The 3 to 1 Ratio

By David Schmucker

There are two sides to having a great relationship with a dog. You have to be happy and the dog has to be happy. Dogs, though, are not born civilized. So the first task of every owner is training his dog to be friendly, cooperative and well mannered. Using both motivators: positive (do this again) and negative (avoid that), can be the most effective. 

Endlessly Responsive

Positive reinforcement is pleasant, fun and encouraging. A dog will never tire of positive reinforcements.  He will be endlessly responsive. Negative reinforcement is another story.  Over time, negative reinforcements, you’ll find, have to be increased in intensity to evoke the same response from your dog. What was startling, uncomfortable and frightening yesterday isn’t so today. Using a loud, stern voice – NO!! –  will work for a while. Later on more volume and energy has to be used to get the same response – making for shouting adults and unresponsive dogs.   Use negative reinforcements sparingly to keep them effective.

Keep in mind that negative reinforcement is not punishment. Punishment inflicts pain or abuses the dog in some way. Negative reinforcement, on the other hand, means applying techniques that discourage a dog from a particular behavior, making another behavior preferable.

The purpose of this article is to suggest a training ratio of three positives to one negative. Use positive reinforcement for two types of behavior.

1. When a requested behavior is successfully completed – sit, stay etc..

2. When your dog makes a good decision ON HIS OWN.

When your dog decides to go to his bed and rest quietly, reward him. When your dog is sitting still and waiting patiently, reward him even if you have to go across the room to do it. Reward your dog for his decision to behave as you wish.

A Misbehaving Dachshund

I just returned from a training appointment with a misbehaving dachshund. Among his many problems, he insisted on jumping up on the sofa instead of retiring to his very comfortable dog bed. So the task was to make the dog bed more desirable and the sofa less so. Once he realized that the dog bed had treats and the sofa did not, he quickly learned to go to his bed when asked. Now here’s the twist.When he went to the bed on his own he again was rewarded. He understood that he did not have to wait for a command to receive a reward.  He could control it on his own.

When our focus left the dog he remained in the bed and did not attempt to return to the sofa. Why? Because two types of behavior were being reinforced: the behavior we requested and the behavior he did on his own. 

So work towards this ratio: three positive reinforcements for every negative one even if you have to forgo some corrections. Over time you’ll find the positive ratio climbing higher and higher – naturally. 

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David Schmucker & Tessie

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