Thursday, October 17, 2013

"Positive" Reinforcement

Let's talk about positive reinforcement. The term "positive reinforcement" is often misused by marketing companies and those that sell toys or devices or even training for dogs. It's used to provide a description or a name for a product that they want you to think is happy, and produces positive thoughts or outcome for your dog. And everyone wants their dog to be happy, hence the intentional misuse and eventual misinterpretation of the word  "positive".

So let's breakdown the phrase.
Positive = the adding to
Reinforcement = anything causing a situation or behavior to repeat

In the terms of training, the phrase positive means adding to, not, positive as in: good and happy. So anything that you do with your voice, touch, leash, electronic collars, rattle can, etc are going to be adding to a situation. Now if those things that you add to the situation cause of behavior to repeat, then you are reinforcing. And the behavior will repeat again because of the reinforcement it received the last time.

Example: a dog in the other room is barking from its kennel, you, from your bedroom yell, "no!" The dog goes quiet for a few seconds, then begins to bark again. You repeat, "No!" Again the dog is quiet for a few seconds then continues to bark.

In your mind the word "no" is a reprimand, the punishment for the dog doing something that you don't approve of. After all you do need your beauty sleep.  In the dog's mind they are merely seeking your attention, they can't see you, they can't hear you, so in order to get that attention, they do whatever it is that will get it. In this case it's barking. They are rewarded by merely hearing your voice. You have added to the situation. This in turn reinforces the parking. And so you are POSITIVELY reinforcing the behavior.

Training your dog is not merely giving it treats and putting a leash on it. There are portions of Psychology with you can pull from and learn so much more about how a dog thinks. This is the part that I find fascinating. We can guide our dogs to be better pets, partners, family members by understanding how they understand the world. They don't use logic or reasoning so its not as easy as sitting them down to explain why you have done something. Once you understand how they see the world and interact with it, your next training session will be much more fun and in-depth than you ever expected!

Happy training!

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