The majority of dog training methodology is based off the learning research of behavioral scientist B.F. Skinner. His work defined the principles now known as operant conditioning. In order to fully understand how and why the various training methods work, it is important to have a basic knowledge of operant conditioning.
It is called operant conditioning because the subject, a dog in this case, can operate on and manipulate his environment through his behavior. The dog can make good things or bad things happen by choosing behaviors that are either reinforced or punished. For example, owners train their dog to shake hands by using a treat as a reward. The treat reinforces that behavior and the dog will continue to shake hands again in the future in order to receive more rewards.
Many of the terms associated with operant conditioning have different meanings when used in this context as opposed to everyday conversation. It is important to learn what these words mean within this context because there are a number of training guides and websites that use them incorrectly. The training methods that you will use come from the ideas of operant conditioning. If you don’t understand the terms, you won’t understand how operant conditioning works. If you don’t understand how operant condition works, you will have a much more difficult time training your dog.
Reinforcement refers to something that increases the chance of a behavior being repeated. For example, a dog responding to a sit command could receive positive attention from the owner. The positive attention would reinforce the behavior and cause the dog to perform it again in the future in order to receive the positive attention.
Punishment refers to something that reduces the chance of a behavior being repeated. For example, a quick-snap correction with a choke collar is meant to deter a dog from pulling on future walks. The dog will learn to stop pulling in order to avoid receiving the punishment in the future.
Positive, in the context of training and learning theory, means that something is being added. It does not matter whether the thing being added is desirable or undesirable, in learning theory anything added to influence behavior is called positive. If a dog is rewarded with a treat in order to increase the chance of a particular behavior being repeated, it is called positive reinforcement. If a punishment, such as a verbal correction, is given to the dog, it is called positive punishment. Positive does not mean that the training will not involve punishment as many incorrect resources claim.
Negative, in the context of training and learning theory, means that something is being taken away. It does not matter whether the thing being taken away is desirable or undesirable, in learning theory removing something to influence behavior is always called negative. If an owner takes a toy away from a dog in order to correct the dog’s behavior, it is called negative punishment. If an owner had been using a shock collar and then stopped using shocks, it would be an example of negative reinforcement.
Further Information About Dog Training
The Association of Pet Dog Trainers
American Kennel Club