21 December 2008

Positive Basics

No matter what you are training, dogs, cats, horses, spouses, children, the basics are the same. To change behavior, change both how you interact and the timing of the interaction. Misbehaving should not illicit games, food, being let outside because this rewards the behavior you are seeking to change. Pay attention to good behavior and take that time to play, talk and treat or feed your pet then. Animals learn quickly what behavior gets rewarded, and will try to seek your approval.
Training today concentrates more on positive reinforcement which means you add something rewarding or pleasant to your pet's environment to increase the likelihood of getting a desired behavior. The other side of positive reinforcement is extinction, the removal of all positive reinforcement to decrease or extinguish the unwanted behaviors. (You may have seen this theory in school, think of Pavlov's Dogs, and your Psychology classes.)
Start thinking of punishment in a new light, consider it more like discipline and less like beating a red-headed stepchild. With all animal behavior issues there are three basic behavior modifications: reinforce the behavior you want to see when it happens; removing positive reinforcement and attention for the behavior you don't want to see when it happens; catching the animal in the act and startling them into quitting and then redirecting them to something more appropriate.
The positive approach to training seeks to teach animals without abusing them. As with any training method there are some guidelines to correction.
  1. Do not punish/discipline/correct the dog after the fact. If you come home from work and pooch has eaten the dry wall, you have missed your chance. You need to see pooch committing the crime to correct the behavior.
  2. Do not use pain or corporal punishment. If you inflict pain on your dog, you may create an aggressive dog that is more of a problem than the issues you were having.
  3. Do not punish the dog by isolating them in the yard or stuffed into their crate / kennel / carrier away from interaction.
  4. Do not jerk on a training collar (sometimes called a choke chain) to correct your dog. Training collars used incorrectly can cause permanent damage to you pet's windpipe, neck and spine. Learn how to use your collars correctly to avoid these issues. Using positive training methods teaches your pet your rules so they don't have an opportunity to invent their own rules.

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