Animals are very efficient in their behavior. If a behavior
is inherently pleasurable (eating, playing, chasing), or if
it gets something pleasurable for the animal (like food, attention
or interaction), the animal will display that behavior more
and more often. If a behavior is not pleasurable, or if it
does not work to obtain something pleasurable, the animal
will use that behavior less and less. Whenever you interact
with an animal, youre constantly giving her feedback
about what works to get pleasurable things and what doesnt
work. If a dog jumps up and gets attention, even if the attention
is that you push him, then he knows that jumping works
that is, it gets him attention. If a cat play bites
and you dont end the game, then he knows that play biting
works the fun continues.
The good news about this is that we can easily use the way
animals learn to sculpt their behavior, by consistently
rewarding the desirable behaviors we see and ignoring or interrupting
the undesirable behaviors. Gradually, you will see the animal
behaving more and more in desirable ways, and less and less
in undesirable ways.
But what about, for example, dogs who jump all the time? Well,
thats just it: no dog ever jumps literally all the time.
Even with a dog that jumps a lot, theres a moment when
she isnt jumping, so reinforce that moment with attention
and some food! If you dont like what shes doing,
show her what you would like her to do (how about sitting
Repetition and patience are the key in animal training. Theres
never a magic moment when the animal understands the meaning
of our requests. Animals gradually become conditioned through
lots of repetition that certain behaviors in certain situations
will or will not pay off.
We use these principles rewarding desirable behaviors
and ignoring undesirable behavior or removing rewards when
the animal behaves in an undesirable way in Open Paw
training, and do not use physical punishment. Animals make
associations with you and with the situation every time you
interact with them. Thus, an unfortunate side effect of using
punishment to try to train animals is that, while they may
learn to respond to cues, they may also form negative
associations to you, to the situation, to people, or to training.
Furthermore, often you dont get the result you wanted
from trying to use punishment to train. Take for example a
dog jumping on people. Its not a desirable behavior
to people, but in the dog-dog world it is an appeasing, friendly
greeting gesture. If you use punishment to try to get the
dog to stop jumping, you have to use a severe enough punishment
the first time that it effectively outweighs the positive
associations of the friendly greeting gesture. If the punishment
is not severe enough, then, you are not effectively damping
that behavior. You may even unintentionally be rewarding it.
Furthermore, some dogs may try to stop the punishment by offering
an appeasement gesture rather than by stopping the undesirable
behavior so the result might be more rather than less
So, using punishment to train is pretty inefficient, difficult
to do correctly, and, in order to be effective, must be severe.
A much more efficient, friendlier way to train is to teach
the dog a desirable, incompatible behavior; ask yourself,
if this is wrong, what is right?
In this case, we might train the dog to sit to greet people.
Click here for a printable PDF version
of this article.