Operant Conditioning

Postive Reinforcement and Negative Reinforcement

In dog training, Operant Conditioning is a proven method for encouraging wanted behaviours and discouraging unwanted behaviours. When dog training with Operant Conditioning, Positive Reinforcement and Negative Reinforcement are used to achieve this goal.

If Operant Conditioning is so successful, why does it often fail with dogs over the age of six months?

Operant Conditioning is grounded in the theory dogs need to learn which behaviours are “right” (positive reinforcement) and which behaviours are “wrong” (negative reinforcement) to change their behaviour. This theory is not always true. Many Dogs do not feel the need to learn new behaviours because their behaviours have worked for them; just as with people, if something is working for us, we continue to do it, irrelevant if it is not socially accepted behaviour.

Client Example

John adopted Playa, a mature Dog, from the streets of Mexico where she had travelled solo for many years, according to locals. A home was a foreign environment to Playa, so Playa did not have preconceived ideas as to the expected behaviour in the home. Playa’s personality was well suited to routine and radar style, making learning in-home behaviour easy with minimal direction or correction from John.

Playa viewed the outside as an area she knew how to manage. Playa lost her shit when she saw dogs on a walk. John tried pinning her down when she reacted. If he could get her to not react by remaining far enough away (at least a full block), he rewarded her actions (or lack there of) with a treat.

Negative reinforcement was ineffective with Playa because she knew lunging and barking kept other dogs at bay. She did not want to do any other behaviour and did not see the need for it. She knew John was trying to prevent the behaviour but pinning her down when she performed an action which saved her life many times over was stupid, in her mind.

Providing positive reinforcement (treating her when the dog was clearly out of her self-imposed danger zone), made no sense to her because she decided to not react to the other dog based on the distance and disposition of the other dog. Reinforcing this behaviour with a treat was futile – in fact, she refused to take the treat. She performed the expected behaviour based on learned behaviour from living on the street, not the desire to please John or to get a treat.

Operant Conditioning often fails with dogs over the age of six months because it relies on REACTIVE TRAINING.

UPWARD Methodology uses PRO-ACTIVE DIRECTION, allowing dogs to choose their reaction based on their ability to read and assess, which is achieved through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). But before we talk about CBT, let’s understand why Positive Reinforcement Training is often unsuccessful with dogs over the age of six months.