Is it all positive reinforcement?

People say I have worked wonders with Chico, that’s very nice of them. He is a very different guy than when he came to live with me, and I did it with a lot of help and positive reinforcement techniques. Getting a cookie or a pet or playing tug are all things that Chico likes – positive things that are used as positive reinforcers for good behavior. I think of it as +P.

It is also possible to influence behavior by taking away something the dog likes. Think of it as -P. I found a very nice explanation of the principle at the UC Davis Vet School blog, which says it better than I can manage today, so here’s a link:

The Pet Perspective December 26.

This isn’t adding a negative (+N) – that would be yelling, leash jerking, hitting – the stuff we don’t do to dogs anymore. This is saying to the dog, without words, when you do that I don’t like it and I will only acknowledge you when you do the good thing. Many people with trained dogs have Sit as a default behavior. If the dog wants attention, food, play -whatever, they “say please” by sitting quietly.

If more dogs had that default behavior, I bet fewer of them would end up in shelters.


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