Puppy Forum and Dog Forums banner

1 - 2 of 2 Posts

·
Registered
Joined
·
160 Posts
Discussion Starter #1
I was reading "Don't Shoot The Dog", when I suddenly realized that I, along with many other people, was confused about what positive reinforcement is, or specifically reinforcement. Or maybe it's just me, but when I thought of the term "positive reinforcement", I was thinking of training, or instituting a set of rules. I was not thinking of day to day, normal life. To me, positive reinforcement was when I ignored bad behavior and gave praise and treats for good behavior. Well, it is, but it's also a lot of other things.

I realized that positive reinforcement is when one of my dogs runs to the back door when I stand. I've been trained by my dog to let them outside when they do this, by the positive reinforcement of them doing their business outside. Personally, I find nothing wrong with my dogs prompting me to do something that is beneficial to all of us. Positive reinforcement is when I post something helpful to this forum (it happens, really!) and someone replies with something nice. These things may seem obvious, but at first I got serious about dog training because mine were kind of nuts. I wanted them to calm down, so I wanted to teach them all to sit, down, stay, and a bunch of other cool things. Then my problems would be solved, right? I didn't understand that just teaching them to follow a few commands would help slightly, but not come close to solving the issue, because I was using positive reinforcement to create the very problem I wanted to solve.

Who doesn't like it when they come home from work and their dogs greet them with excitement? I did! So I gave lots of hugs and petting when they freaked out over me coming home. I also thought it was pretty cute when they'd get excited and run all over a room, jumping and spinning. Well, it is cute, but only when you want them to do it. Unfortunately, there's no off switch I've been able to locate on any of my dogs, so by reinforcing this behavior, I set up a system of chaos.

So, of all the things I've learned about dog training (besides love and patience), understanding 'reinforcement' was the most important. I can be pretty thick sometimes, but it finally sank in that reinforcement is happening all the time, 100% of every hour of every day. Every look I give, every word spoken, every action taken, reinforces something that my dogs and all the humans in my life do. If I don't pay attention, I might well reinforce behavior that I don't want. I heard a funny analogy once about a wife asking her husband to take out the trash. She'd ask him to take it out, and he'd agree, but wait a while just so it wasn't like she was ordering him around. She'd see the trash still inside, and remind him to take it out. He'd agree, but get irritated, and wait a bit longer before getting up to do it. And so it goes. The wife was actually reinforcing the husband to wait before taking out the trash, and the husband was reinforcing the wife nagging him. Neither was getting the behavior they wanted (granted the man was being stupid at the start). This is how behavior chains accidentally get trained into a dog's pattern. We think we're reinforcing the right thing, but don't realize that Fido will start counter-surfing even more, just so you'll tell him to get off and give him a treat for it. Using this, I've started only petting my dogs when they're calm, and only allowing jumping/excited behavior when we're actually playing a game. I don't pet them for jumping and freaking out when I get home. In fact, if I ignore them and they still won't calm down, I go into another room for a few minutes. I pet and praise them with a mellow voice when I get home, because at that time even praise can kick their excitement up too high. Now I come home to dogs that are still very happy to see me, but no longer knock me on my ass. That's behavior I definitely want to reinforce.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
3,851 Posts
Now you're starting to think about how dogs think. Absolutely everything registers with them. The next step is to understand how screaming at a dog or ignoring him can both be reinforcing or punishing depending on the dog and/or the context. How we interact with dogs when not in formal training sessions has at least as much influence on what they learn. Trying to apply this stuff to humans is pretty iffy, though. Humans are just nuts.
 
1 - 2 of 2 Posts
Top