Training Terms Help

15July 2014

So you want to train your dog but where do you start?  Well knowing a little background about some common terms used in basic dog training will help.

There are basically three essential elements to teaching a dog to learn. 
These are:  motivation, reinforcement, and punishment.

Motivation is a need (conscious or unconscious), desire, or drive that incites a dog to produce some behavior or action.  A dog must be properly motivated to change behavior.

Reinforcement are actions, events, or items that positively or negatively increase or eliminate a behavior.  There is positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement. 

Positive reinforcement basically means the dog works for you to get things he desires.  Positive reinforcement involves rewarding the dog the instant he performs the desired behavior. 
Negative reinforcement means the dog is working to avoid something the dog considers unpleasant.  Negative reinforcement is the removal of something unpleasant the instant the dog performs the desired behavior.

There are two types of reinforcement: 
1)  Unconditioned reinforcement
2) Conditioned reinforcement

An unconditioned reinforcer, or primary reinforcer, is something that is necessary for the dog’s survival, or something the dog very much likes, and therefore, the dog does not need to learn that this thing is rewarding.  Not each unconditioned reinforcer will have the same value for each dog.  Some examples of unconditioned reinforcement include:  food, air, water, shelter, toys, praise, and petting.  The dog (NOT the owner or trainer) determines what their unconditioned reinforcers are.

conditioned reinforcer, or secondary reinforcer, is something that does not inherently mean anything to the dog.  The dog learns to associate the conditioned reinforcer as a good thing.  Some examples of conditioned reinforcers include:  walks, food bag noise, toys, “good” or “yes,” the sound of a clicker, and the doorbell.  The best example of teaching a dog a conditioned reinforcer is using the “good” or “yes” cue to mark behavior.  Using this cue at the instant your dog performs a desired behavior increases the communication between human and dog.  The dog learns to make a positive association between your marker word (good or yes) and a food reward.

Punishment is use of a penalty.  There is both positive and negative punishment. 

Positive punishment involves a negative consequence the moment the dog engages in an undesired behavior.  You are adding something negative. 
Negative punishment involves removing something the dog likes when the dog engages in an undesired behavior.  You are removing something the dog likes.

A helpful way to think about these things is this…positive means you are adding something…negative means something is being taken aways.

Dog Training Today

The popular method of dog training today is Positive Reinforcement.  This is a vast improvement from the history of dog training.  Into the 1950s and 1960s, it was common for dog trainers to use compulsion training methods, mainly positive punishment.  This meant that every time the dog performed incorrectly, the dog received a punishment.  Over the years and several studies later, we have learned that the use of positive reinforcement actually works faster and dogs retain the knowledge learned more easily.  Also, using positive reinforcement training produces an animal that is willing and excited to work for you, as opposed to one that is frightened or scared to make a mistake.  Such Good Dogs uses positive reinforcement training, combined with energy balance.

Energy Balance:
Such Good Dogs firmly believes that all living creatures must find the correct balance of energy to be both happy and healthy.  When training dogs, it is extremely important to be aware of your own energy.  Dogs pick up on our energy and what we may be feeling without us even realizing they have done so.  Further more, if you are unaware of your energy and try to train your dog when you are angry or frustrated, the dog will sense this and your training session will not go well.  In fact, you can actually set back progress of your training by doing so when you do not have the proper energy and mind-set.  To maintain proper energy balance, your dog must also have proper exercise.  A dog that has too much energy will not be able to pay attention for training.  Regular, daily exercise is vitally important for every dog.

So, if you are training or interacting with your dog and you feel yourself getting angry, upset, frustrated, nervous, or anxious…STOP, take a deep breath, and calm down.  Only then should you address the situation.