Bill and his love of sauce!
There are a few main tenants of positive reward based dog training:
1) Dogs continue behaviors because they are rewarded for doing so
2) Dogs stop behaviors when they are not longer getting rewarded by it.
3) The reward is determined by the dog.
4) In order to stop behavior it must stop being rewarded and it will stop in a process known as extinction.
5) Extinction burst can occur before behavior stops.
6) Punishment does not stop behavior it just suppresses it
7) Positive reward based methods promote new behavior more effectively
But what does this actually mean in human terms?
I would like you to meet Bill.
Bill is an ordinary everyday kind of guy, married and works in a pretty ordinary job. Noting fancy but he is really keen on brand ABC sauce. Nothing tastes OK without this sauce according to Bill but he has to drive 15 minutes out of his way each time he needs it and his wife refuses to go and buy it for him.
He had tried his hardest to get me to like this sauce but I hate it. So this fulfills point 3. The reward is determined by the person (or animal) being rewarded.
Every time he goes to this shop he buys a bottle of this sauce comes home, puts it on his meal and thoroughly enjoys the taste. He continues to go 15 minutes out of his way each time to get his reward. The behavior of going to the out of the way shop continues as he is rewarded by the shop having his favorite brand of yummy sauce.
All is fine until one day he gets to the shop and the sauce is not there. Not a problem thinks Bill they will have it tomorrow. Tomorrow he finds there is still no sauce. No problem says Bill, I have enough to get by for two more days. Two more days later still no sauce. This is extinction or point 4. So Bill is now getting pretty desperate as his world is not OK without his sauce. He gets up 15 minutes early the next day and goes before work and again after work but sadly there is still no sauce available. (Extinction burst as he tried harder and harder to continue the behavior)
How long Bill will keep attempting to get his sauce we don’t know as extinction can be a quick or slow process depending on how entrenched the behavior was.
Let’s back track a bit and find out what would happen if Bill had stopped at any time in this process to complain to the shop owner. Not an uncommon scenario as most people don’t like their heavily rewarded behaviors being upset. Bill goes up to the shop assistant and asks when his ABC brand of sauce will be in. The shop assistant is dismissive and implies he is being a pest. Bill feels punished for his like of the sauce. He is determined to go back next day and this time talk to the shop manager.
Next day the shop manager tells him to stop annoying them; he gets angry and pushes Bill out the door telling him to go away. Bill is now fuming. How dare this shop treat him say negatively, he has been a good customer for years and his love of ABC sauce is no threat to them. He returns the next day and has another altercation with the manager, who this time calls the police and Bill is arrested for disturbance of the peace. He still does not have his sauce and he is now really angry at being punished so unfairly. This could keep going on for a while with Bill stuck in his need for ABC sauce and the shop stuck in their punishment methods. Not much fun for either of them. A lose / lose scenario for both Bill and the shop as Bill does not have his sauce and the shop has this person annoying them every day.
What would have happened if the store manager had chosen to use a positive reward based method instead?
This time when Bill confronts the manager to complain the manager tells him he is so sorry but that sauce is no longer available and because Bill has been such a good customer he sends him home with 3 complimentary bottles of XYZ sauce to try. So Bill, being Bill, is still not so happy that his regular sauce is not available but hey this is free let’s try it. He does and finds it is almost as good and that given time he could find it as rewarding as the previous brand. Meanwhile he has avoided an ugly confrontation with the shop and the police. A win / win for both parties and Bill and the store manager have both avoided the need for blood pressure medication. The shop has kept a customer and Bill is on the way to a new more acceptable behavior replacing the previous one.
Humans and animals work on the same principles of behavior modification so why not give a more positive method a try next time you want to change an unacceptable behavior your dog is exhibiting. Interactions that result in win/win outcomes are always more fun than those that result in lose/lose.
The Pet Care Magician
Louise Kerr (aka The Pet Care Magician) is the owner of Elite Pet Care & Education based in the Nambucca Valley NSW Australia. She consults and writes widely on a range of pet care issues including feeding, training and grooming dogs and cats. Her online pet care magic subscription program deals with common pet behavior training, feeding and grooming issues such as barking, escaping, scratching, aggression and fleas. Pet care professionals are trained to handle customer issues by the provision of up to date programs to differentiate their pet care business from other competitors.