Traditional training

We use the term "traditional training" to describe the most widely used training method for the last 100 years. The first comprehensive written record of traditional training is based on the principle that unacceptable behaviors result in unpleasant consequences and acceptable behaviors result in pleasant consequences. Konrad Most, a German service dog trainer, developed this method in the early 1900s; he also wrote Training Dogs: A Manual. (Dogwise Publishing has republished Training Dogs: A Manual, and it's available at His method was introduced in this country in the early 1920s, when several of Most's students immigrated to the United States and became the teachers of future dog training instructors.

Most explains that training a dog consists of primary inducements and secondary inducements. Primary inducements result in the behavior you want to elicit from the dog, and secondary inducements are commands and signals. By pairing the two, you can condition the dog to respond solely to commands and signals, the ultimate goal of any training.

Primary inducements can be a pleasant or an unpleasant experience for the dog. Pleasant experiences are called rewards and consist of an object the dog will actively work for, such as food, an inviting body posture, verbal praise, or physical affection, such as petting, to induce the desired behavior. A common example is the owner who encourages his puppy to come to him by squatting down and opening his arms in an inviting fashion. Another example is to use a treat to induce the dog to sit.

Unpleasant experiences are called corrections and can be a check on the leash, a harsh tone of voice, a threatening body posture, or throwing something at the dog. In order to extinguish the undesired behavior, the correction must be sufficiently unpleasant for the dog so that he wants to avoid it and change his behavior. Moreover, you must administer the correction immediately before or during the undesired behavior. What constitutes an unpleasant experience varies from dog to dog and depends on his Personality Profile (see Chapter 5). What is perceived as a sufficiently unpleasant experience to inhibit the unwanted behavior by one dog may be perceived as just an annoyance by another dog.

Classical conditioning

Classical conditioning is a type of learning that results from the association or pairing of two stimuli. The best-known example is Ivan Pavlov's experiment that involved ringing a bell before feeding his dogs. After a number of repetitions, the sound of the bell caused the dogs to salivate, even in the absence of food. By pairing the sound of the bell with the food, the dogs "learned" to salivate to the sound of the bell.

Every dog owner, in one way or another, has classically conditioned his dog. In our household, withdrawing a knife from the block causes several dogs to seemingly appear from nowhere. Based on prior experience, they know food is involved and that they have a good chance of getting a scrap or two. Although the dogs react to the knife, only the cat reacts to the sound of the electric can opener.

Operant conditioning

B.F. Skinner, the famous theoretical behaviorist, used the term operant conditioning to describe the effects of a trainer's particular action on the future occurrence of an animal's behavior. There are four quadrants to operant conditioning, and we show them in Table 2-1.

Table 2-1

The Four Quadrants to Operant Conditioning

Add Something

Remove Something


Quadrant 1) Positive reinforcement — following a behavior with something the dog perceives as pleasant will increase the behavior.

Quadrant 2) Negative punishment — following a behavior with removing something the dog perceives as pleasant will decrease the behavior.


Quadrant 3) Positive punishment — following a behavior with something the dog perceives as unpleasant will decrease the behavior.

Quadrant 4) Negative reinforcement — following a behavior with removal of something the dog perceives as unpleasant will increase the behavior.

If these four quadrants sound confusing to you, you aren't alone. And, if you think that "negative punishment" is a redundancy and "positive punishment" is an oxymoron, you're also not alone. Moreover, we have always considered the word "punishment" singularly inappropriate in the context of dog training. The general understanding of the word is "a penalty for wrongdoing," but does a dog, untrained or trained, know he has done something wrong? An answer in the affirmative implies that a dog knows, in the moral sense, right from wrong, which is highly unlikely.

Having said all that, here are examples of the Four Quadrants:

i Quadrant 1 — positive reinforcement: When one of our Dachshunds, Diggy, was still quite young, she assumed the begging position by sitting up on her haunches. She did this spontaneously and on her own, without any coaxing on our part. Naturally, we thought it was cute, so we gave her a treat, which increased the behavior. We periodically reinforced the behavior with a treat, and now, 14 years later, she still offers this behavior in hopes of getting a treat.

i Quadrant 2 — negative punishment: You're watching TV and your dog drops his ball in your lap hoping you'll throw it. You get up and leave, which will decrease the behavior.

i Quadrant 3 — positive punishment: Your dog jumps on you to greet you and you spritz him with water, which will decrease the behavior.

i Quadrant 4 — negative reinforcement: You lift up on your dog's collar until he sits, and then you release the collar, which will increase the behavior of sitting.

The bottom tine for following the classics

So, what is the bottom line in all this information about traditional training and operant conditioning? It's actually rather simple:

i Acceptable behaviors result in pleasant experiences. i Unacceptable behaviors result in unpleasant experiences. i All behaviors have consequences.

And just to help you keep all the training terminology straight, we provide Table 2-2 to combine it all into a neat, small package.

Table 2-2 How Dog Training Terminology Fits Together

Vernacular Traditional Training

Operant Conditioning

Correction Anything the dog perceives

An aversive, such as negative

as unpleasant, such as a

punishment or positive

check on the training collar,


yelling "no," a harsh tone of

voice, a threatening body

An aversive is anything the

posture, or throwing

dog perceives as unpleasant,

something at the dog.

such as a check on the training

collar, yelling "no," in a harsh

tone of voice, a threatening body

posture, or throwing something

at the dog.

Positive reinforcement, such as anything the dog will actively work for, which can be a treat, a ball, a stick, praise, or physical affection in the form of petting.

Reward Anything the dog perceives as pleasant, such as anything the dog will actively work for, which can be a treat, a ball, a stick, praise, or physical affection in the form of petting.

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