There are dozens of books on dog training. Each one touts their particular "Method" for training your dog.
You might find it interesting to know that all these "Methods" use the same four avenues to behavioral modification. In this blog I would like to discuss each of them and how you can apply them when teaching your dog, your kids or for that matter any living thing.
Two of these methods are reinforcement based and two are punishment based. Reinforcement tends to make a behavior occur more often and punishment tends to make a behavior occur less often. There are also two sub categories for both reinforcement and punishment called positive and negative.
These terms are not value judgements. In this context "positive" means "applied" and "negative" means "taken away". So positive reinforcement means something is applied to make a behavior more likely to occur.
Negative reinforcement means something is taken away or removed to make a behavior more likely to occur. Positive punishment means something is applied that makes a behavior less likely to occur.
Negative punishment means something is removed to make a behavior less likely to occur. We apply all four of these paradigms in our daily interactions with others (including our dogs) without even knowing we are doing it. Quite often our applications are inappropriate because they are not born from forethought or a training plan.
In order to use them effectively we must become fluent in their application. First we will discuss the application of positive reinforcement as a training tool. Positive Reinforcement is by far the most effective way to teach any living thing. Positive reinforcement means giving the dog something it wants in return for a behavior we want to occur more often.
The classic example is the dog that sits in return for a tasty treat. Food is a commonly used positive reinforcement but it is important to understand that anything the dog wants can be used as a training opportunity. In addition to food we can use water, toys, going outside, coming inside, going for a walk, or the chance to run free.
The opportunities are endless. Positive reinforcements are relative. A chance to jump in a lake is reinforcing to a duck but not so much to a cat. You need to identify the things that your dog is willing to work for.
Once you do that then you must determine where each positive reinforcement falls within your dogs reinforcement hierarchy. All reinforcements are not equal. For police dogs a chance to do bite work is very high on the dog's list of favorite things to do.
Playing tug and fetching toys may be slightly lower, and food might be slightly lower still. We need to know this information because selecting the wrong reinforcement may cause the dog to become so excited that our attempts teach a behavior are overshadowed by the dogs focus on getting the reinforcement.
Once the dogs learn a behavior we can use the most satiable reinforcements to take their compliance to the highest levelsFor most dogs food offers a balanced response when teaching new behavior. But there are rules when using food. 1) The food used should be as small as possible. Just big enough that the dog will consider them worth working for.
Using hot dogs as an example you will want to slice them into nickle sizes pieces. By doing this you can get many repetitions before the dog satiated. If you give the dog a whole hot dog each time you will get very few responses before the dog is full.
2) The food should be very tasty and soft. This will cause the dog to eat it readily and quickly, immediately setting up a new reinforcement opportunity. Some people call this bribery but it is not. Bribery occurs when you give the dog something FIRST in the hope the dog follows through with the target behavior.
With positive reinforcement the dog is required to perform the behavior first and he is then paid with the positive reinforcement. In order for positive reinforcement to be effective it must be applied in a timely manner, in conjunction with the act you are trying to reinforce.
If it is even a few seconds too late it yields improper information for the dog. If you tell the dog to sit but give it a food treat as it lifts its butt off the ground then the dog learns that "sit" means lift your butt off the ground.
The good news is that the dogs learns from repeated pairings of the reinforcement and the correct behavior. So isolated incidents of poor timing will not have a negative impact on your overall training efforts.
In our next blog we will discuss negative reinforcement and its application in training. Until then Good Training!!!