If a behavior increases in frequency or intensity, it is being reinforced – Period. Reward-based training methods usually referred to as positive reinforcement training, focus on giving and taking away things the dog wants. Positive reinforcement rewards a behavior by giving the dog something he wants or likes. Negative punishment (the removal of a reward) is the act of taking away something the dog wants. Rewards come in many forms; food, toys, attention, the chance to meet another dog or favorite person. Rewards are basically anything the dog finds rewarding. If a certain behavior is immediately followed by something the dog finds rewarding that behavior will increase. If no reward is given to the dog, or the chance to earn a reward is taken away, the behavior will decrease.
So how do we apply this principle in real life? Let’s look at a common scenario: Let’s say you have a puppy with a jumping problem, he jumps up on you, your family and everyone he meets. You’ve tried telling him “NO” or “OFF”, you’ve tried pushing him off with your hands, pinching his toes, you may have even tried kneeing him in the chest, but the behavior persists! Why? Because it’s being rewarded with attention. Puppies crave attention and even if the attention they get is less the enjoyable it’s still better than being ignored.
Next time try simply turning and walking away when your puppy starts to jump. Ask him for a sit, or better yet wait for him to offer one, and then approach. If he jumps again, walk away again. Eventually he will learn that every time his feet leave the ground he loses the chance for any attention. He’ll also figure out that sitting politely causes you to approach which results in the attention he wanted.
Removal of rewards isn’t the only way to change your dog’s behavior, here’s a list of others:
- Reinforce – the behaviors your dog is already doing that you like to make them increase.
- Train – new behaviors as alternates to replace the ones you don’t like.
- Interrupt – behaviors you don’t like so they don’t become self-rewarded and redirect them to alternate behaviors.
- Prevent – your dog from practicing unwanted behaviors by using management.
The goal is to teach the dog what you want him to do rather than waiting for him to do something wrong and punishing him for it.