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 Twelve of a twelve-page section

Go back to page eleven of the basics of dog training section

Go to the basics of dog training index

Gear the Intensity of the Procedure to the Disposition of Your Dog

Some people love playing sports. Of course, in many ways, pushing onesself to the level of exertion required for formal competition can be an extremely punishing experience. Nonetheless, there is a certain kind of person who seems to thrive on the playing field, as though for them, the aversive aspects of athletics only serve to add to their enjoyment of the overall process.

Like people, when it comes to personality traits, most dogs fall in between the extremes to be found at polar opposites. But dispositionally speaking, you can think of most dogs as falling into one of two categories: hard dogs and soft dogs.

In heart, soul, and spirit, hard dogs are akin to the type of human athlete described a couple paragraphs back. They love to learn and they adore everything about the training process. A little punishment? Hell, they couldn't care less. Hard dogs eat punishment for breakfast.

As long as the overall process is overwhelmingly reinforcing, hard dogs will never take offense at the occasional aversive.

On the other hand, there is a second classification of canine commonly referred to as soft dogs, who are often offended by the use of intense aversives and who, therefore, require a softer touch.

There are even some extremely well socialized dogs who are simply so well behaved that the application of aversives with such animals would be pointless. Dogs from this third class of canine understand a good deal of what people say to them, and they also know just exactly what is expected of them. When you combine those traits with an affable, easy-going personality, you get a dog who is so tuned in to your wishes and so ultra compliant that there is seldom any need for you to be markedly unpleasant.

Obviously, before you start mapping out your plans for dispensing punishers to your dog for problem behavior, you first need to know if you are dealing with a dog of the hard or of the soft variety. With that in mind, before continuing on in sequence, please take a minute now to read and learn about the difference between hard dogs and soft dogs.

You Must Quickly Arrive at an Effective Level of Intensity

It is true, of course, that when punishing your dog, you do not want to be unnecessarily harsh. However, while it is true that you want to use aversives of minimal intensity whenever possible, it is also true that you need to use punishers that are intense enough to get the job done, and you had better figure out pretty damn quick just how intense "intense enough" is because, otherwise, things will end up being harder for your dog than they have to be.

Here's the nature of the dilemma. Imagine that you set out to punish some problematic response out of existence.

Many people make the mistake of starting out by employing an extremely mild potential punisher that they hope just might be strong enough to make the dog give up the ghost.

However, because the first, very mild aversive they use proves to be ineffectual, they then take things up a notch, and try using a second aversive that, while being more intense than the first, is still too mild to have a deterrent effect on the behavior of their dog.

Because the second slightly more intense aversive didn't work either, they then step it up to something else that, likewise, is only marginally more intense than its predecessor.

Research shows very clearly that when the intensity of the punisher is gradually increased by small amounts over time, that somehow causes the dog to develop a tolerance for the procedure.

The upshot is that, if you start off using ineffectively mild aversives and gradually step it up, in the end, you will find that getting the target behavior stopped will require more punishment and more intense punishment than what would have been required if you had begun the process at the very beginning using an aversive that was strong enough to get the job done.

So figure out what level of intensity works with your dog and, then, always go for that at the outset, because in the end, slowly raising the stakes will just make everything more difficult for your dog and more frustrating for you.

If It Don't Fly Now, It Won't Fly Later - Neither

One of the most useful little tidbits to know about the use of potential punishers and the question of which aversives, ultimately, will and will not prove to be actual, effective punishers, is the following.

If a given aversive is strong enough to bring a problem behavior to an end, then, you will see some very clear reaction to that punisher just as soon as it is first introduced to the dog. If the animal does not show any appreciable reaction to your punishment procedure the first time you use it on him, then, clearly, that particular procedure delivered at that level of intensity will NEVER get the job done, no matter how long you use it and no matter how often you employ it.

A word to the wise, then. If your dog shows no appreciable reaction upon the first presentation of any given aversive, then, you need to really crank up the intensity or just move on and try something else, because if a potential punisher does not work at least somewhat on the first trial, then, it is not ever going to work.

Final Happenstance Training Recap

Near the bottom of page three, I talked about the importance of creating a list of cans and can'ts that will spell out just exactly what your dog is and is not allowed to do.

With your list of cans and can'ts as your blueprint, you will know just exactly which of your dog's responses you should encourage, which responses you will want to ignore, and which you should suppress through punishment.

Having all of your dog's possible responses divided up into one of those three categories will allow you to plug into the three-pronged formula for changing behavior, and will allow you to use that mechanism as you happenstance train your dog.

Reinforcement: The First Component of Happenstance Training

When happenstance training, if your dog emits a a desirable response that you want him to repeat, then, you should reinforce that behavior. Behaviorally speaking, reinforcing desirable behavior is sure to get you extra mileage when the response you are rewarding is incompatible with a target response that you are also attempting to condition out of existence.

When reinforcing desirable behavior, always make it a point to do the following:

  1. Reinforce continuously and continue to do so until the target response becomes well established.

  2. Reinforce the target response either while it is still ongoing or immediately after it is emitted.

  3. Reinforce with intensity, taking care to reserve your most fervent rewards for new responses that are just in the process of being shaped into existence.

Extinction Procedures: The Second Component of Happenstance Training

The second component of the three-proged approach is comprised of extinction procedures, in which you make sure that your dog never finds misbehavior to be a rewarding experience.

Punishment: The Third Component of Happenstance Training

As part of happenstance training, whenever your dog does something that you want him to stop doing, you should punish the problematic behavior.

When punishing undesirable behavior, always make it a point to do the following:

  1. Punish continuously and continue to do so until the target response extinguishes.

  2. Punish the target response either while the response is still ongoing or immediately after it is emitted.

  3. Align the intensity of the procedure with the magnitude of the offense.

  4. Reinforce an alternative behavior that is incompatible with the response you are punishing.

  5. Avoid putting your dog in situations that might force you to punish too often in too compressed of a time frame.

When You Put it All Together

If you do it right, then, when you put it all together, you should end up with a very happy dog who knows just exactly what he is supposed to do, and is always glad to do it.

This marks the end of the basics of dog training section

Go forward to the second section of the beginning workshop sequence

Go to the Index of the basics of dog training section

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