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The Power of Positive Reinforcement

by Beth on August 26th, 2012

Our new puppy is giving me lots of opportunities to practice positive reinforcement. And believe me it is quite challenging at times! As a psychologist I know that the very best way to increase desired behaviors and decrease unwanted behaviors is to reward good behavior and ignore bad behavior. Talk about easier said than done!

Rewarding good behavior requires constant attention so you notice the behavior when it occurs. I spend my day taking the puppy outside. This way he has many chances to go to the bathroom in the right place so I can reward him. And I have to watch him closely the whole time we are outside. You wouldn’t believe how hard it is to determine whether a Maltese puppy has actually peed or not!

Ignoring the bad behavior takes a lot of patience. I know I shouldn’t go to the puppy when he cries because it will only reinforce the behavior. This isn’t easy, but it does start to work pretty quickly. The hardest part for me is when I take him outside to go to the bathroom 4 times in a row and he does nothing, then he proceeds to pee at my feet as soon as I bring him inside. Really?! How am I supposed to just ignore that?! But I am trying. Any attention given to a puppy, good or bad, is attention nonetheless and he loves it.

Positive reinforcement is very effective for people as well as for puppies. But most of us don’t use it as much as we should with our kids, spouses or employees. I know I’m more likely to get mad at my kids when they do something wrong than I am to reward them when they are being good. Let’s face it, we all have a negativity bias. A spilled glass of milk catches our attention a lot faster than kids who are quietly playing with their toys. And we are more likely to mention a missed deadline to an employee than to thank them for a well-written report.

So why not try using positive reinforcement with the people around you this week? Pay attention so that you notice and can express your appreciation for the good things they do. And try to refrain from nagging about their negative behavior. It won’t be easy, but it does work. Positive reinforcement is a great way to encourage the behaviors you want in puppies and in people.

2 Comments
  1. Beth,

    I heartily agree! Catch ’em doing something RIGHT… That which gets rewarded gets repeated!

    One big difference between positive and negative reinforcement is that the receiver wants to continue to be around you. Police radar speed traps are a good example. Good for the “Fuzz-Buster” radar detector industry.

    I believe that there is hardly any investment that returns so much benefit to all parties for so little cost as praise and recognition.

  2. Beth permalink

    So true! Thanks for your comment!

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