Motivating Operations For Training Success

Yesterday morning, in the later part of a training appointment for a precious eight week old puppy, we spent a little time working on teaching her the crate is a good place to rest. It was after we were in their back yard moving around, having her thinking and playing. She was a tired little girl when we got back to her kitchen and she was most definitely needing some nap time. I left their house with a sleeping puppy completely zonked out with her head resting on a stuffed animal in her crate, and got to thinking about how motivating operations were at work here.

What do I mean by that?

Well, scientifically speaking motivating operations are environmental variables that have the power to either increase the value of a stimulus, event or object as an effective behavior reinforcer (this is called an Establishing Operation) or to decrease the value of a stimulus, event or object as a behavior reinforcer (this is called an Abolishing Operation).
That word ‘motivating’ is a key word here as motivation has a big role in learning. It boils down to a simple question – ‘What is in it for me?’ And a simple answer, “I will choose the behavior that serves to get me the most valued consequence FOR ME.”

As your pet’s teacher, you can impact your and your pet’s training success using motivating operations to heighten the value of behaviors you want to see. And remember too that sometimes this is most positive, least intrusive solution to solving a problem behavior while you are working on teaching your pet the skills and wanted choices to make in certain situations.

Here are some examples:

If you know your dog is very likely to have poor table manners when you sit down at the table, and you are having a guest over before you have time to teach your pet alternative behaviors at that time, one solution is to give your pet a long walk before dinner so that your dog will value resting more than bumping humans at the table. (There are other management choices you could make too but this is one example.)

On the flip side, your dog will value exercise more after a long nap. This would be a great time to practice active training and games.

You can heighten the value of a toy or a special kind of food by keeping it out of sight and using it just for training times.

On the flip side, this is one of the reasons why free feeding (leaving food in your pet’s bowl all day) is not a good idea, as your pet’s continual opportunity for the food will come to devalue it.

Motivating operations in crate training

Building value for napping and resting in the crate becomes easier when you practice it after giving your puppy active learning and playing time. Puppies go and go and then need to nap. Without that rest, a tired puppy – like a tired and cranky human baby – is prone to making poor decisions. Naps are important and taking one in a crate is a great place.

Yesterday morning, when the little girl was exhausted and inside her crate, her owner gave her tiny smears of cheese through the bars as she began to settle, first sitting, then laying down, and ultimately closing her eyes. She was completely asleep. With enough practice of this, she will come to learn the crate is a place to relax and will probably even seek it out when she needs a quiet space to be alone.

 

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Research: Why Use Positive Reinforcement In Dog Training

I have long been an advocate for using the most positive strategies for managing and modifying behavior because I have seen firsthand the difference in how that approach has helped to not only set myself and my pets up for success, but also the impact it has had on our relationship. And I have seen similar effects with those with whom I have worked.

Science did not have to tell me that was the best, most humane approach as I’ve seen it with my own eyes. However, it is still great to have scientific data that has been tested and proven.

Last  year, the results of one such study by Stephanie Deldalle and Florence Gaunet of the University of Paris-Nord and the Laboratoire de Psychologie Cognitive were published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior. What they found was that dogs trained using aversive training methods research on dog training with positive vs negative reinforcementwere 15 times more likely to show symptoms of stress than those who were trained using positive reinforcement.

The research involved observing two dog training schools and their students participating in advanced training classes that taught dogs to sit and walk on a loose leash. One class ( with 24 dogs/owners) taught primarily using positive reinforcement such as food, petting, play and praise to increase the frequency of the wanted behaviors, while the other (with 26 dogs/owners) taught primarily using negative reinforcement (the removal of an aversive stimulus) such as collar corrections, a stern voice, and pushing the dogs into a sit. The dogs represented a diverse cross section of breeds and ages, just as their owners were also from a diverse range of social backgrounds.

The observer looked at the owners’ behavior, and the dogs’ behavior including the dogs’ body postures when walking on a loose leash and when told to sit.

What did the data show?

As many as 65% of the dogs in the negative reinforcement class showed at least one stress-related behavior compared to only 8% of those in the positive reinforcement class.

research on training a dog to sit with positive vs negative reinforcementAdditionally, a much smaller percent of dogs in the negative reinforcement based class gazed at their owners in both exercises. That higher frequency of research on teaching a dog to walk on a loose leash with positive vs negative reinforcementlooking at their owner supports the researchers’ hypothesis that training with positive reinforcement based methods contributes to a better canine-human relationship. Gazing less at their owners suggests those dogs may initiate fewer social interactions and pay less attention to their owners, which would make training that much more challenging.

Dr Florence Gaunet, from Aix-Marseille University, in France, who led the study, told The Telegraph: “What we noticed is that it was bad for the relationship to be trained “negatively”. They were more likely to show a lower posture and more signs of stress. Of course there are concerns about welfare.

“There are welfare issues with the negative method. There is a trade-off between obedience and welfare. It is an ethical question. All countries need dogs that are under the control of humans, but I think it requires more thinking how this is done. We are now trying to think more about welfare and I think we should be more careful.”

 

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Some Of The Benefits Of Using Positive Reinforcement

Just a reminder…there are so many great benefits to training your dog or other pet using positive reinforcement. These are just a few.

benefits of dog training with positive reinforcement

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