There are four things that will influence dog behavior. When making reference to influencing dog behavior, two are referred to as reinforcements and the other two are referred to as punishments.

There is positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement and there is positive punishment and negative punishment. In a moment, I’ll give you a simple definition of each one followed by an example of what each one might be.

I say “might be” because one of the most common problems I encounter is that a person might think they are doing something to get rid of a problem when actually, they are making matters worse or vice versa, they might think they are reinforcing a behavior when, in reality, they are making their dog less reliable at that command. Let me explain more about this.

First, you need to understand that reinforcement or punishment is not defined by what you are doing to your dog. Rather, it is defined by how your actions affected the dog’s behavior you are trying to have an influence on. It is very easy to fall into the trap where you think you are punishing your dog for something it did when in reality you are reinforcing that behavior.

This problem exists in both directions. You might also think you are reinforcing something your dog just did, but in reality are punishing the behavior.

Sound confusing? It gets worse. Another related problem may rear its ugly head as well. You may be trying to punish one behavior and as a consequence, you punish something else accidentally that you want your dog to do.

Without taking care to look at the whole picture of what you are doing, you might be undermining your efforts in many ways. This will become clearer as you gain experience reading your dog.

For now, just be aware that what you think you are doing isn’t always being understood or taken by your dog the way you think it should be. It’s important to look at how your dog is reacting to what you’re doing. This will help you to determine whether or not you should continue what you’re doing or look for another solution.

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