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Tuesday Training Byte: Positive Reinforcement training

I have studied behavior, classical conditioning and behavior modification for years all the way through to include my doctorate. Many dog training methods use positive rewards to mark the wanted behavior. This is great and I use these methods. However, sometimes they omit the other ways to reinforce wanted behaviors and extinguish unwanted behaviors. There are four options one can use: positive reward, negative reward, positive punishment, and negative punishment. Sometimes, depending on the dog and situation, it is helpful to have more than one option to deal with the behavior issue at hand. I start with positive reward and use that as much as feasible. Positive reward basically marks the wanted response by giving the dog something desirable like a tasty treat. The next option on the scale that I use is negative reward. Note here that positive means giving the dog something. Negative means taking away something. So a negative reward would be as soon as my dog responds to pressure, I take away the pressure. Positive and negative are not good or bad. They refer to adding something or taking away something. The other two options are negative punishment and positive punishment, which I will discuss next week. Let me give an example of positive reward. My dog is sitting in front of me and I ask him to back up. When he backs up, I praise him (Yes! Good Boy!) and perhaps give him a tasty treat, both of these are positive rewards. If he does not back up, I may give a negative reward. I can put pressure on him by walking gently straight into him. As soon as he begins backing out of my way, I use a negative reward by taking away the pressure (the pressure is something the dog does not want) by no longer walking into him. This is helpful especially if the dog knows you don't have a treat and he decides not to comply to your first command. Both of these are rewards, but one is positive and the other negative. Happy training!

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