Mark's Dog Blog

We all want to avoid discomfort


Consistency is the biggest hurdle for most dog owners when it comes to being successful at training their dog or modifying its behaviour. It's not a question of "how long will it take for my dog to learn?" It's how many repetitions will it take. The more repetitions a method takes, the less likely we will maintain consistency for the extended period required, especially if the dogs behaviour is causing us discomfort, whether that be physical, mental or emotional discomfort. Humans by nature in most cases are not that patient. Therefore a method can be the determining factor on the number of repetitions, and therefore the probability of its overall success.

In this article I am discussing a dog that is assertively demanding attention, not a dog that has learnt to 'ask' for attention by gingerly jumping up. Understanding the dogs intent behind its actions is very important, when determining an appropriate method to help stop the unwanted behaviour.

Also a very important point here; I am not discussing a dog that is aggressively invading personal space. The dogs behaviour and intent behind it, is what always influences the most appropriate course of action and therefore method.

Choosing the most appropriate method

Say we are trying to condition an overly assertive and demanding dog to no longer jump up on people.

  • NEGATIVE PUNISHMENT: One trainer chooses to use negative punishment. Removing attention by for example turning their back on the dog and ignoring it.
  • POSITIVE PUNISHMENT: The other trainer chooses to use positive punishment, whereby the dog receives an unpleasant consequence paired with the jumping, for example a firm nudge of the knee into the dogs chest or a leash correction, both at the threshold of discomfort for that particular dog.

Which do you feel would take less repetitions to finally stop the dog jumping?

When an assertive dog is invading your personal space and jumping, I can assure you that in most cases turning your back and ignoring (negative punishment) the dog isn't going to stop the dog, especially if the dog is pushing you at or beyond your threshold of discomfort. A dog learns through past experiences that if it keeps up with the behaviour, eventually it will get the response its looking for. Turning your back on or simply ignoring an assertive dog that is demanding you give it attention is in most cases projecting weaker assertive energy than the dog, and therefore allowing the dog control of your personal space, and more importantly, allowing the dog to apply discomfort (negative reinforcement) to you for ignoring it. This action of ignoring by the dogs owner encourages the dog in many cases to continue increasing its assertive behaviour by applying stronger discomfort by becoming more forceful, and even resorting to biting until it receives the response it is looking for. The dog in all reality is using the principle of negative reinforcement to train you. Punishing you (applying discomfort) for not giving it attention.

Which is the stronger quadrant to stop a behaviour?

In the example given above, positive punishment and negative reinforcement will in most cases be the overriding influence to change behaviour or elicit a response if they are only competing with negative punishment and positive reinforcement, as every animal wants to eventually avoid discomfort when it becomes too uncomfortable, even humans. Negative punishment doesn't condition avoidance of a behaviour, and therefore is weaker than positive punishment and negative reinforcement in my opinion, hence a lot more repetitions are required to change behaviour.

Now if we produce a consequence that is at or just above the dogs threshold of discomfort by applying positive punishment to the dog, then the dog will naturally very quickly want to avoid that behaviour. Just as the human will eventually want to avoid the negative reinforcement (or discomfort) of the dog jumping on them or biting by giving the dog the attention its demanding.

So when humans are being conditioned to restrict themselves to 2 of the 4 quadrants (+R and -P) of classical conditioning due to an overly emotive ideology and PC, and yet the dog has the advantage of applying all 4 quadrants (+R, -R, +P, -P) of classical conditioning to condition behaviour, who in most cases is going to get the response behaviour they are looking for when it is demanded assertively? The answer, whoever is offering the stronger motivator and is more forceful. Avoiding discomfort is in most cases the strongest motivator and therefore overriding factor if a method is going to be successful or not. Can you be patient enough to ignore discomfort that is applied above your threshold for long enough, and with enough repetitions to finally convince the assertive dog to give up? You decide! Don't only decide what you are willing to bare, but more importantly consider others, such as children and the elderly. Why place them in a position of allowing a dog to push them beyond their threshold of discomfort, and in most cases also placing them in a dangerous situation, by telling them to just turn their back and/or ignore the behaviour?


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