Lisa's Voice

Why Positive Reinforcement Works

Here’s a good mnemonic for shaping behavior, “Reward the best; ignore the rest.”

I used to joke that everything I learned about teaching, I learned from dog training. Then I’d scold my class, “Sit! Stay! Hush!” The truth is, especially since the rise of positive reinforcement techniques, experience training dogs has made my interactions everywhere, from my classroom to the IT Help Desk to my marriage, more pleasant than you might think.

Even inspiring.

Last spring semester, I made positive reinforcement the defining feature of my Advanced Fiction Writing course. I actually required it of my students in all their interactions, particularly their workshop peer reviews–their use of positive reinforcement was the only thing I graded them on. I made a sort of Kindness Rubric, and, however ironic, only docked them for using negative reinforcement. A few students grumbled at first, especially men who felt that searching for things to praise in others and not saying anything about the poor stuff made them weak and phony, even when the praise they gave was honest and accurate. By the end of the course, all of them felt uplifted, more creative, and more influential.

From Fidos for Freedom, A+ Partners in Education, county libraries and schools.

If you’d like to know more about positive reinforcement and dogs so that you, too, can extrapolate wildly to all facets of your own life, you’ll find an excellent article below. It’s overview of positive reinforcement techniques, their history, and their effectiveness. From what I’ve seen of our readers, you tend to be introspective, insightful, and committed to your own and others’ happiness, so I’m confident you’ll put the information to work adding a little more goodness to the world.

One more thing: for those of us who’ve been training dogs since the seventies, or who cut our teeth in business or academics during the Age of Sarcasm, it’s also nice to see this article remind us to forgive ourselves for having doled out negative reinforcement without knowing any better. 

And remember, positive reinforcement works on yourself, too. 



The Evidence for Positive Reinforcement Training In Dogs

by Pippa Mattinson, author of Happy Puppy Handbook, Total Recall and The Labrador Handbook.

Over the last few decades there has been a huge swing towards less punitive methods of dog training. Watching a modern trainer in action is a very different experience from watching old school traditionalists. Gone are the barked commands, the emphasis on ‘respect’ or ‘dominance’ and even intimidation. In many cases the use of punishment has been entirely replaced by the use of food and games.

Is the move to positive dog training a good thing?

But hang on a moment. Aren’t we being swept along in the latest ‘fad’ or ‘craze’. Isn’t this just a passing fashion?  How are we going to control our dogs when we run out of treats? And what if we don’t want to wave food around or to ‘beg’ or ‘plead’ with our dogs to come when we call them?

In fact, let’s lay it on the line. Do these new fangled methods of dog training even work?

Read on at The Happy Puppy Site …

3 replies »

  1. Hi Lisa,
    Perhaps it is the group of individuals I follow, but rarely have I had anything but positive reinforcement. The family of writers with WordPress cares and nurtures each other. I only wish we could find this same attitude with the divisiveness within our country. The negativity and hate is stifling. BTW, great post and great reinforcement.


    • Thanks, Chuck. I’m often shocked at how readily dog people punish each other for perceived violations of their own positive reinforcement dog training ethics. It’s a curse, isn’t it, to have an eye for irony? What WP community are you in? Sounds like my kind of people.


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