What does R+ mean?
R+ is a symbol for positive reinforcement. R+ is one of the four types of operant conditioning (the others being R-, P-, and P+).
What is Positive Reinforcement?
In animal training, positive reinforcement involves the giving of something "high value" immediately after the animal executes a cued behavior. The reason for doing this is to increase the likelihood that the animal will repeat the behavior when it is requested again in the future. The thing given is called a reinforcer; its high value is measured by a combination of rarity, quality, and the dog's preference, given choices from various novel high quality offerings. The learner, not the trainer, always decides what is most reinforcing for him/her, whether it be a tiny piece of food, a toy, praise, petting, affection, a very quick game of tug, etc. The majority of dogs prefer food as primary reinforcers, which is why positive reinforcement trainers use food to train--because it is the most effective, efficient, reliable reinforcer both in the moment and in ensuring the desired behavior maintains / increases in the future, while at the same time building the dog's confidence and enthusiasm for learning (rather than chipping away at enthusiasm and confidence by use of aversive equipment and methods).
What is Behavior Modification?
Contrary to some people’s misunderstandings, modern animal behavior modification--improving behavior--does not require fear, force, pain, or punishment. Most modern animal behaviorists prefer positive reinforcement and classical conditioning, which are not fear, force, pain, correction, or punishment-based.
What's a cue?
Many people still use the word “command” but modern, humane trainers prefer "cue," and we recommend a mindset change to go along with the behavior choice to the word “cue.” A cue is a communication to your dog that signals a behavior is being requested, and when R+ training, it generally implies that the behavior will be positively reinforced immediately upon execution. Although commands and cues are both instructions, commands carry with them a sense of threat ('you'd better do this, or else') and an unequal distribution of power (e.g., 'I'm the master; you're the slave'), while cues carry with them a sense of cooperation, along with the exciting potential for the dog's favorite high value reinforcement when s/he executes the behavior cued. This is one of many reasons why R+ training is so fun, effective, and lasting for the learner--the experiences are memorable for the joy shared with the handler, rather than repressed due to fear or stress put upon the learner by the handler.
What constitutes a "correction"?
This word carries a negative connotation since the word is most commonly use by force/compulsion trainers and therefore has come to be associated with aversive or punishment-intended tactics such as shock, collar pinch, leash yank, spray, yell, scare, startle, et cetera. Humane trainers have worked to do away with "correction" because even corrections that do not physically hurt cause emotional damage, and studies now increasingly imply that emotional damage, just as physical damage, can lead to new aggression and other behavioral problems, even in previously non-aggressive dogs.
How do I get my dog to stop biting?
First we must ascertain whether we are dealing with play biting, mouthing, or really sinking teeth in to someone, and why. We should also determine the antecedents to the behavior. What's an antecedent? Simply put, antecedents are pertinent stimuli present just before the behavior. If your head is spinning reading this, don't worry. That is why you have certified canine behavior consultants who specialize in analyzing and modifying these behaviors. Email us for help.
Why is my dog afraid of everything?
Fear in pet dogs may be born of a combination of genetics, past experiences, and current environment, as well as new, scary experiences that result in lasting fear. You're probably also wondering how to help your dog get over her fear. For this you will need to contact a certified, anti-aversive, fearful dog specialist like myself. You might also visit The Fearful Dogs Project.
How do I get my dog to stop barking?
Oftentimes we don't realize we are inadvertently reinforcing the barking, which results in more barking. When your dog barks, do you yell at him, or run over to him? These are types of attention and thus are reinforcing to the dog. Since barking is so stressful to many people because it can result in nuisance complaints, it is best to hire an anti-aversives behavior consultant for help with barking asap.
How do I get my dog to stop pulling on the leash and lunging?
Changing your dog's negative associations with what happens while leashed to positive associations is key. Leash walking reactivity is best addressed with the help of a certified, anti-aversive canine behavior consultant because most leash problems are rooted in the dog's emotional concerns. Contact me for help.
How do I get my dog to come when called?
Be known by your dog as the most reliably positively reinforcing thing in any environment. This is easier than you might think. Let's talk!
What's a cookie pusher?
This misleading phrase is a slur used by some people to insult trainers who use food during training and handling, sometimes mistakenly calling the use of food "bribery." Use of these terms may suggest a lack of understanding of how positive reinforcement works, what primary reinforcers are, why they are important, and how they are chosen and deployed. Someone using terms like "bribery" and slurs like "cookie pusher" may not understand the difference between the corrupting lure of bribery and the science of positive reinforcement.
What does aversive mean?
In animal training and handling, something may be said to be aversive if the animal would prefer to avoid it or escape from it. Force, fear, pain, intimidation, corrections, coercion, "pressure" and "compulsion" et cetera, would be considered aversive by most R+ trainers and, I think it is fair to say, by most animals. Some behavior consultants advise that anything that creates distress (as opposed to eustress) or a negative emotional state in the learner is aversive to that learner and therefore should be avoided if possible, even if it does not fit a strict scientific definition of "aversive." It is important to respect that, especially in these uncertain cases, if the recipient of the stimulus finds the stimulus aversive, it IS therefore aversive.
What are E-collars / remote collars?
A euphemism for shock collar, the piece of equipment that electrically shocks a dog into submission via pain, fear or startle, and / or intimidation, the phrases “e-collar” and "remote collar" make the device sound less painful or scary than it is. Other misleading terms use, such as “tickle,” “buzz,” "tap," and “vibrate,” "stim" "remote communication device" also are meant to soften its image with the public. Some countries have outlawed the devices, and humane trainers and citizens of other countries, including ours, are working toward the same. Research suggests that these and other aversives often lead eventually to more behavior problems--and since behavior problems are one of the leading causes of euthanasia (not to mention abuse), it's important to do your best to avoid aversives.
What is balanced training?
The word “balanced” (or "blended") in dog training is a euphemism used by trainers who employ aversive (painful or otherwise discomforting methods and / or equipment), sometimes or occasionally including “rewards” or other methods as well. Their position is that mixing up the methods provides balance to training, but many others (and modern training science!) strongly disagree. If I sometimes eat cereal, sandwich, and salad for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and other times eat cake, ice cream, and pie for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, does that make my approach "balanced"? Nope! Aversive approaches are the wrong choice in teaching, and in handling, voiceless creatures who have no means by which to request advocacy. The data from current research continue to pile up, and they show that aversive training methods often lead to increases in problem behavior and even new aggression. The most lasting, humane, and ethical solution to canine behavior problems is NOT via "balanced" training, which typically includes the use of shock, pain, intimidation, fear, etc., but instead is achieved through R+ training and classical conditioning, without the use of inhumane crutches like shock, prong, pain, force, fear, and intimidation.
Close attention to detail is helpful in parsing terms and definitions. For example, if you ask five trainers what kind of training they do and they all say positive reinforcement, does that mean they are committed to positive reinforcement and oppose shock, fear, force, pain, etc? -- or does it mean they do some 'positive' but also use, say, prong collars and squirt bottles? Many of our clients have reported that a previous trainer they hired turned out to be a punitive/inhumane trainer even though claiming they were positive reinforcement trainers. Caregiver beware. If someone uses rewards sometimes but uses aversives other times, that someone is not a positive reinforcement trainer.
HOW TO RECOGNIZE A GOOD DOG TRAINER
When searching for a trainer, remember that in the U.S.A. regulatory system there is no such thing as a dog trainer’s license, nor a dog behaviorist’s license. There are licensed veterinary behaviorists (licensed veterinarians who went on to do extra coursework and certify in animal behavior), but no one in United States dog training/behavior consulting has a governmental training license, because there is no such thing. Since our government does not regulate dog trainers and behavior consultants, anyone can claim to be a dog trainer or dog behaviorist with no legal consequences, whether s/he has 50 years of experience or zero years of experience, whether s/he is a veterinary behaviorist or a high schooler hoping to star on Catfish. Moreover, there are very few laws to protect your dog from even the most harmful tools being sold and used under the guise of dog training. Collars that choke dogs, for example, remain legal even though choking a dog with one’s hands would be considered abuse and probably get you arrested.
Ask yourself whether you would allow a person to do with her/his bare hands or raw materials what a trainer does or recommends with equipment. It's a question every pet guardian should carefully consider. Even something commonly minimized, like a leash-collar pop, would not be considered humane or ethical by most dog lovers if done with bare hands--How would you feel if someone executed a throat-tug on your dog with his bare hands? You may decide that the leash and collar have been providing a false sense of propriety to what is in reality an unkind and potentially quite harmful practice.
The onus is on pet guardians to select their trainers and behavior consultants carefully. The adage “trust but verify” is best changed to “verify before trusting” when it comes to identifying an ethical, truly humane, qualified behavior consultant/trainer.
So how, specifically, can a person make a wise choice? Start by asking each trainer for a copy of their policies on aversives. Ask lots of questions of each trainer you’re considering. Those who have nothing to hide won't mind. I also recommend choosing a trainer willing to allow you to visually record all your dog's sessions. You might decide not to, but knowing it would be okay with your trainer would seem like a good sign.
Here are some questions you might ask to help you evaluate your candidates:
-HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A CERTIFIED, PROFESSIONAL DOG TRAINER?
-MAY I HAVE A LIST OF ALL YOUR TRAINING METHODS AND EQUIPMENT?
-ARE YOU A BEHAVIOR CONSULTANT CERTIFIED BY THE CERTIFICATION COUNCIL FOR PROFESSIONAL DOG TRAINERS?
-FROM WHAT DOG TRAINING SCHOOL DID YOU GRADUATE, AND HOW LONG DID YOU ATTEND?
-HOW WOULD YOU GET MY DOG TO DO WHAT YOU WANT?
-WHAT HAPPENS IF MY DOG DOESN'T DO WHAT YOU WANT?
-HOW WILL YOU BE SURE THAT MY DOG WON'T INADVERTENTLY BE SCARED OR HARMED?
-WHY DOES MY DOG IGNORE COMMANDS HE KNOWS?
-WHAT CAUSES LEARNING PROBLEMS IN DOGS?