Communication is key
Owning a dog is as much a joy as it is a responsibility and commitment.
It is your job as a dog owner to provide guidance and education to ensure a happy, healthy life. You and your dog should work as a team, you need to be able to trust in your dogs training - no matter the distraction or environment. Learning to efficiently communicate human to human is difficult, never mind human to canine.
How do you train?
Using science backed methods with proven results.
Dogs, just like us humans, learn best when positive reinforcement, and ample motivation are used alongside redirection and consistent structure. Training for your dog should be based on their individual personality, aptitude and behavior concerns. This is why we are balanced trainers - we do not restrict ourselves to one "method" of training or specific training tool. No dog is the same and training must accommodate that. If a person yells at a dog to stop barking behavior and the barking does not decrease in frequency, yelling at the dog has not, by definition, functioned as a punishment. If the person keeps yelling at the dog and the behavior does not reduce in frequency, the person is nagging, rather than training. If you give your dog a piece of kibble each time he sits and he does not offer the “sit” behavior more frequently, the kibble has not functioned as a reinforcement.
The Four Quadrants of Dog Training
Operant conditioning: using consequence manipulation to increase or decrease the frequency of a particular behavior.
Frequently, when trainers speak to clients about their dog’s behavior, they refer to one or more of the four quadrants of operant conditioning. In all operant conditioning applications, the learner gets to decide what is punishing or reinforcing. The four quadrants are as follows: Positive Reinforcement, Positive Punishment, Negative Reinforcement, and Negative Punishment.
What do you think of when you read “Positive” and “Negative”? Good and bad, is the first thing that comes to mind. In this context however that would be incorrect. "Punishment" and "Reinforcement" are defined by their effect on the relative frequency behavior. As they relate to training, these words have very specific definitions which differ from their colloquial use:
Punishment: any consequence which reduces behavior.
Reinforcement: any consequence which increases behavior.
Negative: subtracting or taking away
To help you understand training a bit better, let’s break it down even further by mixing and matching our newly learned terminology below -
Positive Reinforcement (R+)
Most people have heard of Positive Reinforcement. This is adding something to the equation to encourage the subject to repeat a desired behavior. In dog training, this does not have to be with food! Alternatively, Positive Reinforcement can be given through praise or play. Catering the reward to the dog is crucial, and the absence of treats does not equal a lack of Positive Reinforcement.
Petting your dog for sitting when asked
Rewarding an employee with a bonus for a job well done
Giving your child $5 for every chore they complete
Negative Reinforcement (R-)
The action of removing the undesirable outcome or stimulus that serves as the reward for performing the behavior. This is one of the most misunderstood forms of Operant Conditioning, and the most difficult quadrant to understand, and to put into practical terms. If you google this term, your resul ts will be teeming with misinformation. Many people consider correcting a dog to be Negative Reinforcement, that is not the case. If we circle back to our terminologies, Negative means taking away/removing something, it does not mean that you correct the dog using a negative or aversive stimuli. This is best understood by example:
Imagine a toddler who doesn't like sleeping through the night. He wakes multiple times every night and cries until his mother comes in to rock him back to sleep. He is effectively training his mother by negative reinforcement because every time she comes in to rock him to sleep, he stops crying.
Imagine you drive through rush hour traffic to get to work. Your commute is very stressful and takes you two hours every morning. You get frustrated and try a different route to get there. This route has very little traffic, and you make it to work in 45 minutes. You get the same results later in the week. To save time, you start taking this new route everyday. Removing the negative stimulus of the bad traffic changes your behavior.
Imagine a dog who is afraid of other dogs. When another dog is close by, the handler waits until the dog offers to look at the handler before allowing the dog to move away. Looking at the handler after seeing another dog is being reinforced by taking away the scary situation of being too close to another dog.
Positive Punishment (P+)
Positive Punishment is often confused with Negative Reinforcement. Positive Punishment involves adding a stimuli to a stop an unwanted behavior. There are many ways to go about this and most dog owners use this more than they realize!
A great example is telling your dog “No” or “Stop” when they're barking. You’re adding verbiage to stop an unwanted behavior.
Positive punishment is often used on daily walks. When a dog pulls, handlers often have the tendency to tug or correct them back on leash. The handler is adding a correction (Positive) that will decrease the frequency of the behavior (Punishment).
Negative Punishment (P-)
We take away something to get a behavior to stop.
Your teenager comes home late so you take the car away (Negative) to stop them from coming home late next time (Punishment).
In terms of dog training, if your dog growls at another dog over a toy, you take that toy away (Negative) to get them to stop growling (Punishment).
While there’s plenty of science to dog training, the art is knowing when to apply each quadrant depending on the dog’s specific personality. Judgement is key and no matter what techniques you use to train your dog, almost all quadrants are in play at some time or another.