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 Eight of a twelve-page section

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Keeping the Focus on Fun

With all this dry talk about rewards and reinforcement, and conditioning this and establishing that, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that what we are really talking about here comes down to one thing: Training needs to be big fun for your dog.

Your dog should eagerly anticipate his training the way a school kid looks forward to recess, so he can get out to the playground. Indeed, your dog should look forward to his training sessions the way you look forward to the perfect work day, in which everybody loves everything you do, and you walk away with a big check for your efforts.

Training should be something that your dog dreams about at night, and looks forward to every minute of the day. The wise dog handler will do whatever is necessary to cause the animal to develop a level of enthusiasm so powerful that he feels compelled to cooperate with you by the simple fact that going along with the program is so much fun for him that he simply cannot resist the impulse to do as you ask.

Reinforcement in Review

Up to this point, we have talked about the formula for changing behavior, which is a three-pronged approach to raising and training your dog.

Reinforcement is a vital component of that three-part formula.

When we speak of reinforcing your dog for correct behavior, we just mean that, after he does something that you want him to do more often in the future, you should immediately make something happen that will turn the event into a rewarding experience.

Sometimes you will prompt your dog to do something, like give him a command. Then, when he complies you should dispense your reinforcer, which you can deliver by the way you touch him, or speak to him, or feed him, or whatever.

Other times, your dog will spontaneously and perhaps, unexpectedly, do something good. In those sorts of cases, if you transform the event into a rewarding experience by immediately dispensing some sort of reinforcement, you will greatly increase the possibility that your dog will do that thing again.

Remember, the rule is that the more you reinforce desirable behavior, the faster your dog will learn and the less time and energy you will need to put into correcting the animal for unacceptable behavior.

Putting Yourself in the Right Frame of Mind

It is unlikely that you will be able to make training a compelling experience for your dog if you are not enjoying the process yourself. Therefore, if you find yourself feeling irritated with your dog for his slow progress, and you find yourself getting angry or feeling impatient to exasperation during his training sessions, then, you need to take a hard look at your own personal dynamics, because if you're not having fun, then, your dog probably isn't either. And if your dog does not enjoy the process, progress is likely to be slow indeed.

Each dog progresses at the rate at which he progresses, with each learning at his own pace. Sometimes the going is slow. If your training technique is sloppy, that can slow things down tremendously, and if you are just starting out with a young pup, you will have to expect that progress will be slower yet.

If you find that working with your dog roils your emotions and puts you on edge, you need to consider the possibility that maybe you are just not cut out for dog ownership. Or, it could be that your schedule just will not allow you to both give your dog the amount of attention and training he requires and still let you meet your own needs for rest, relaxation, and the kind of major me time that will allow you to recover from the demands the world is making on you.

It is very difficult to raise a dog in stolen minutes of your time, and it is almost impossible to train him properly and meet his other needs in that circumstance.

Extinction Procedures

We now need to turn our attention away from the question of how you can best reinforce your dog for engaging in correct behavior, and look instead at extinction procedures, which comprise another vital element of the formula for changing behavior.

In an extinction procedure, you simply withhold the reinforcer that maintains the target response.

To determine what, exactly, is reinforcing any given behavior, just look at what happens to your dog after he does whatever it is that he is doing.

If somebody pets the dog when he barks, then, petting is probably the reinforcer for barking. If somebody hugs him when he snarls at the mailman, then, hugging is probably the reinforcer for the snarling. If somebody feeds him when he begs at the table, then table scraps are the reinforcer.

To work an extinction procedure in any of the circumstances listed above, you would simply need to withhold the petting, the hugging, and the food that were driving the responses. So the dog barks, but he doesn't get petted. He snarls, but no one responds by picking him up and holding him. He begs at the table, but no one gives him any food.

If the things that are withheld are, indeed, the reinforcers that support the problematic responses, then soon after the procedure is implemented, the frequency of the response will rapidly decline, and it should cease altogether in a matter of days or weeks.

If you are going to be working extinction procedures on your dog, you could well run into an extinction burst or two along the way, so you might want to read up on that as well.

Happenstance Recap

Happenstance training is a reactive approach in which you wait for your dog to spontaneously emit a response that needs to be addressed.

Then you react to what he does in one of two ways. Either you do something to make him just upset enough to turn it into an unpleasant experience. Or you make it a point to turn the event into a rewarding experience, depending on whether the target response is something you want him to do again, or not.

Happenstance training draws its strength and derives its transformative potential from the formula for changing behavior.

Formula Recap

The formula for changing behavior, which can be employed in both the micro and the macro, is the most efficient method known to man for happenstance training and socializing a dog.

There are three components to the formula:

  1. Reinforcement procedures

  2. Extinction procedures

  3. Punishment procedures

Punishment - the Third Component

If you want to raise a perfectly trained dog who is superbly well adjusted, you are going to need to learn how to effectively execute all three components of the formula. That means that you will need to learn how to effectively and efficiently punish your dog's problematic responses, albeit in a benevolent and an enlightened fashion.

However, there is so much misinformation making the rounds concerning the impact of punishment on a dog's psyche that understandably, some people are reluctant to use those procedures without learning more about them, how they are dispensed, and how they are likely to impact the dog to whom they are applied.

Nonetheless, the purpose of this particular page is not to defend the use of punishment procedures or to explain how or why they work. Rather, this space is geared to provide bare bones instruction for busy people who lack the time necessary to absorb complex theoretical constructs and, therefore, would rather sidestep in-depth explanations of how and why things work the way they do.

If you have questions about the use of punishment procedures, or about any other aspect of the methodology described here, for that matter, you will need to read the section devoted to a discussion of behavioral theory and procedural strategies. In that section, you will discover how and why the procedures work, and in that location, you will also learn why it is that we are so confident our methodology will, indeed, get results, as well as why we are so certain that the procedures, as described, will not harm your dog in any way.

However, the section you are now reading deals only with the issue of how best to get the job done, and not with questions of why, or with rebuttals to those who want to argue about whether or not you should. If you want to wade into those issues, then, you'll need to go to the second section of the fundamentals workshop.

With that in mind, we now turn our attention to the how, but not the why of dispensing aversives, beginning with the definition of punishment.

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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