What is in our environment often affects the emotions our dogs are feeling and just how extremely they are feeling them. So, right where our lines intersect become our neutral area or comfort zone where we would like our dogs to be all the time. Of course, we don’t live in a perfect world, therefore we can’t expect our dogs to be perfectly centered all the time either.
First, we are going to look at adding resources to our
environment or activities we are doing with our dogs. Resources can be in the
form of reinforcement, enrichment, found naturally in the environment, and
social activity. When we add resources to our environment, we help our dogs
move from feelings of unpleasantness to feeling more pleasant. With the
addition of resources, our dogs also move their enthusiasm level up from calm
towards excitement. So, if our goal is to remain near the center, we would want
every experience to be pleasant and rewarding while being exciting but not too
exciting. Again, we don’t live in a perfect world and, therefore, we
can’t deny that pain is a part of our dog’s life. As Force Free or Positive
Reinforcement Trainers, we make a commitment to not causing our dogs pain or
using intimidation methods to get results. But that doesn’t mean that our dogs
will never experience pain or fear of pain.
Our goal then is to do our best at keeping the levels of
discomfort to a minimum for our dogs. We may not be able to stop an off-leash
Fido from invading our space and causing pain, but we can avoid taking a
fearful dog to a dog park or location where there are lots of other dogs
present. This is what I mean by keeping discomfort and pain to a minimum. So, if we start in a calm, pleasant state, any time pain is
added, our dogs will move to the left and up our map towards unpleasant excitement.
This top left section is where bad things happen and our dogs present behaviors
that we as people really don’t like. In my partnership, team-based approach
with my dogs, I want to avoid this section as much as humanly possible.
Now this image might begin to look familiar! If you’ve
followed me for a while, you know that I push for Positive Reinforcement
Training with all animals. So, let’s dive in and see if we can expand our
understanding of how these sections fit into our map.
+R = Positive Reinforcement (the top right quadrant)
When our dogs are doing a behavior we like, we add
reinforcement. Any time a dog receives reinforcement, if delivered correctly,
the behavior increases or happens more frequently. This is where trainers like
me can help you learn ways to GET MORE OF THE BEHAVIORS YOU LOVE! I will also
be doing some posts later in the month that explain reinforcement better.
-R = Negative Reinforcement (the bottom right quadrant)
When we take away something that our dog finds reinforcing,
we do that for a few reasons, but mainly because we want to see certain
behaviors happen less. You can apply this to jumping, barking, pulling on the
lead, etc. This doesn’t mean that we are punishing our dogs per se but that we
are blocking their access to the reinforcement or removing the reinforcement.
Let’s take a look at pulling on a leash. Why do our dogs
pull? Simple answer is because they want something! That might be a smell
that’s up ahead, greeting another dog, or even the act of moving. As our dog’s
excitement level builds, they tend to pull more and more. If we stop moving
forward, which makes them stop moving due to the leash attachment, we are
basically taking their reinforcement away. They can no longer reach the
reinforcement they want and we just used -R.
This can easily become a punishing activity or we can use it
in our favor. For example, Azul really wants to smell a tree a few feet away so
he starts pulling toward the distraction. I, of course, stop walking before he
reaches the distraction, and wait for his reaction. If he stops pulling and
checks in with me, which also helps him bring his excitement level down to a
level he can manage himself, I will take a few steps closer to where he can
reach the distraction and release him to go sniff.
I can then add +R back into the mix by allowing him to sniff
that distraction for as long as he wants to sniff. Repeating the -R over time
will hopefully teach Azul that pulling is not the quickest way to reach what he
wants and, with a little patience on his part, he can have what he really
+P = Positive Punishment (the top left quadrant)
This is often the result of using -R incorrectly and is
commonly the theme for dominance based trainers that use force to teach a dog
what NOT to do instead of trying to teach the dog what to do. Simply put, +P is
adding pain to the situation. We could discuss all the tools that we know work based on
pain, but that is not the lesson for this blog. Instead, we are going to focus
on why +P works to change behavior quickly and why it can also have emotional
fallout in our dogs. For a moment, let’s take humans out of the equation so
that we are not thinking about forced pain from people.
Instead, let’s look at two dogs that are playing until,
suddenly, they are not playing, and one dog applies pain to the other dog in
the form of a pinning to the ground or biting. The second dog in this example
is experiencing pain and therefore will stop doing whatever behavior they were
doing just before the pain started. A dog in this quadrant might start out being scared but
slowly moves toward more severe behaviors the longer they stay in the
unpleasant and the higher stimulated they become. This is where the emotional
turmoil often sets in; when the dog receives pain, stops the behavior, yet the
pain doesn’t always go away. Sometimes the behavior gets worse, the pain lasts
longer, or the triggers become the predictor for future pain.
Going back to the example of two dogs playing until one
stops playing and bites. If this is repeated a few time, the dog being bitten
will often associate all unknown dogs with dogs that will hurt them and
therefore become reactive, lashing out at all dogs they see before they get
attacked. Dogs quickly learn that barking and lunging at threats will create
space and often keep that threat out of their bubble. This common fear reaction
happens frequently when dogs are in the +P quadrant too frequently.
-P Negative Punishment (the bottom left quadrant)
This one is confusing to our human mind because we typically
jump to all punishment is negative. That is not what this quadrant is referring
to. In this case, -P is taking away something the dog finds punishing. This is easiest to understand when we think of it with
Cooperative Care. Nail trimmings, for example, might cause a dog to be fearful,
so clipping their nails becomes +P and just seeing the tools can send the dog
into a spiral of unsafe emotions. But, when we work to make the nail trimming
tools less scary by pairing them with awesome reinforcement, we start removing
the pain/punishment associated with the tools. We use desensitization and
counterconditioning methods to reduce the punishment our dog is experiencing,
often based on past trauma with the tools at some point.
Since it’s so hard to determine whether certain things are
+P or -P for our dogs, this quadrant is rarely used by trainers except for when
we are looking at cooperative care. But
we can learn to use this effectively to change our dog’s emotions or bad
feelings to good feelings over time.