This page on Dog Training Basics is part of the Beginners Course of the
D.S. Dog Training Workshop, and an element of the Dog Science Network

Comprehensive Behavioral Conditioning for Dogs
Section One of the Beginner's Course

Dog Training Basics
Page Five of a twelve-page section

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The Advantage of the Three-Pronged Approach

Arranging your dog's situation so that his misbehavior is followed by a consequence unpleasant enough to make him want to turn over a new leaf, meets the behavioral definition for a punishment procedure.

Punishment in any form, including the infliction of mild emotional distress, has the potential to produce enough disruptive side effects that, even though it is the only thing that can really be counted on to eliminate problematic behavior in short order, many people find that they can't use it without creating new problems that sometimes cause them even more grief than the troublesome behavior they were trying to punish out of existence at the outset.

However, when punishment is dispensed in a benign fashion, as one component in a well balanced, three-pronged, formula-driven approach, those side effects can be prevented and altogether avoided.

Think about this. If I created a punishing situation for you by making it impossible for you to get to your current place of employment, would you be upset? You might think so. However, imagine that at same time that I made it impossible for you to go to your old job, I also made it possible for you to begin a new job that is just head and shoulders, in every way better than your old job.

In that circumstance you would not be nearly so upset. In fact, if I substitute something better for the thing I take away, you might not be upset at all. Your dog is the same way.

If you provide your dog with a rewarding response he can engage in to replace the problem behavior you are punishing out of existence, then, you will find that he handles the transition from problem behavior to goal behavior with great aplomb. That is especially true if you combine the availability of a rewarding alternative with the total withdrawl of all the rewards that used to reinforce the behavior that you have targeted for change.

When you dispense punishment in that circumstance, your dog will be fleetingly distressed, which is exactly what you want. However, he will not be emotionally traumatized because he will have an acceptable alternative available to him. That will ensure that by simply adjusting his behavior, he can still get his needs met while avoiding any sort of unpleasantness whatsoever.

That is the beauty of the formula. It allows you to reap all of the benefits that can be derived from using punishment procedures with your dog, while simultaneously allowing you to sidestep all of the negative side effects that would result if you were to employ punishment by itself, in the absence of the other two, counterbalancing components of the formula.

The Formula Applied in the Micro and the Macro

The formula for changing behavior can be applied narrowly to bring about a change in one particular response. For example, you could put the formula to work to teach your dog not to dig in the garbage for food. Right? You would just need to reward him for staying out of the trash at the same time that you made it a point to punish him for going in the trash. Concurrent with that, you would also need to make sure that if your dog did go in the trash after food, he would have no opportunity to consume and enjoy the bounty of his ill gotten gain.

When the formula is applied narrowly in that fashion to change some particular response, the intervention in that instance amounts to happenstance training.

However, the formula can also be applied in a sweeping and systematic fashion to transform the dog over time by methodically molding his every response. When the formula is employed to condition a dog's behavior at that level of magnitude, it rises above the level of simple happenstance training and instead, becomes socialization on a grand scale.

In any case, to get the formula clicking on all cylinders, you will first need to learn how to make the components work.

Making the Components Work

The formula for changing behavior, then, is the secret to effective happenstance training and the key to the efficient and effective socialization of your dog.

The formula consists of three components, which are employed simultaneously. Each of those three parts represents a separate set of behavioral procedures.

When you give your dog something rewarding to do that is incompatible with the target response, you are using positive reinforcement to make sure that your dog is so busy emitting the alternative response that he has no time to engage in the forbidden, target response. When you withhold all the usual pay-offs for the target behavior, you are using an extinction procedure. And when you turn your dog's misbehavior into an unpleasant experience, you are using a punishment procedure.

The approach taught in this workshop is called comprehensive behavioral conditioning to denote the fact that we employ the full array of behavioral procedures, in unison and in sequence. Learning to use behavioral procedures effectively is the key to making comprehensive behavioral conditioning work for you.

The better you learn to execute those procedures, the better trained your dog will be, and the sooner that day will come.

Especially if your dog is already past his critical stage of development and he has so long been a member of your family that his days of first responses are well past him, what you have left to you is the shrewd employment of that ingenious methodology. If you learn to use it well, the task ahead will be both more fun as well as more easily managed.

Reinforcing Incompatible Responses

For example, if your dog has something rewarding to do other than misbehave, then, it will be infinitely easier for you to bring any given misconduct to an end. Or, better yet, by making it super rewarding for your dog to behave well, you may be able to keep him so busy doing what he should that he will have little time available in which to learn to do what he shouldn't.

The key to reinforcing incompatible responses effectively, however, is to reinforce well and often, and in a compelling fashion.

The Science of Reinforcing In a Compelling Manner

Your dog will only want to carry out your commands and do things the way you want them done, for as long as you can make compliance a more rewarding experience for the animal than any of his alternatives.

Canine nature and human nature are very much the same in that regard. Both species are pleased to be presented with the opportunity to work, providing that the rewards associated with the job far outweigh the aversives encountered along the way.

You know that for yourself. If people are only willing to pay you just a little bit for your labor, then, you only feel a little bit like working. However, the bigger the payoff is, the more pleased you are to participate. Therefore, if you lived and worked in a hypothetical world in which payouts were continuously rising, the compensation would eventually reach the point that you would be thrilled by the opportunity to get up and go off to work in the morning.

It really all just depends on what's in it for us, and our dogs are the same way.

The more rewarding you make it for your dog to comply, the happier he will be to go along. His being happy will, in turn, make training a richer experience for you. Besides, a happy dog is always easier to train than his sour counterpart, which will make the situation more rewarding for you yet.

That's what makes effective reinforcement a science well worth mastering. Reinforcement delivered in an insightful manner will result in your dog learning faster. It will also make the process easier and more fun for you, while dramatically reducing the need for you to correct the animal.

Reinforce Immediately

When we speak of reinforcing your dog's correct behavior, we just mean that you should see to it that he is rewarded when he behaves well. However, just exactly when you deliver those rewards to your dog is critically important.

If your dog obeys a specific command, or even if he just surprises you by spontaneously doing something good, if he does anything that you want him to do more often in the future, then, you need to reward that response right now, as soon as it is emitted. Not later when you feel more like it, and not after a while, when it is more inconvenient.

If you want that dog well trained, then, you will need to dispense those reinforcers right now - without hesitation - the instant a desirable response is emitted.

The rule, then, is that your reinforcers will be maximally effective if you deliver them to your dog immediately, either while he is making the targeted response or immediately afterward. Indeed, the sooner you reinforce, the more effective your reinforcement will be in fostering that particular response.

Reinforce with Intensity

The intensity and the quality of the reinforcement you provide are also critical factors. Therefore, just as a wonderful massage is sure to give you better mileage than a cursory pat on the head, words that are infused with energy and excitement, will always motivate your dog far more than anything you could ever say in a monotone.

You need to convince your dog that you are thrilled beyond your capacity to contain it, because enthusiasm is contagious and intensity can fire a rampaging momentum.

Reinforce Continuously

In the previous two sections, you learned that to get results, you need to provide intense reinforcement to your dog immediately after he engages in any sort of desirable response.

That brings us to the question of how often you should reinforce. Fortunately, the research is very clear on that point as well.

If you want your dog to get in the habit of doing any particular thing, then, every time he does that thing, you need to make sure that he finds it to be a rewarding experience.

For example, if you are teaching your dog to sit on command, then, every time that he obeys your command to sit - every time without exception - you should dispense a reinforcer.

Rewarding the target response every time it is emitted is known as continuous reinforcement.

If you continue to reward the targeted response continuously over time, then, gradually, that response will become well established as your dog falls into a regular habit of doing that particular thing the way you want it done.

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This page on Dog Training Basics is part of the Beginners Course of the
D.S. Dog Training Workshop, and an element of the Dog Science Network