Conditioning vs. Dog Training Tips
Probably one of the biggest dog training tips I will ever give is this; simple and to the point. The terms ‘conditioning’ and ‘dog training’ walk hand in hand; one can’t be accomplished without the other (I cover conditioning further in this article). In order to condition a behavior, proper reinforcement needs to be used (similar to a child learning to spell). Reinforce incorrect spelling, and the child will learn to spell the word wrong, and vice versa. Dog training tips should always encompass this fact.
Training Language- Meaning of Reinforcement: Something that causes a behavior to increase
Specifically, an action performed by a dog is reinforced directly after it is carried out (as close to instantaneously as possible) so the dog is likely to associate the positive reward received to the behavior it just performed. The principle is the same with other animals- though not driven to the extent of dogs, cats can also receive limited training this way, primates, marine life, etc (through reinforcement).
Clicker training will be covered in more depth elsewhere; for now, know an immediate response is very important. You don’t want the dog associating your reward with some other action performed (this becomes important when dealing with multiple distractions, such as leash training).A ‘dog clicker’ is a cheap training tool that comes in handy here; trainers can push a button far quicker than reach in their pocket for food, even quicker than speak. The dog completes his/her task, hears the ‘click’, and knows a treat is coming; the association is made instantaneously- before anything else can happen and possibly cause confusion.
Positive Reinforcement uses food treats and/or praise, or some other addition the dog sees as beneficial, to reward desired behavior. It can be defined as the offering of desired effects or consequences with the intention of repeating that behavior again. An addition is made; something is presented to the subject after a desirable action is performed.
For example, my dog and I play a game in which I hide my car keys, and he must find them. He is rewarded upon directly touching the keys (exact training article here); he has made the association and knows exactly what to expect, and what I want him to do. The treat is what he works for, the outcome he has to look forward to. Loki knows he will get no rewards from me until the objective is reached; there is no chance of confusion.
The simplest definition of positive reinforcement dog training tips can be the addition of rewards following desired behavior.
- A mother gives her son praise after completing his homework.
- The same little boy receives a ‘movie pass’ for every A on his report card.
- A dog is given a ‘training reward’ for performing a desired trick correctly.
Every time this child or dog receives a bonus directly associated to the action they just performed, the desire to perform the same action is reinforced- they want that reward. Unlike children, dogs do not speak (not in human terms), making it even more important to enforce that association correctly. Trainers need to be absolutely positive the animals understand what is expected of them.
Now that you are familiar with positive reinforcement, negative will be simple to understand; it is the exact opposite. Here, a (usually adverse) stimulus is removed after a certain behavior is exhibited. The likelihood of the desired behavior to be performed more often is increased with the removal.
Here it becomes somewhat confusing, but we will sum it all up later. If you are removing an unwanted stimulus (i.e.- shock, slip collar, raising one’s voice, etc.), you are removing the ‘positive punishment’ also meant to make the behavior occur less frequently (again, your opinions are welcome).
- A child washes the dishes after supper, preventing his mother from becoming upset.
- A dog eliminates outside; he knows his owners will become angry with him if he urinates in the house.
Positive punishment works by presenting, or adding, an undesirable or uncomfortable stimulus to make a behavior less likely to happen in the future.
- The child is spanked for misbehaving.
- The dog receives a ‘shock’ for not returning when called.
Why isn’t this simply classified as ‘negative reinforcement’? It is a negative form of reinforcement, an undesirable function. In other words, the response is certainly negative. The terms can be confusing, and perhaps poorly developed; to the everyday dog owner, positive would correlate with something good; making ‘positive punishment’ an oxymoron. Most people do not relate ‘Positive’ and ‘Punishment’ in any way.
Negative punishment, in terms of our ‘Training Language’ refers to taking something good or desirable away to reduce the occurrence of a particular behavior.
- After getting in a fight with his best friend over a new toy, the boy’s mother simply takes it away.
- A teenage girl stays out past curfew, so her parents ground her for a week.
- Your dog is leash- pulling during a walk, so you abruptly stop the walk.
Most dog trainers will agree that the actual process of training involves teaching the owner as much or more then training the animal itself. Many forms of training need to be carried out on a consistent, long term basis; paying a trainer to do this for you, day in and day out (depending on the behavior time can vary considerably), can become costly. However, if the process isn’t maintained and reinforced on a consistent, repetitive basis, the dog may forget or loose motivation, become confused, etc.
Explaining the difference of some psychological definitions can seem confusing, and somewhat pointless (feel free to share your opinions) I have trained countless dogs under the pretense that a ‘negative response’ is negative reinforcement, and a ‘positive response’ is positive reinforcement; my methods are very effective every time). So far. (:
In my opinion, a further breakdown is a play at semantics, confusing to the laymen owner, and could ultimately end up detrimental. Creating the assumption that a beating, or less intense- incorrect use of a ‘slip collar’ (popularly termed ‘choke chain’, etc.)- is a good thing because it is ‘positive punishment’ isn’t what you want.
Is our goal to benefit the animals by improving pet-owner relationships, or to market our qualities of intellect, hitting the owner with as many dog training tips and facts as possible? Yes, what I suggest is considered incorrect terminology, but most people who hire a trainer don’t care to be as educated as the trainer; try to keep your dog training tips and teachings simple without sacrificing quality.
What you don’t want to do is cause confusion; misinterpreting methods can ultimately serve to frustrate both owner and pet. We might understand that dogs maintain different views than people, but it is so easy for the average owner to simply assume their pets think like us. In simple human terms, negative is bad, and positive is good.
Not everyone is a psychologist; owners hire trainers often for one of two reasons: they either want an easy, quick solution, or are dealing with a more severe social/behavioral problem and don’t know how to solve it. Either way, they are expecting someone who knows exactly what to do; a specialist in the field, who can clearly explain exact steps to follow they can understand well. That is the mark of a good trainer; someone who can not only understand animal behavior, but knows how to teach people as well.
A Couple Frequent Mistakes
- I have noticed, countless times, owners will scream at their dogs in frustration because they won’t return when called. Even worse, many owners will punish their pet somehow when it does finally return to them. By doing this, the handler is very effectively telling the dog that returning was not a good thing; the exact opposite of what the they are trying to accomplish. This only gives the dog a reason not to want to come home; to want to stay away. A human child would likely make the connection; they are being punished for something done many behaviors ago (example). Most dogs will not; they tend to associate actions to the consequences directly following.
- An owner returns home to droppings in the house, perhaps hours old. They yell and chastise the dog, assuming they know exactly what they are being punished for. The animal often isn’t responding submissively because it feels guilty over the mistake it made; it recognizes the owner is not in a good mood- and that doesn’t mean good things.
As an military medic, I was taught the value of critical thinking, problem solving and acute analytical conclusions. There was the ‘By The Book’ way of solving problems, but they only got you so far; (as I am sure most servicemen will agree) some situations had no direct ‘Right’ and ‘Wrong’ answer (I hope this makes a little more sense out of my previous statement). It is sometimes better to use your best judgement.
I can’t stress enough the importance of (at the very least) asking yourself why your pet is behaving some way prior to correcting it. In this case, poor understanding likely won’t cause deaths, but it could lengthen the training process, cause confusion, and result in a waste of your valuable time and money. Don’t just memorize ‘the book’, the ‘whats’. Try to understand the ‘whys’ as well.
Once you understand how dogs think, how they interact with each other and their environment, what drives them- you can develop your own training methods, write your own books, ect. You will rarely need anyone else.