Positive Is NOT Permissive

Recently I received this message in response to an article I had sent to someone, trying to convince her not to use shock collars on her two dog aggressive dogs:

"You all probably think sending a child to his or her room is very bad and makes me a bad parent. Maybe I should give my kids freedom to be wild and do anything they want also. Not!!! We all have limits imposed on us by our bosses by society in general. When a person kills and are caught they get time out by going to jail. That no doubt is a very negative thing in both your worlds."

As a trainer who uses primarily positive reinforcement (giving the animal something he wants as a reward for doing something I want) I get these kinds of messages a lot. The idea seems to be that if I am not punishing the animal in some way for the behaviors I don't want, then I must be allowing them to just run amuck and do whatever strikes their fancy. I just have to say,

"LOL"!

Management is a HUGE part of positive reinforcement training. While I am teaching an animal the behaviors that I want, I take great pains to prevent said animal from practicing the behaviors that I don't want. Leashes, crates, muzzles, halters, cages, closed doors and gates, all help manage an animal's environment to keep them from performing unwanted behaviors. For instance, if I am working with a dog that jumps on guests at the front door, one of the first things I establish with the client is that unless they are actually working through a training session, their dog is not allowed to greet people at the front door. Each time the dog practices the behavior of jumping on guests, the behavior is reinforced. Preventing the dog from practicing the behavior is essential while we are teaching him more appropriate behaviors. Once the dog has been taught to sit calmly at the door, then the first few times we introduce a "guest", I might have the dog tethered some distance away from the door, or I may be stepping on his leash to prevent him from being able to jump up, until I am certain that he has learned that sitting quietly is what he should do to get what he wants from the guest - attention.

Punishment, such as a shock collar,  may teach the animal not to perform the unwanted behavior again, but it doesn't teach him/her what to do instead. Furthermore, the animal may become fearful and/or aggressive towards whatever is in the environment when he received the punishment. For instance, if your dog jumps up on guests and you grab his collar, jerking him to the ground and yell at him, he may actually become fearful of and/or aggressive towards guests in the future.

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An Elizabethan collar prevents Bella biting me, while still allowing me to deliver food rewards when she is performing more desirable behaviors.

Management, or imposing limits, means that I never have to punish the animal in any way for performing the unwanted behavior, because I prevent the unwanted behavior from happening in the first place. If for some reason the unwanted behavior does occur, I simply do not react to it at that moment and instead, redirect the animal, while calling as little attention as possible to the offending behavior. In this manner, the animal learns that the unwanted behavior is no longer rewarding. Once the animal has learned the new, acceptable behaviors, the unwanted behaviors fade away because they are no longer as rewarding as they once were, and there are new, more rewarding behaviors to perform.

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