Just because I train my dogs using positive reinforcement does not mean I am permissive. I do not simply ignore “bad” behavior, I address it. In my training, I choose to use a mix of acceptable reinforcers and acceptable punishers. However, that never includes intimidation, pain or fear!
Allow me to explain:
All animal behavior is shaped by consequences. That’s it! We repeat, or do not repeat, behaviors based on the resulting consequence of the behavior. Consequences can be good or bad. To be more precise, consequences can be reinforcing or punishing. Punishers are likely to decrease behavior, reinforces are likely to increase behavior. Whether something is rewarding or punishing is up to the opinion of the receiver.
Time for an example; you and your friends are at the park playing a game. You hit a scoring shot and all your teammates congratulate you with enthusiastic high-fives! The high fives are rewarding, you feel good and will try again to score another winning shot. In behavior terms, the high five is a reinforcer and increases the likelihood that you will hit another scoring shot.
Next example; You work hard all week, show up to your job on time every day and at the end of the week your boss thanks you by giving you, not a paycheck, but a high five! How does it make you feel? Probably not very good. In this instance, the high five is a punisher and is likely to decrease the behavior of you performing well at work.
So, what does all this mean in dog training? Not all reinforcers are “good” and not all punishers are “bad”. Here’s how I classify them:
- Time outs
- Turning your back or walking away
- Withholding the reward
- Anything the dog likes
So, how do I address unwanted behaviors?
First and foremost, I manage the environment to prevent to dog from engaging in unwanted behavior. Crates, gates, tethers, and leashes. Management keeps the dog from self-rewarding by having a great time doing naughty things when training isn’t occurring.
When I see my dog doing something I don’t like, I’ll Interrupt and redirect unwanted behavior to a more desirable behavior. Your interrupter should be a noise that tells your dog to look at you, a hand clap or kissing sound. Your interrupter should not be something that scares your dog!
Make sure your dog gets plenty of mental and physical exercise. This can be training, playing, socializing or, better yet, a combination of all of these. A tired dog is a good dog!
Don’t forget that you must teach your dog what to do not just wait for them to do the wrong thing and correct it. Training is the number one thing you can do to help your dog live in the human world. Dogs need to learn impulse control, and behaviors such as “sit”, “come”, and “go to your bed” so they can understand the house rules and stay out of trouble.