Dog Training - Positive Reinforcement, Negative Reinforcement and Everything In Between!

The other day my daughter brought home two rats.  Yes, rats, not dogs.  She outlined their feeding schedule, their daily routines and arranged a rat's playscape in our (mostly) unused shower.

Rats, she informed us, are a lot like dogs.  They need to eat, drink, sleep, play and potty. They're motivated by positive reinforcement, e.g. treats, toys and soft touches.

Huh, I thought. Dogs are like rats and kids - so does that mean that kids are like rats? The jury is still out on that one but there are surprising similarities.     

In our pre-rat staging phase we shopped for tiny balls, chewing stones and arranged their nursery just so. All was peachy until my daughter handed out a vocabulary list of 'Rat Speak' she encouraged us to memorize. Positive Reinforcement, Negative Reinforcement, Positive Punishment and Conditioning...wait a minute. These are the same terms I use with the dogs; the same ones that work well on kids too.

My daughter pointed out the obvious: "Mom, who do you think the researchers practiced on?".  

She's right - the rats.

While I've never been one for enforcing terminology with my clients or my family (animals know you love them and that you are trying your best), to save face with my kid, I dedicate today's blog to her.  Below you'll find definitions that apply to learning theory, no matter what your species. For the complete list go grab a copy of my latest book Modern Dog Parenting, and flip to page 151.  

To really master the talk tune in this Sunday to my Facebook Live Streaming event, where we'll tackle the terminology and have a healthy debate on  what works, what doesn't and why!  


Common Terms

Positive Reinforcement

Definition: Encouraging a behavior by giving your dog something she likes.

Example: When you arrive home, ignore your dogs jumping or barking excitedly and wait until she either sits or picks up a toy to pet and play with her.

Negative Reinforcement

Definition: Encouraging a behavior by taking away something your dog doesn’t like.

Example: Some suggest pinning a dog’s tongue down when she nips and only letting go when she withdraws her mouth as a way to prevent nipping in the future. 

Positive Punishment

Definition: A behavior is discouraged when your dog receives something unpleasant.

Example: A dog will stay within a perimeter if shocked anytime she leaves the yard.

Negative Punishment

Definition: Discouraging your dog by taking away something she wants.

Example: If you’re trying to teach your dog to sit and she jumps, you remove an offered treat.

Primary Reinforcement

Definition: Gratifying your dog’s daily need for play, food, and attention.

Example: Using food to encourage your dog to come when called or sit during greeting.

Secondary Reinforcement

Definition: A sensory mark (sound, light, touch) that gets linked to a primary reinforcer to reward good behavior.

Example: A sound that when paired with a primary reinforcer like food, identifies it.

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