Reinforcements all gone wrong…

Certain actions by dog owners have unknowingly led to the detrimental behaviour and welfare of dogs. What was thought to give their dogs optimal level of assurance and positivity have in turned encouraged negative behaviour. Common practices include: picking up the innocently excited puppy whenever the door bell rings; reassuring the overly enthusiastic and jumping dog through patting when he meets strangers; or even the consistent use of medicated powder/cream (something the dog dislikes) whenever the owner goes “Lucky, come!”. Your dog now dislikes being recalled as he knows the consequences: “apply powder again?!?!” Do you know that these subtle but evident reinforcements could teach your dog that it is perfectly alright to respond the way he currently is or even stop responding in ways he should?

Reinforcement refers to a particular stimulus strengthening or increasing the probability of a specific response. The two reinforcements most commonly used are positive reinforcements and negative reinforcements. It is important to note that these terms do not represent a “good” or “bad” connotations but rather adding (positive) or removing (negative) a particular stimulus to increase a desired behaviour. An example of a positive reinforcement is when your dog is offered a token (eg. Treats, toys etc.) or reward (this include praises) to encourage a certain behaviour. Upon the command of “sit”, your dog sits and you offer him a biscuit. On the other hand, negative reinforcements refers to the removal of a stimulus to again, increase a particular behaviour. Your dog constantly barks to get your attention but you resist the urge to entertain him. When he stops barking, you proceed to give him the desired attention. The removal of the attention your dog desires, teaches him that if he barks excessively, he will not get the attention he wants (removing the stimulus). However, when he understands that upon being calm and composed, he would again get your attention (adding the stimulus). To better understand the concepts, proper obedience training classes is crucial to the understanding of your dog’s behaviour as well as your position as a K9 leader.

Often confused with the term “negative reinforcement” is another form of reinforcement called punishment. Punishment refers to decreasing the likelihood of an undesirable behaviour. Similar to the concept of reinforcement, positive punishment refers to adding a stimulus to decrease the dog’s undesirable behaviour, while negative punishment refers to the removal of stimulus. An example of positive punishment is when a handler thugs onto the dog’s training collar whenever he charges to attack another dog. On the contrary, every time your dog pees on the floor, you place him back into his playpen, removing his freedom. The removal of his freedom is a signal to him that the behaviour is wrong if he does not pee at the right place. This would decrease the undesirable behaviour of doing his business at the wrong area. Educating dog owners on ensuring that the dog’s undesirable behaviours are removed not only requires proper knowledge but through the guidance of experienced trainers whom know what to expect given different situations.

Reinforcements all gone wrong… Is the reason for many owners who have given up their dogs, or in some extreme cases, dogs being put to sleep due to uncontrollable aggression. A famous proverb says “whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.” We all want what is best for our dogs. But do we really know what is best for them?