R+ Dog Training uses positive reinforcement in all training – humans and dogs! “R+” is behaviourist’s shorthand for positive reinforcement; in other words, providing a reward.
Positive reinforcement is embedded in our name and in our methods. Basically, it is a training method that rewards desirable behaviour making it more likely that the behaviour will recur. This does not mean that we do not understand that some things that companion animals do are undesirable, simply that we know that the most effective way to eliminate jumping up, pulling on the lead, chewing shoes – whatever it is that we do not like – is to reward the behaviour that we do want instead.
We aim to make life as easy as possible for you and for your dog by trying to eliminate opportunities for your dog to behave in an undesirable way so that it is simple to make the “right” decision. Having set up the situation for success, your dog will soon learn that behaving in the desired way earns a small reward and so that behaviour is going to occur again and again and become the default way that the dog behaves.
Positive reinforcement has been used by the best trainers ever since animals have been trained and is not only an effective, efficient way to train but a kind one. Find out more in this short video:
The scientific basis behind training using positive reinforcement was first explored in the 1950s, building on the work of Nobel prize winner Ivan Petrovich Pavlov. Psychologist BF Skinner was working on the behaviour of rats and pigeons in his laboratory. He knew that rewarding the desired behaviour would make it happen again, but he found it difficult to deliver a reward quickly so that the animals associated the behaviour with the reward. He discovered that he could use a children’s toy called a cricket which made a sharp clicking sound to mark the behaviour and signal to the animals that a reward would follow. The animals quickly associated the sound of the clicker with the delivery of a reward (this is classical or Pavlovian conditioning). Skinner called the behaviour that was marked with the clicker and then rewarded operant conditioning, a term that behaviourists and trainers are still using today.
An Everyday Occurrence
Classical and operant conditioning happens all the time even when not consciously being used in training. Dogs associate the knock at the door with the arrival of a visitor, a lead being picked up with the chance of a walk and a cupboard being opened with the arrival of dinner.
Rewards also happen all of the time too – some dogs find chasing a ball rewarding and will automatically fetch it so that they can run again. Dogs often jump up at people who reward them with attention, even if they think that they are telling the dog off, so the dog carries on jumping up.
Some behaviours are innate such as when a cat sharpens its claws which is intrinsically rewarding. Such behaviours need to be re-directed in more suitable way such as training a cat to use a scratching post instead of the furniture.
Advantages Of Using A Clicker
Animal trainers first began to use markers and rewards in the 1960s. Dolphins are trained using whistles as markers, fish with lights. Clickers really took off in dog training in the mid-1990s, so training using positive reinforcement is often known by the shorthand designation “clicker training”.
Clicker training is comparatively quick and “sticky” – animals trained using a marker and reward retain the behaviour for life as long as sufficient successful trials have taken place in the first place.
Clicker trained animals learn that making a mistake just means that they will get another chance to get it right without being told off or in any other way corrected. They focus on what is right and so does the trainer, so training is always fun for both.
Clicker training is very clear for animals and removes the emotion and complexity of the human voice and the need to understand language. Once the behaviour is reliable, the animal can be taught a cue (verbal, visual, tactile or olfactory) and then, once the behaviour has been taught thoroughly, it will occur every time that the cue is presented.
With a little practice, clicker training is much easier for trainers as it can be extremely precise and nuanced. As long as the behaviour is within the physical and mental capacity of the animal, it can be trained using a marker and reward.
Clicker training is used to train gun dogs, sniffer dogs, search and rescue dogs, agility and many other dog sports. It is also used to train cats to use litter boxes, cat flaps and just new tricks for fun. Just a few little clicks can start you on the way to training everything that dogs and cats need to know to live comfortably alongside humans as companions.
Welcome to the wonderful world of positive reinforcement –
we expect it to change your life!