Understanding Cause and Effect During Dog Training
The Law of Cause and Effect: If I do “B”, then “C” happens… a “consequence” which can be good or bad from the viewpoint of your dog.
There are different kinds of consequences that happen in life. Good things and Bad things, which may affect behavior greatly, somewhat, slightly or not at all.
Good things can a) begin and b) end;
Bad things can a) begin and b) end.
Your dog is constantly trying to begin the good and end the bad…avoid ending the good and avoid beginning the bad.
Positive and Negative Reinforcement
Words like “Rewards” and “Reinforcement” are used to describe the Good things, intended to make a behavior stronger. Likewise, “Punishment” and “Aversive” are words used to describe Bad things that are intended to weaken a behavior. Terms such as Positive Reinforcement (R+), Negative Reinforcement (R-), Positive Punishment (P+) and Negative Punishment (P-) are used by trainers and scientists to determine how consequences are designed to affect behaviors.
(Something is added to the animal’s environment)
Add “Good Consequence” to increase behavior
Add “Bad Consequence” to decrease behavior
(Something is removed from the animal’s environment)
Remove “Bad Consequence” to increase behavior.
Remove “Good Consequence” to decrease behavior
When neutral things occur, they, in theory, have little or no effect on behavior. That’s not to say that is always the case… When absolutely nothing occurs, it is possible to apply the principles used for extinction (extinguishing the behavior) to get rid of a behavior. But since we don’t live in a vacuum, there are always things occurring, whether they have an effect on the behavior depends on how the dog interprets it. We can, however control our responses to have no real effect on the situation.
All consequences must be immediate and consistent (think “Sneaky” dog!) in order to effect a change on behavior. You cannot delay a consequence, good or bad, and expect a dog to associate it with the behavior you are trying to correct. It does not work that way.
Example: Dogs do not feel guilt. If you came home glaring at me, I might look pitiful and try to assuage your anger, too.
When not dealt with immediately, the good and bad consequences will end up being associated with other things present at the moment of the consequence as well as affecting the behavior. Consequences are only “Good” or “Bad” as viewed by the trainee, not the being issuing the consequence.
For example, your child gets an A on his report card. You give her a candy bar that is her favorite, a good consequence, but if you gave her liver, and if she disliked liver, the liver would be a bad consequence. Meanwhile, to the dog whom she slips the liver to when you are not looking, liver is a good consequence, if the dog likes liver.
If any of this confuses you, don’t let it bother you, simply remember this: You have complete control of the resources your dog wants. Simplify what that means, answer a simple yes or no question: Did my Dog like that and does he want more of it? If you think the answer is yes, then you have found something he will work for. If not, then try something else. Also, your dog will be interested in different things at different times, and what works at home when nothing is happening, is not neccessarily going to work when a squirrel runs by during a STAY or a COME command.
It is up to you to choose how to utilize rewards. You have the power! To clarify which behavior you like and are rewarding, we recommend you use a marker signal, such as a clicker with your dog, or an enthusiastic word such as “Click!” or “YES!”. Focus on giving/beginning the “Good Things” as your primary means for reinforcing behaviors you like.
Being a fair, clear and consistent leader and teacher is your right and responsibility; however, there is a lot of mis-information out today that says you have to “Be the Boss” or “the Alpha” or “Pack Leader”. While being a good leader is important, our method of teaching doesn’t rely on tactics of “dominance.” We simply want to teach the dog how to make good choices so he can earn what he wants in life. After all, don’t we all feel that way? Who wants to work for a domineering boss at their job?
As a dog trainer, I believe that the most effective method of dog training revolves around teaching your dog what you want them to do, how to behave, how to act in their environment, and what appropriate behaviors are, under given circumstances and situations.