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Digging Deep


for the buried treasure- 

 the tried 'n' true science behind

teaching anyone anything



in this photo:


Jiminy says,

'When you use R+, things start looking up.'

There are many things in life about which we need to compromise or choose the lesser of two evils.  The great news is that dog training isn't one of them.  It turns out that the most effective way to teach any learner (dog, cat, dolphin, chimp, or human) is also the most ethically sound.  Here's what I'll be thinking of as I work with you and your dog.

If your dog is experiencing an unpleasant emotion caused by a 'trigger' stimulus, which is causing him/her to perform undesirable behaviors or which is otherwise impacting your lives in a negative way, I'll use something called 'counter conditioning' (a subset of 'classical conditioning') to gradually but thoroughly change your dog's mind about the trigger.  Although this isn't magic and is based on solid, oft-tested and proven science (remember Pavlov's dogs?), it's magically wonderful to see the change.  Every time I help a dog in this way it brings me joy.  I look forward to passing that joy on to you.

If your dog's emotions are A-OK and we're working more simply on acquiring new skills, we'll again be using the proven science behind how we show your dog that when she/he does this, then this other thing happens.  We teach the dog that he/she has control over her/his environment, and can produce predictable results by choosing to perform the behaviors we're looking for.  Simply speaking, we have four options for changing behaviors in a learner:


Positive reinforcement (R+), means that we do something or give something to the dog (we add something to the scenario, which is why the word positive is used; think of a plus sign to remind yourself that we added).  We hope that this results in his/her doing more of that behavior; think of the dog's response to our response as, 'Yippee!', as in, 'That was really good.'


Positive punishment (P+), means that we do something to the dog (again, we add something to the scenario, hence the plus sign again) which we hope results in her/him doing less of that behavior; think of the dog's response as 'Yikes!', as in, 'That was really bad.'


Negative reinforcement (R-), means that we stop doing something unpleasant to the dog (we subtract something, so we use a minus sign) when he/she performs the behavior we're looking for, which we hope will increase its likelihood in the future; think of the dog's response as, 'Whew!', as in, 'Thank goodness that ended.'


Negative punishment (P-), means that we withhold or stop doing/giving something which was pleasant to the dog (we subtract something) while she/he is performing an undesirable behavior, which we hope will decrease the likelihood of its happening again; think of the dog's response as, 'Dang!', as in, 'I missed out.'

Keep in mind that we know up front (because we plan it) whether we are adding something to, or subtracting something from, our scenario, so we know how to label what we're doing as positive or negative.  However, until we see how the dog reacts, we can't be sure whether what we did was punishment for the dog, or reinforcement.  If the dog tends to perform the chosen behavior more frequently, we were using reinforcement.  If the dog tends to perform the behavior less frequently, we were using punishment.  If you find this confusing, think of the man who used a hose to squirt his Portuguese Water Dog puppy to stop her from digging in the garden.  Turned out the puppy loved being squirted, and digging was reinforced, and until that man refined his training techniques, everyone got muddy.  :)


The first and last of the four quadrants, R+ and P-, are the responses we want to work with, because they will keep strong the bond between you and your dog.  Of these two, the first (R+) is preferable.  My promise to you at Mankind's Best Friendship is to use positive reinforcement whenever it is possible, and that's why I refer to what I do as positive reinforcement-based (also known as, 'reward-based'), force-free training.  It works, it's humane, it strengthens the bond between the teacher and the learner, and it's fun for all involved.  With school kids, we start with smiles, praise, and cute stickers as our R+.  With dogs, we start with cheese, chicken, and cheer.  What does Wegman's carry that you consider R+?  {Hint:  opportunity for human jackpot--ask me how to win!}


I am deeply indebted to a wonderful trainer named Heidi Steinbeck, proprietor of Great Shakes Dog Training, for teaching me, 'Yippee!', 'Yikes!', "Whew!', and, 'Dang!', as a nice way to understand the four quadrants of learning theory.

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