A transformation in training and management

A transformation in training and management 

The landscape of people management and training in corporate settings and personal realms like dog training has undergone a significant transformation. Gone are the days when cursing, threatening, and negative reinforcement were the norms. Instead, there’s a growing recognition of the power of positive reinforcement – a technique not only more humane but also more effective in fostering lasting change. People want to be seen, challenged, and motivated. And in all of this, people look for meaning in work and their lives. 

The Shift in Management Styles:

Historically, many managers relied on intimidation and fear to drive performance. This approach, often glamorized in media through figures like Gordon Ramsay in “Kitchen Nightmares,” is increasingly seen as outdated and counterproductive. People now seek inclusive, safe work environments where they’re respected and valued – not treated as inferiors. Ramsay, known for his harsh critiques and confrontational style, actually exemplifies the shift in management. Beyond his abrasive exterior, Ramsay’s approach in “Kitchen Nightmares” aligns with modern management principles. He confronts issues head-on, sets clear standards, and provides a reality check to failing establishments, but he also offers constructive feedback, guidance, and a vision for improvement. This approach to leadership, as seen in “Kitchen Nightmares,” aligns with Maya Angelou’s insight: people (and probably also animals) will forget what you said and what you did, but they never forget how you made them feel. The transition from fear to gratitude and respect in Ramsay’s show mirrors the emotional journey in effective dog training, where the goal is to build trust and mutual respect.

Personal Experiences: Learning and Evolving:

Reflecting on personal experiences in dog training and people management underscores the effectiveness of positive reinforcement over punitive methods. This evolution in approach leads to better learning outcomes and healthier relationships. When I was younger, I made many mistakes, not only in dog training but also in people management. It took me some years to understand the power of positive reinforcement and its long-term effects. The most significant step for me was to believe in the technology of positive reinforcement. And that is not strange if we realize that so much around us is based on negative reinforcement and punishment. I often joke that the first word a baby or puppy will learn is “NO.” When you drive too fast in your car, there is the risk of a fine by the police. If you ignore a red light, there can be brutal punishment in a traffic accident. You will get wet when you ignore warnings about heavy rain; if you not study enough, you will get bad grades. And if you do not listen to your manager, there is a chance of not getting that promotion or even getting fired. So yes, we are all so used to a negatively punishing world around us that we start to think that using negative reinforcement and punishment is ‘the way’ to change behavior. 

Why do people’ like’ to use punishment?

We all know that behavior will change fast by using negative reinforcement and punishment. And that fast result also motivates people to keep doing it. Because it is successful, or is it not? If you are not interested in the quality of the relationship, if you are not interested in reaching higher goals, and if the results you get are good enough, then sticking to these methods is ok for you. Because it’s easy, you don’t have to think, and it also feels good for many people if they can punish or take revenge. Revenge, like punishment, seems appealing and rewarding, making the brain’s reward centers glow positively. Punishment exists in every human society and dog training methods. This suggests punishment is a critical feature for promoting and enforcing good behavior. The reasons for direct punishment are clear. If someone or a dog wrongs you, retaliation reduces the likelihood that they will do it again. It is also a signal for others. Direct punishment serves as a clear signal, “Do not mess with me, or you will be sorry.” Our brains may take exceptional satisfaction in keeping others engaged in the desired behavior. The brain’s reward centers flash when we punish wrongdoers. But is the person or dog who is doing wrong really doing wrong? Are the criteria clear? Was the communication clear, and was there enough time to learn and understand what “the good’ wanted behavior” is? That punishment is deeply wired in our brains is shown in many studies. 

Innate Responses to Behavior: Insights from Toddlers:

Studies involving toddlers’ reactions to puppet shows reveal an inherent human tendency to reward positive behavior and discourage negative actions. This early inclination towards positive reinforcement is fundamental to effective management and training strategies. Researchers presented children 19-23 months old with a puppet show. In the shows, one puppet does something bad, and the other does something good. In one scenario, a puppet has a ball, and another either steals it or gives it back. In another scenario, a puppet prevents another from opening a box, or a puppet helps another open a box. Next, researchers invited the toddlers to either give a treat to one of the puppets or take a treat from one of them to give to another puppet. They were more likely to give a treat to the prosocial puppet and grab a treat from the antisocial puppet. In other words, even toddlers reward good behavior and punish bad behavior. 

Positive Reinforcement: The Proven Path:

Positive reinforcement, effective in human and animal training, promotes learning and strengthens relationships by rewarding desired behaviors. This approach takes into account the complexities of behavior in various contexts. The power of positive reinforcement in dog and human training is a well-known and widely used concept. Positive reinforcement is a type of learning technique that rewards desirable behavior with a positive stimulus, such as a treat or praise. It is widely accepted as a powerful tool for teaching and training in both animals and humans. Positive reinforcement can be used to modify an animal’s behavior by providing a reward for desired actions. This reward can be a treat, verbal praise, or pet the dog. When an animal does something correctly, the reward reinforces the behavior and makes it more likely that the animal will repeat it. This reward-based training effectively teaches new behaviors, provides motivation, and increases the bond between the trainer and the animal. Positive reinforcement is also an effective tool for training humans. Positive reinforcement can be used to encourage positive behaviors and discourage negative behaviors. Rewards such as verbal praise, rewards, or small treats can be used to reinforce desirable behavior. This type of reward-based training can be used to teach new skills, increase motivation, and improve relationships between the trainer and the person being trained. The power of positive reinforcement in training has been well-studied and proven effective in animals and humans. It is a powerful tool for teaching and training, and can be used to improve relationships, increase motivation, and teach new behaviors. Positive reinforcement is an invaluable tool for trainers and should be used whenever possible. But the challenge is ensuring trainers also believe in it and know how and when to use it. That can be done if we understand how our human minds are wired in case of punishment, reverence, and how we look at behavior. We need to see this from our and others’ perspectives and states of mind. Because often, the difference between wanted and unwanted behavior is a reaction on previous experiences and context-related. If my dog continues to bark when leaving the house for groceries, I will identify this as unwanted behavior. But when my dog starts to bark in the middle of the night when I’m sleeping because someone tries to break into my house, it is wanted behavior. 

The Drawbacks of Negative Reinforcement:

 While sometimes yielding quick results, negative reinforcement often fails to consider the long-term impact on relationships and overall success. It overlooks the nuances of communication and behavior, leading to superficial and short-lived improvements. Don’t get me wrong; in every training process, there is a mix of positive and negative reinforcement and punishment involved. I have to go back to the outcome of Thorndike’s research, explaining that behavior will change by its consequences. But my statement is that you must understand the person or dog in front of you. The difference between wanted and unwanted behavior in every context must be clear and well-overthought, and you must be aware of the short and long-term effects of your decisions and actions on the relationship. 

The Case for Feed Forward Coaching:

In contrast to traditional feedback methods, the preferred ‘feedforward’ coaching style focuses on positive guidance for future improvement. This approach is more effective and encouraging than feedback forms commonly seen in dog training. In a typical dog training session, where trainers often highlight mistakes post-performance, the negative impact on the handler’s motivation and relationship with the trainer is evident. Feedforward coaching, in contrast, focuses on future actions and potential improvements, steering clear of dwelling on past mistakes. This method empowers and encourages individuals to recognize their potential and take ownership of their success.

Improve future performance 

Feedforward focuses on providing positive guidance on improving performance or behavior in a future-focused and actionable way. It is a practical approach to coaching that encourages individuals to recognize their current performance and potential, identify areas of growth and development, and take ownership of their success. I’m not too fond of the feedback form of coaching that I see so much in the dog training world. You may have experienced it yourself. The trainer calls you to get your dog and perform in front of the trainer or a whole group. There is an awful silence while you are busy with your dog in the exercise. And then, when you are finished or the trainer stops you after some time, there is that moment. The trainer often explains to you what you and your dog are doing wrong in front of the whole group. It’s a sum-up of all the mistakes you both just made. This feedback method is significantly reinforcing for the trainer. It might also reinforce the group as a third party listing to this. But it’s not ok for you as a handler. It doesn’t feel good; it can damage the relationship between you and this trainer, and you probably lose motivation and feel a lot of resentment. Because in many moments during that training, you recognized or felt that you made a mistake at a particular moment.

And on top of that, the person giving you feedback often does not point out facts but talks about feelings and emotions. My biggest problem with feedback is that it always refers to the past, and we cannot change what has already happened! We need to look into the future because that is what we can influence, and we can change behavior there! 


The shift towards positive reinforcement and feedforward coaching reflects our natural tendencies and is crucial for fostering long-term growth and positive relationships. These methods yield better immediate outcomes and nurture sustained development and understanding, making them invaluable in personal and professional contexts. Feedforward coaching is essential because it also helps to develop a relationship between the coach and the individual while providing the individual with the necessary insight and guidance to become a better performer. It allows the individual to reflect on their current performance and identify areas of improvement. Feedforward coaching also helps to foster a sense of accountability and ownership within the individual, as the individual takes responsibility for their performance and growth. The method is that we focus on providing direction for improvement that is future-focused and actionable. Then, it allows the individual to focus on the future and their goals rather than dwell on the past. This encourages the individual to make meaningful changes. Additionally, this coaching style can help create an environment of trust, respect, inclusion, and collaboration between the coach and the individual. In summary, feedforward coaching is an essential and practical approach to coaching that encourages individuals to take ownership of their success and development. 

Call to Action:

The ACT! workshops and masterclasses contain Feed Forward coaching techniques and positive reinforcement. They offer valuable opportunities to delve deeper into these methods. They provide practical applications of these principles, enhancing personal and professional growth. To learn more about FeedForward coaching, visit one of my workshops or follow my ACT! Masterclass. 

ACT! Is operating worldwide. You can find more information on my website www.simonprins.com about the ACT! innovative training products and workshops about detection, odor recognition testing, tracking, scent wheel training, laser training, and radio-directional dogs. If you are interested in the ACT workshops, don’t hesitate to contact me so I can provide you with the specific workshop you need for your organization! 

Any questions or comments?

If you have any questions or comments about this article, feel free to send me an e-mail. 

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