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Why positive only training?

23161 Views 313 Replies 36 Participants Last post by  Laurelin
I'd like to ask a question about positive training methods that I realize will be a little controversial, just to be clear I am not a dog trainer, just an average owner interested in learning.

My question is this: why use only the positive in absence of the negative?

I understand that a positive association makes the behaviour more likely to occur again but shouldnt the inverse also be true, a negative association makes the behaviour less likely to occur again? Essentially, consequence cuts both ways... we teach our children using this idea, why not dogs? Its true that the human psyche is different from a dogs but dog-dog communication is almost exclusively negative (you will not see a dog give another dog a treat, but you might see one snap at another). Also why is dominance theory so denigrated, dogs aren't wolves but they do have pack hierarchy. Shouldnt we be trying to communicate with dogs in a "language" that is most natural to them?
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While I'm not sure that "positive only" really exists, I concentrate on the things I want to see, because I believe the saying "What you focus on grows." So, I can give my attention and energy to the things I like rather than the things I don't like. Dogs are not children and don't understand concepts in the same way as someone you can explain it to in words. Even so, I haven't seen evidence that most punishments meted out to children are that effective either. Frequently negative attention is better than no attention at all, and you'll see children pushing their parents' or teachers' buttons just to get attention. I know when I was a kid, punishment seldom stopped me from doing anything , it just made me careful not to get caught.
As to dogs teaching dogs - the things dogs want from each other are simple. Leave me alone, leave my food alone, don't hurt me. The things I want from dogs are complex and against their nature. Invade my space bubble, look into my eyes, come to me quickly and in a straight line. Leave that yummy dead toad alone. If I don't want a dog who gives me a respectful amount of space, refuses to meet my gaze, and wouldn't come to me, I suppose imitating dogs would be okay.
Another reason I prefer reinforcing good behavior is that I like a dog who is "in the game" Everytime I punish a wrong choice I am risking the possibility that next time the dog will be less willing to try to offer me stuff. For a lot of people, that's what they want. A dog who won't do anything it's not told to do. That's not my idea of enjoying the relationship with my dog.
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Yeah, I agree that working out of anger isn't productive at all but isnt there the same potential for mistakes when working with a positive method? What if the dog associates the treat with peeing and not necessarily peeing outside? Or a dog who is bristling with other dogs, if they get treats won't they think that being wary/aggressive was the right thing?
Mistakes can be made in positive reinforcement. In general, if you just get it right the next three times, you're golden. The difference is that clicking at the wrong time isn't likely to have a lasting effect on your dog the way a punisher can. And while being emotional can make your use of aversives more than it needs to be, your dog will still perceive punishment as punishment if you are cool and calm. Otherwise it wouldn't work. Why would you want to punish and not have it be effective? It is also quite difficult to give the exact right level of aversive. Too much and your dog may shut down, too little and you may desensitize him to the aversive so you have to keep upping the ante.
It's a myth that treating can enforce anger or fear in a dog. Dogs cannot feel two emotions at once. A dog is either happy about getting treats or angry/fearful, but not both at once. Using treats shifts the dog's emotion from angry/fearful to happy. Besides, a dog caught up in fear or anger won't take treats, anyway. You have to work "under threshold", so you're reinforcing behavior/emotion that isn't fully engaged fear or anger, rather the calmer emotion/behavior you want.
Plus, treats induce endorphins, which have a natural calming effect on a dog. If I have a dog too stressed to take treats I help him, and then his ability to accept treats becomes a pretty good barometer of small internal changes.
REALLY? Dogs aren't pack animals? That seems pretty surprising. I've heard people say that dogs arent a whole lot like wolves (makes sense given the centuries of breeding) but I've never heard that they're not pack creatures... gives me something to think about.
Dogs are social animals. As small prey hunters/scavengers, they don't need a pack to bring down large prey, and it would not benefit them. In feral dogs, they sometimes hang together with other dogs, but there is no true consistent pack or pack order.
Dogs (and people) experience punishment every day. That is, they make direct contact with aversive stimuli every day.

There is nothing bizzare or particularly cruel about these things. Of course, aversive stimuli are certainly the most common ingredient in cruelty, but aversvie stimuli are entirely common and natural.

When a dog (or person) is laying in one position for too long... starts to feel uncomfortable like that and rolls to a new position for relief and renewed comfort, he has just confronted aversive stimuli and reacted to it. Not a particularly cruel scenario to my eyes.

When you are "being a tree" and a dog expends effort pulling on that leash (as well as the probable discomfort from the collar pressure on the neck), and then ceases ....voila... your dog has probably just encountered aversive stimuli and responded to it.

Walk outside in the glaring sun and then go back inside to find those sunglasses. Again, you have been punished: for going outside unprotected from the glare.

I do agree that these situations can be considered "cruel" (or extra, extra aversive) if the dog (or person) did not know how to escape the aversive stimuli... and I think it is here that the use of aversive stimuli requires some ethical and behavioral consideration.

Regardless of our desire to use 80% or 100% positive reinforcement, the world is utterly dripping with aversive stimuli that are unavoidable, daily events, and they come at our hands and at the hands of the natural environment.

What I like most about a positive reinforcement philosophy is that it might help make the dog a bit more responsive to mild corrections (mild aversives) without having to resort to heavy handed measures. Dogs that have been raised with lots of aversive techniques can get desensitized ... or so my theory goes... and require even more intense versions of aversives to get the same result. (assuming you must you punishment) Things can get ugly fast.


Thing is, nature is full of aversive stimuli. One of my dogs learned that jumping up on the fence is a bad idea, because you can get your leg caught in the fence and break it. However, I don't particularly want to "help" the natural process by aversive stimuli coming from me. I can't control everything else, but I can control what I do. Plus there are different kinds of punishers. Trying to avoid pain or discomfort has a whole other meaning (and comes from a different place neurochemically) than mild frustration because you're not going to get the cookie right this moment.
Because I am the human with a larger brain, I can plan my lessons to be LIMA (least invasive, minimally aversive) and desensitize my dogs to things I do which could be considered aversive (like trimming toenails, necessary handling.) I don't know what the word "correction" means, so I can't say if my dogs are responsive to mild weasel words or not. I do try not to present my dogs with things worth avoiding to any degree, because avoidance is not my goal. I really like Emily Larlham's (the lady with all the cool Kikopup videos) definition:
I will admit that I am sometimes guilty of making eh-eh sounds at my dogs.
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"Correction" usually refers to a punishment procedures.... often a pop on the leash or a zing from an e-collar... or a harsh "no!".
Then why not just call it a punisher? The reason is because "correction" sound nicer. I believe that if you (general you) are going to punish, you should have the courage to admit it at least to yourself. And if you can admit it to yourself, you can admit it to others. I have more respect for someone who states that they use some punishment than someone who dances around the issue with weasel words like "correct" that have no real definition in behavioral or training terms.

I do use the "eh eh" sound and it is merely a "no reward mark" (or more technically correct: an S-delta).

If "eh eh" has become the new "punishment!", then I am exiting the building with the positive-only crowd.
And yet, later in the same post you write:

"A no-reward mark is aversive. It is a punisher (if it has been conditioned properly). Walking away from an attention-wanting dog is bad news from the dog's perspective and bad news is a punisher.
So which is it? It is or it isn't. I will certainly admit that walking away from a dog is a negative punisher. But it also isn't generally a no reward marker. I guess I don't condition mine correctly, because I use eh eh very rarely simply to interrupt a bad idea (not just a wrong choice). No primary aversive attached. And I think you'll find the majority of people talking against some mythical positively only crowd are people who are arguing against a red herring. The people who use primarily positive reinforcement (I suppose you could use primarily positive punishment and still call yourself "positive only"?) will usually admit to occasionally thoughtfully using something in another quadrant.

"In a healthy relationship, a "correction" or "punishment" can be imposed and it is all taken in stride. For example, there are people who can correct me and their are no hard feelings at all... I appreciate the information and attempt to behave better. .
If someone points out to me where the equation went wrong, and gently leads me to an understanding of the right way to solve it, I'd be fine with that. If they yell at me for being stupid and rap my knuckles with a ruler, they are likely to poison any affinity I might have for math. If I make a social faux pas and you correct me for it instead of tell me a better way to handle it, I'm likely to have an aversion to future social events of the same sort, because I am anxious and don't know what to do instead.

"There are others who may try to do the same thing, and the punishment creates problems and fails to improve my behavior.... and my produce unwanted side effects.
Murray Sidman (a radical behaviorist such as myself) wrote a book called "Coercion and it's Fallout" in the 60's).
I'm familiar with it. I'm not sure I'd consider you in the same league as Murray Sidman anymore than I'd claim that Karen Pryor or Bob Bailey is "like myself"

"There are times in which there are competing reinforcers (the running bunny) for which we have no alternative. ).

Odd. My alternative to bunny chasing is a recall. Because my dogs have a great history of reinforcement and I have created a habit, it works, even though my cookie is not as exciting as killing and eating the bunny would be.

" My greyhound walked with me, off leash, to my University of Florida classes in the late 1980's. She would wait outside the building door. No leash. Untrained. Then, I would exit the building and she would be there waiting...and walk back to my apartment with me... through massive crowds of student pedestrians and bicyclists... across a busy main street (University Ave)... all the while, she'd walk so close when in crowds her front shoulder bone would begin to bruise the outside of my knee.

No training.
I did much the same with my first "own" dog, an Aussie named Demian back in the early 70s. I'd take him to college with me and he'd wait till I came out, and I frequently walked him on sidewalks near busy streets off leash, and play with him off leash in the park bordering one of the busiest retail areas of Kansas City, MO. I was very young and stupid and he was very lucky to survive my cluelessness. By the way, if you and the dog are in the same space and you are both awake, training is going on. Either you are training the dog or the dog is training you.

" It's a reinforcement problem. A dog driven to smell every scent and chase every insect and mammal to the exclusion of your best edible or toy will be dicey, at best, even with excellent positive reinforcement training. Again, with no training, I could walk my Lucy through a field of squealing bunnies, children, or other dogs and she would be 100% reliable. You wouldn't get that from a positive only trained **** Hound. Ever.

It's a reinforcement issue... a dog with the DNA to seek and find prey or any other happy consequence that isn't in tune with our desires gives us a reinforcement problem.
It depends on your reinforcer. If you've studied behavior, I'm sure you've heard of Premack? Sue Ailsby teaches her stud llamas to walk nicely on the way to breed the girls by Premacking it. Sex is the reinforcer. It does involve a bit of negative punishment, though. Also, "go sniff" is a great Premack for many dogs. Interestingly, if you give them permission to do something it become much less interesting than if you try to keep it forbidden fruit.

" So, I remain unconvinced about the purely positive only philosophy.

oh behave
Well, I don't think anyone is going to hold a gun to your head and tell you you have to depend solely on R+/-P (as I said, purely positive probably doesn't exist except as an ideal.) But, if you haven't tried it, or at least seen it done well, I'll remain unconvinced by your lack of convincedness (is that a word?)
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Most dogs that have not had bad experiences with humans do desire to be around humans. They've been bred that way for centuries. They have it engrained that having a good relationship with humans is a positive survival factor. This may not be an overt thought that they have to "aim to please" humans but, in practice, it usually produces the same result.
It's not a great thing to assume, though.
By "verbal correction" I essentially mean "Get off the table you jerk!". I wanted to make it clear that when I am talking about corrections I don't mean hitting the dog, just communicating my unhappiness. I am definitely on board with the idea that you want a strong, positive relationship with your dog. If you dont want that you probably have no business owning a dog. And, yes its best to teach good manners before bad habits crop up but there is often enough work to be done with things that ARE issues that sometimes things which arent get set aside.

I think its really important to keep the vast majority of your interactions positive but surely the world cannot be engineered to be all positive all the time.
Ah, but when other people say "correction" they may mean other, very different, things.
That's why it isn't a very useful word when describing behavior and what you do with it. Punishment means something that reduces the likelihood of that behavior occuring again. (so, unless I want my dog to be less likely to sit, I'm not going to punish a sit if I asked for a down). Unfortunately, people who haven't educated themselves about operant conditioning don't necessarily understand that (or that "negative" isn't "bad" - it simply means you took something away from the situation)
It's too bad that both punishment and negative have other meanings in common speech. I could come up with "nicer" terms probably. But then I'd be in the same situation as using the word "correction" which doesn't mean anything to the majority of people I'd be talking to. If you don't understand the meanings of the words, you know, the information is readily available at the click of a key. Look up operant conditioning.
The world can't be controlled as far as aversives go. But I can engineer my training to control MY use of aversives. That's the point.
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"There are times in which there are competing reinforcers (the running bunny) for which we have no alternative. Emily's example of the couch sitting dog, to my eyes, would fail miserably for any dog that loves the couch. Any solution that requires the focused attention and continual presence of the owner is not a solution at all.
And that wasn't just a "pure reinforcement" problem. If she had offered a solution that involves the same technique, but included punishment of couch sitting, THAT solution would require the constant presence as well. In the end, she recommends containing the dog ... I suppose in a crate.... in the absence of an owner.
oh behave
Ooorrrr . . . you can teach the dog that HIS bed is absolutely the best place in the world. Sometimes when you are on it, treats fall from the sky. In early stages of training, management is key. But once you've created a habitual behavior you don't need the management or the presence of the human. I've taught all my dogs a very good leave it. True story, we have some awful hailstorms in OK lately. In the last two years we have had storms with tennisball sized hail, having to replace glass in cars and roofs. It's also very hard on any birds around to be hit by something that big. Kills a bunch of them. About three days after the first storm, Ray came trotting around the house with a rotting starling. I told him to drop it (he did, without any attempts to keep his prize) and I told him and his mom and auntie (who were also out) to "leave it." I went into the house to get stuff to dispose of the mess. When I got back out, all three dogs were sitting a respectful distance from the carcass and it had not been moved. Because I had trained the behavior I didn't have to be right there to enforce it.
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Without getting philosophical let me just say I don't agree with the premise that society and human nature is based in selfishness. That said, it makes sense to create incentive for good behaviour, unfortunately sometimes bad behaviour has stronger innate incentives (food on the table is a good example). In that situation you would have to either come up with something more motivating than the bad behaviour or find a way to lessen the bad incentive... or both.

Or create a new habit. I had a client with a large puppy and two small children. Pup would stroll up to the table and eat off the children's plates while they were trying to eat. We taught her that when there was food on the table, better treats came on her bed. Mom and I rehearsed with left over mac and cheese. If the dog walked towards the table, we picked up the icky orange food, stood and turned our back. If she got on her bed, she got goodies. With a little bit of variable reinforcement, it was not that long until she would go to her bed when people were eating because that was the best chance for reward. A tad bit of negative reinforcement in showing the dog that food from the table was not available.
Did you use any aversive feedback or punishment methods to get such a reliable "leave it"?
I would say "no" to the aversive, possible "yes" to the negative punishment (treat is not available, or you can't get to it) because I don't really consider negative punishment "aversive" in the same way as +P or -R. (The dog is not working to avoid something, but working out how to get something) First I teach food zen with a treat in my fist. (you only get the treat when your nose is away from it) which usually goes quick enough that there is not much frustration built up. That carries over very quickly to a piece of kibble under the foot, and a much better treat from the hand. Then the kibble is right next to the foot, and if the dog dives for it, you slide your foot over it. Click and treat as soon as he raises his nose or moves it away. Then we go to an object on the floor - cue "leave it" (which you've added during the stationary exercises) as soon as the dog looks at it and take a step away from the food (if your timing is really bad, you might get a tight leash, but not usually) As soon as the dog stops looking at yummy or interesting object , click and treat with something better from your hand. I coach my students that if they think they might automatically jerk their leash hand when they are doing a moving leave it, (common with people taught yank and thank with a previous dog) that they should hook that thumb in their pocket. That way if they jerk, they give themselves a wedgie, but don't tug on the leash. (So I guess that might be aversive feedback for the handler - but it usually gets a laugh) Most dogs get this in a single session, many in three reps. Then it's not that much effort to keep it up, and raise criteria until it becomes a good habit. I've also taught "leave it" to rescues who needed to be okay with cats (I would NEVER suggest doing this for a seriously cat predatory dog) and if I put my dinner on the arm of the sofa and tell the dogs to leave it, it will still be there when I get back. If I don't tell them what to do, I'm probably out of luck. BTW, if I've told a dog to leave something, I NEVER give them permission to "get it" though I might give them the food later out of my hand. If it's spilled prescription medication or a putrid bird carcass, I don't want them to be anticipating that it's just a wait and then they will be allowed to get it.
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I'm attempting to speak in the terms of the current lingo of the dog trainers I have met. When they refer to a "correction", I know what they mean. I sometimes use the word in casual conversation, but it doesn't come up much..

Funny, I am a dog trainer and I don't think "correction" is part of my "lingo" If I was a "balanced trainer" it likely would be, as they often spurn behavioral terms and frequently don't really understand their meaning. But I think you'll find that this group (particularly in discussing subjects like this tend to be a little more savvy. And if they don't understand the terms, the information is readily available on this very same internet. Research is a very cool thing.

I would declare that a punishment has been used by myself, you, or Karen Pryor more than any of us would like. I have no problem whatsoever admitting it and calling it what it is. Someone in this thread asked about the meaning of "correction" and I gave a definition as used commonly by many dog trainers...

Again, most +R/-P trainers try to look at interactions more specifically. I can't deny that I have used punishment (can you have been training dogs back in the 70s and NOT?) I don't doubt that Karen Pryor didn't start out where she is now. The difference is, if you make a conscious decision about training methods and what you are willing to do, instead of just allowing "whatever works" and excusing the use of aversives by calling them something else, you end up needing a whole lot LESS in the way of aversives. That's the whole point, to be able to evolve into a more humane and connected dog trainer (pet trainer as well as professional) And understanding behavior terms and having at least a little ability to analyse how they work helps us reach that goal. (Have you figured out yet that nobody here is claiming to be purely positive, and you can quit arguing about why it would never work?)
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There is some fog in how a person could interpret the "zen" technique. I'm not familiar with the "zen" thing, but from your description, it might be more accurate to say that you are using "extinction".

The dog can bump your fist, nuzzle it, paw at it, or bark.... and nothing. The treat is there. The fist is there. But those behaviors are failing to produce the reinforcer. That part sounds like extinction.
I guess you could look at it that way. Does extinction generally happen in less than five minutes? I think it is more likely that the dog quickly figures out what produces the better treat. And the clicker helps them.

You still seem bent on taking a defensive and insulting tone which keeps me baffled.

You ask me to stop arguing against positive only training.... as though I am dropping endless posts on the matter. The title of this thread asks the very question, "why positive only...?". It's the subject!

Shrug. I thought my last post was pretty polite. But take it however you want to. You HAVE made the reference to purely positive several times, and as many have said (not just me) it probably exists as an ideal, We can only do our best to make the best choices we are capable of. And for best choice, to me that equals the least aversive method I know to get the point across.
You have to be careful about what dog you're talking about. Peeing is something the dog has to do, and often in your presence. If the dog doesn't make the connection, you can make a confused dog, and at worst a shy pee-er. Not just in the house, but anywhere you are. I don't speak from a 'positive only' stand point, but from a 'least aversive' standpoint, who's to say the reinforcer isn't enough for the dog to make the connection? This is the flaw in the 'need' to punish logic. Prove you have a good enough reinforcer, create a nice long history of reinforcement, and then see what more is needed. Interrupting the dog in the moment of the act, more out of necessity than for training, is likely all that's needed. However, a schedule and preventing owner-absence also goes a long way in the least aversion equation.
Where is the "LIKE" button?
Extinction doesn't describe a change in behavior. It is a procedure used to reduce behavior. If you deny a behavior it's customary reinforcement, you are using extinction.

Some people like to use the phrase " the behavior was extinquished ", which is probably what you are referring to when you ask about whether "it" can happen in five minutes, but this is a manner of speaking losely.

Can behavior decrease within five minutes? It depends upon the learning history of the individual behavior (its resistance to extinction)... but "yes"... it can decrease in five minutes.
Ahem. behavior decreasing IS a change in behavior. No, that is not what I am referring to. There are a lot of behaviors I don't want to go extinct, but I may not want them this very minute. And of course the issue (is it a bug or a feature?) with extinction is that if you reinforce that behavior just once, you've put it on a variable schedule, and just made it stronger. This is probably why you can withhold reinforcement from a clicker savvy dog and they'll just work harder.
but does anyone think that he could get a Bluetick Coonhound to heal faster than a solid dog trainer? I wouldn't bet on it.

I guess that would depend on his medical expeience and how sick/badly injured the Coonhound is. Oh. Did you mean "heel"?
So only those that agree w you are intelligent?:lie:

Where did you read that? Or are you just twisting it to meet your own goal? There are many people who spurn behavioral terms (and so would not know their meaning) without being stupid. Stupidity and ignorance are not the same thing. And while I don't think one has to agree with me to be intelligent, I'll happily concede that when it comes to dog training, there are a lot of ignorant ideas out there. And not all of them come from people who haven't studies behavior.
Sticking with the positive theme.... how do you folks normally carry your edible treats?

I have been using the method that I've seen on TV dog shows.... carrying hotdog or string cheese in my mouth... leaving my hands free. Do you strap a fanny pack type treat bag around your waist?

What's the latest good idea on treat holders?
I sometimes use a bait bag, or stash it in my mouth if I'm not using something too gross. But generally I don't have the food on my person, but nearby. And I don't reach for it until I've marked the behavior. Drawing attention to the treat befor that point is counterproductive
to use it anymore, and that's the whole goal. It's not ideal, but those are minor problems and the degree of aversive needed to effectively deal with the behavior is low. Sometimes, it's just not possible from a logistical standpoint to do R+ for every single problem. I don't need my dog on his bed for 30 minutes while I eat. He can do anything around the house, just not eat my dinner.
As can I. However, if you have a dog who has gained continual reinforcement from plucking food off the children's plates, sometimes giving them a specific behavior which they can understand will be strongly reinforced is more useful than body blocking or screaming in horror.
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