accompanying it? Of course, this doesn’t help us writers or defenders of reward based, positive reinforcement, whatever, training! Thanks for joining the hop and for the positivity musings. I also appreciate the dog idea for keeping the bears in line… definitely better than killing the bears. And history has proven that once a “new” dog training job has an established method, someone will find less aversive ways to go through the necessary training and proofing steps.

  4. Nice post! Made me realize how often I use negative language even when I’m not feeling negative. Kind of scary. It’s almost as if the use of negative words have become so common that we forget that they are negative, and carry negative vibes (I know you’re basically referring to dog training but the same principles work for people training too.

    1. Thanks. I read a hilarious article recently about how “No, totally” is actually an affirmative. It’s the new “I know, right?”

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