- Agility Training -
POSITIVE, REWARD-BASED DOG TRAINING
Having trained our own dogs in a variety of canine disciplines for longer than we care to remember, we know only too well how important it is to establish an early working bond with your pup or young dog, and to keep those channels of communication open and active throughout his early development.
We advocate a Postive Reinforcement Training ethos and use a 'praise and play' reward system throughout all our classes. This modern, scientific, reward-based approach to dog training is kind, effective and highly infectious.
Here is a brief tour of the theory behind it.
The Four Quadrants of Operant Conditioning
The American psychologist, behaviorist and philosopher B.F. Skinner coined the term 'Operant Conditioning' to refer to his theory of how animals learn. Skinner's theory follows 'Thorndyke's Law of Effect' which states that behaviours that are reinforced will become more likely to occur, and behaviours that are not reinforced will become less likely to occur.
When training your dog you have to have clear goals in mind. It's worthwhile sitting down at the outset and writing down two lists; one list of the behaviours you want from your dog, and the other of behaviours you would rather not have.
Let's use the example that you have a dog who is a horror on lead (a behaviour that would go on your unwanted list) and you'd like to train him - in other words change his behaviour - so that he walked nicely beside you (a behaviour that would be on your wanted list.)
Skinner defined four general ways in which behaviour can be changed:
Positive Reinforcement (+R)
Negative Reinforcement (-R)
Positive Punishment (+P)
Negative Punishment (-P)
These are usually shown as a quadrant. These, or a combination of these, are your four training options to get your dog to walk nicely on lead.
Positive Reinforcement (+R) : This is adding good stuff to the situation after a behaviour, to increase the likelihood of that behaviour happening again. Examples of this are giving a dog a treat or verbal praise after it walks nicely or giving the dog a big fuss, a toy or a game when he's completed a task well.
Negative Reinforcement (-R) : Negative Reinforcement is basically a threat, where bad stuff (punishment) doesn't happen so long as the dog behaves. Something unpleasant is applied almost as a warning, and then withheld to increase the occurrence of a behaviour. There are two types of negative reinforcement.
The first is avoidance. An example of this would be a dog who walks next to you simply to avoid a harsh lead correction (called a 'lead pop'.) In avoidance, the dog tries to remove the threat of the unpleasant thing by behaving in a certain way.
The second is escape. This is when the unpleasant thing happens pretty much the whole time and only stops when the dog does the behaviour you want. An example of this would be teaching a dog to walk nicely by pulling it around with you on a very tight lead; when the dog eventually walks next to you, the tension in the lead and the pressure on his neck both stop.
Positive Punishment (+P) : This is when an unpleasant thing is actively applied to the dog during or immediately after a behaviour, to try to reduce the occurrence of the behaviour.
For example a dog touches an electric boundary fence, it receives a shock. A dog fails to pay attention to a handler at training, a bunch of keys or training discs are thrown at it in an attempt to instill discipline. A dog barks at the postman and gets squirted in the face by a water spray. In the case of the dog who is supposed to be walking nicely, the dog would be hauled around by the lead and told off every time he took a step out of place.
Negative Punishment (-P) : This is when something rewarding or of value to the dog is taken away or withheld from the dog to try to reduce the occurrence of a behaviour.
For example, a dog barks to get attention, the handler turns away and ignores the dog (removal of the good thing - the handler's attention) until the barking stops.
With our dog walking nicely on lead, the handler would stand still when the dog pulled on lead (removal of the good thing - the walk) and only start again when the dog returns to it's correct position by the handler's side.
These four principles can be used in every possible combination to get, maintain, change or eliminate behaviours. For example, you can combine positive reinforcement and negative punishment: the dog walks nicely on a loose lead, you reward with food (+R); the dog starts to pull, you stop and hold the lead so the dog can't move forward (removing what it wants to do -P).
Some combinations are obviously more humane than others, and some combinations can be extremely distressing to the animal.
At Borderpaws we train using Positive Reinforcement (+R) methods, encouraging and enabling the dogs to learn things correctly the first time, and rewarding and praising the dogs when they do.
We will occasionally back this up with Negative Punishment (-P) if the need arises, but if dogs are trained positively and in a reward-based fashion, the need for this is extremely infrequent.
We have found that dogs respond very quickly to this method of training and that both dogs and humans learn much faster when in a positive frame of mind.
The benefits of Positive Reinforcement dog training
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