Coercive Positive Reinforcement?

Can Positive Reinforcement be Coercive?

Currently taking part in a fascinating course, written by Kay Laurence.

The class were discussing reinforcement delivery when Kay wrote:

“Although "coercive" is not something usually associated with positive reinforcement, it can become so,very quickly, when we stop listening to the dog's needs and inject our "wants".”
Clean Training, 18.1.19, Laurence K.

One of the joys of learning with Kay and her community, are the ‘aha moments’ and this was a truly joyful one.

Our ‘needs’ and our ‘wants’ can be very well-intentioned, I have seen it often.

An owner sets out with the intention to do their very best for their dog, to help their dog live successfully in our human world, to allow their dogs canine interaction and most of all help their dog be as happy as they can possibly be.

These well-intentioned, conscientious people do their best, they

  • Listen carefully to their Vet and follow directions

  • Join an age appropriate training class

  • Read books, study the internet, watch dog training t.v. programmes or videos

  • Take advice from other dog owners and other dog professionals

  • Work hard to ‘socialise’ their dog

These are folk doing their best BUT the results aren’t as expected. Their dog barks at other dogs, fails to concentrate in class, fights with other dogs or runs away when off lead. The dog can’t wait at home confidently, integrate successfully in day care or with a dog walking group. There is in-house tension, stress between other pets or family members.

Very often I get the privilege of working with these dedicated owners, many arrive at my door as a ‘last resort’. Confused and questioning – ‘I’ve followed all the rules, but it hasn’t worked out?’

Rebuilding the Relationship

The best part of this job is being with people as they rediscover the dog they fell in love with whilst watching the dogs rediscover that this person is a valuable life partner.

In order to get to this point a relearning process needs to happen, sometimes this process is uncomfortable, bringing up difficult emotions like grief and anger. One way to speed this process up is to practice acceptance.


Recently acceptance has been misunderstood in connection with dog training. Acceptance is very often seen as a negative state, an act of giving up, resorting to management, deeming the dog 'unteachable', adopting an attitude or feeling an emotion of hopelessness.

When it comes to dogs, I can't define acceptance in this way.

The Collins Concise Dictionary defines acceptance as ‘the act of accepting’ – the key word being ‘act’. When we make the daily choice to accept our dog as they are, when we choose to step back from conflict and total control. When we choose to make compromises and teach our dogs effectively, then we discover the power and joy of learning together.

Therapist Taylor Newendorp writes

When you recognise and accept your own limitations and are realistic about what others can accomplish, too, you have a much clearer idea of how to work effectively within those margins and how to manage difficulties as they arise.”

For more information on how to learn to put this into practice please contact me


Kay Laurence for online courses, workshops, articles and blogs.

The Perfectionist Workbook, Taylor Newendrop MA LCPC

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