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The Problem With All-Positive Reinforcement Dog Training

Posted on 4/10/2015 by Ali Meza in dog training corrections

Does the phrase "Positive Reinforcement Only" Training make you feel warm and fuzzy? When it comes to obedience training, it might not be as effective as you think.

A big part of why I’m so excited about our new dog training services is because I personally am learning so much from our Head Dog Trainer, Lindsey Schmitz.The other day, we were talking about dog obedience training and I asked her about “all-positive training.” I was amazed at the answer. Lindsey broke down down why all-positive training, despite its popularity, isn’t that great for dogs and why using corrections, like she does for our San Diego dog training clients, is actually super important for obedience training.

What is All-Positive Dog Training?

All-positive dog training uses rewards (treats or praise) only. All-positive trainers give dogs rewards when they do something right, and withhold the rewards when they don't. Many owners like all-positive training because they’re not comfortable disciplining or correcting their dogs – mistakenly believing that doing so is hurting or abusing the dog.

Pros and Cons of All-Positive Training

All-positive training is actually fantastic when you’re teaching your dog fun tricks. It’s not so great when your dog is acting inappropriately (showing aggression, jumping on people, lunging at other dogs or people, etc.). All-positive training can effectively get your dog to continue doing a behavior, but it usually doesn't work as well when you want your dog to stop doing something. Picture this: you’re walking your dog, he spots another pooch across the street, and starts lunging and pulling. To stop this behavior with all-positive training techniques, you’ll need to stop and use a reward to redirect his attention back to you. For that to work, your reward needs to be more enticing than the other dog (or whatever’s distracting him). Over time, those little liver treats will lose their appeal and you’ll need to up the ante – and my Pepe is already picky enough. Using corrections in your training will teach your dog that any inappropriate behavior, from pulling on the leash to jumping on furniture to barking at the mailman is not acceptable.

Corrections 101

So what are corrections, exactly? Lindsey, uses two types: verbal (a sharp “No!”) and physical (a quick leash “pop” with a training collar). Corrections should always be hands-off – never touch or hit your dog when correcting him – and should only be used if you’re 100% sure your dog knows the command you’re using and is ignoring it, or knows what he’s doing is wrong. I love how Lindsey describes proper corrections: “As soft as possible, but as firm as necessary.” You don’t need to – and shouldn’t – correct in frustration or go to extremes, you just need to clearly send the message. When used properly, just like rewards encourage good behavior, corrections correct bad behavior. 

Corrections Are Not Abuse

Proper corrections are similar to how dogs naturally communicate. Have you ever watched a bunch of puppies with their mother? If they’re playing too rough, or getting too close to her food bowl, she corrects them by nipping them. The puppies learn they can’t do that, and (usually) won’t try it again. To be sure that you’re correcting and not abusing your dog, make sure that your corrections are consistent, appropriate, and fair

  • Consistent Corrections: For your dog to associate the correction with the bad behavior he’s doing, you need to correct him every time he does it. He can’t think that sometimes it’s okay to jump on the couch, or that it’s okay to jump on your brother but not your niece. The correction also needs to happen when the behavior’s happening, or the dog won’t understand why he’s receiving the correction. The correction must also stop as soon as the unwanted behavior stops, or your dog will get confused about what behavior you don’t want.
  • Appropriate Corrections: Your corrections need to be appropriate to the type and temperament of your dog. A Chihuahua shouldn’t need the same level of correction as a German Shepherd. With a shy puppy, you probably just need a sharp “No!” With a more headstrong dog, you’ll more likely need a firm leash pop. Different types of inappropriate behaviors need different levels of correction as well. Ignoring a command like “sit” doesn’t warrant the same correction as aggression or attacking another dog. 
  • Fair Corrections: Your dog needs to understand the correction is happening because he’s willfully ignoring your command – rather than still learning them. Avoid corrections until you’re 100% sure your dog understands the command or the behavior you want. This way, your dog will learn that he’s only getting the correction when he’s doing something wrong, avoiding confusion and frustration. 


I'm a big softie, so I understand that using corrections can be tough – especially when you’re working with an adorable little puppy and he’s just so cute! But it's not so cute when he develops habits of leash-reactivity or digs up your garden. Both rewards and corrections are necessary for your dog’s well-rounded obedience training.  

You can learn more about Lindsey’s training philosophy, or leave a comment and let me know what training methods have worked best for you.