Definitions And Examples For +/- Reinforcement And +/- Punishment


Staff member
Since we seem to be getting ALOT of questions about defining these 4 terms, and examples of each, I've decided a sticky on the subject is in order.

Please keep this thread ON topic. :censored: I will remove any posts that aren't, as this is a (more) serious subject. ;)

Ok go to it, people who are better than I am at writing these definitions and examples out so people can understand O_o


Experienced Member
positive reinforcement: something is offered which works stimulating (motivator) and which will stimulate the dog to offer the behavior more often.
examples: treats, playing, greeting visitors

negative reinforcement:
taking away something which is unpleasant for the dog
example: using physical manipulation to let a dog sit (putting pressure on his rear end) and taking away that pressure when the dog is in a sit position.

positive punishment:
adding something to the situation which the dog doesn't like, so that the dog will offer the behavior less often.
example: you giving a hard pull on the leash, shouting, chokechain, prongcollar

negative punishment:
taking something away which the dog likes, so that the dog will offer the behavior less often.
example: turning away and ignoring the dog when the dog jumps on you (this way you are 'taking away' attention.

How you can keep them apart:
positive: adding something to the situation
negative: taking something away from the situation
reinforcement: when you want the dog to offer the behavior more often
punishment: when you want the dog to offer the behavior less often

So when we speak of a positive trainer/training method this trainer/method uses positive reinforcement and negative punishment.


Well-Known Member
Mutt does a great job of explaining these for the most part, I only have 1 tiny critique (which doesn't matter TOO much for general stuff, but for anyone who wants to go further than just training their own dogs).

What determines whether something is reinforcement or punishment is the actual RESULTING behavior, not the INTENDED result.

You could squirt your dog with a hose with the intention that he/she will stop barking, however if the dog actually starts to bark MORE then you are actually REINFORCING the behavior, despite the fact that you think your dog doesn't like being squirted with the hose. And sometimes we try to do things that we think will be punishment (choke chains/prongs/etc) and the dogs just don't give a darn and the behavior doesn't change one way or another.

The easiest way I have found to determine what quadrant a stimulus falls in is by asking these questions:

What is the behavior?
Is that particular behavior increasing or decreasing?
Are you adding something in, or taking it away?

Increase = Reinforcement
Decrease = Punishment
Adding something = Positive
Taking something way = Negative

Then piece it all together.

So for my above example with the barking dog:

What is the behavior? Barking
Is the behavior increasing, or decreasing? Increasing
Are you adding something in, or taking it away? Adding something

So we have that squirting the dog with the hose is Positively Reinforcing the barking.


For my concerns, and i'm not a specialist, i've always use my logic to educate my dogs. When my dog does a behavior that i don't accept, I start by calling him back and then reward the action. The way you don't reinforce the bad behavior but the good one. If for example, i take the barking dog as use previously. When he start barking, i start by giving look to what he barking. He could have a good reason. If not, i call him back and rewards him for his coming back. If he doesn't come back, i go get him and use the lure to lead him back in the house. Usually after a while the barking for nothing stops by itself.


Experienced Member
We need to be aware of the individual personalities and idiosyncracies of our dogs. What reinforces for one dog may actually punish or have no effect for another. Like spraying water in the face. Brody is attracted to spray bottles. He thinks I'm playing when I get out the Febreze. Not that I have or ever would spray him in the face. Saying "ouch" when my dog bites or mouths my hand actually makes him more excited and he goes in for a second taste. I have to add the immediate response of exiting the situation and closing the door when possible, or he doesn't get it. So while the definitions may be fairly clear and concise, their actual application is going to be different from one dog to another.