There’s a great big world out there.

What is reinforcing for your dog?

Treats, toys, play?

What about barking, or any of the dog’s bad habits?

Think about it!  When a dog barks at someone from the front window, they walk away.  Now you may say: it was just the mailman walking by, he was going to the next house anyway.  But, could your dog perceive their barking made the mailman leave?  Yes, they can, they can think their action drove the situation and have motivation to do it again.

So what do we do?  Operant conditioning, “is a form of learning in which an individual’s behavior is modified by its consequences”, a term keyed by B.F. Skinner in 1937. Operant conditioning teaches us that the outcome drives the behavior.  So what can we do to manipulate the outcome?  Within Operant Conditioning, there are 4 components: Positive Punishment, Negative Reinforcement, Negative Punishment, and Positive Reinforcement.  Let’s explore these a little further, by using the same example: the barking dog, and the mailman.

In positive punishment you might arm the mailman with a squirt bottle or you might have your dog wear a shock collar.  The dog is squirted or shocked for barking, and eventually the dog may realize that the result of the bark is: the addition of this adverse stimulus.

Negative reinforcement might take the form of asking the mailman to stay in front of the window until the dog is quite, then once the dog is quite the mailman can leave.  The idea is to remove an adverse stimulus as a desired behavior is reached, eventually a dog may realize the quickest way to make the mailman leave is to never bark to begin with.

In negative punishment the dog makes a choice to bark, and as a consequence you draw the blinds or send the dog to a crate. The idea is taking away the stimulation after the incorrect choice has been made, so the dog will learn that he’s only allowed to look out the window when he doesn’t bark at the mailman.

In positive reinforcement you allow the dog to bark, but reward for the quiet, so that the dog learns the reinforced behavior is being quiet, and he/she can earn the right to rewards, by maintaining the quiet.  Another side benefit is that the big and scary mailman doesn’t seem as bad, if he’s associated with great treats.

So why do we promote positive reinforcement while learning at the Academy above the other training methods?

  1. We like dogs to think: The dog must decide its course of action, without coercion.
  2. Transfer of value: With a history of positive reinforcement the dog will take joy in their trained activity.
  3. Owner/Handler Bond: This is the best way to build trust, and joy in the relationship.

Ultimately, remember that training is a continual process.  Reinforce the behaviors that you want, and be patient, all training takes time.

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