how we train:
the four quadrants
used at traction
Traction Dog Training Club utilizes all four quadrants of Operant Conditioning Theory.
Positive reinforcement is when your dog receives a reward that encourages them to repeat a behavior we like.
For example, your dog may be given a treat for laying down when asked.
Negative reinforcement is when something your dog dislikes is removed as a means of rewarding them and encouraging them to repeat a behavior we like.
For example, your dog is rewarded by escaping the hot sun as they come-when-called into the shade.
Positive punishment is when something your dog dislikes happens to discourage them from repeating an unwated behavior.
For example, you spray your dog with a spray bottle of water when they jump on the countertop.
Negative punishment is when something your dog likes is taken away to discourage them from repeating an unwated behavior.
For example, you abruptly put away your dog's favorite ball and end the play session when they jump on you.
Why don't we use positive reinforcement (+R) only?
Using positive reinforcement only (+R) inevitably restricts our ability to communicate with our dogs; it allows us to give feedback on what we do want, but does not allow any feedback on what we don't want or what is dangerous. This muddles communication and fails to stop many self-rewarding behaviors like stealing food off counters.
For many dogs, using +R is more stressful than utilizing all four quadrants because it becomes much harder for the dog to figure out what we want from them and how to earn rewards (treats, toys, praise, or otherwise). For anxious or aggressive dogs, it takes longer for them to learn that they are not in danger and can relax.
While +R is a very slow and inefficient process, using all four quadrants of Operant Conditioning Theory allows us to modify behaviors extremely quickly, effectively, and safely. It's important to set behaviors while dogs are new to the family and to set realistic expectations for your family. Furthermore, many of the dogs we train simply do not have months or years to stop acting aggressively or dangerously. If your dog acts aggressively towards dogs, people, bikes or otherwise, you are at risk of expensive fines and court fees for small offenses all the way up to prison time and euthanisia if someone gets injured.
Often, restricting yourself to +R fails to gain reliable control over "high drive" or "low drive" dogs. For example, if your dog has a strong prey drive and values chasing rabbits over getting treats or toys, it is extremely difficult to teach your dog to focus around rabbits using treats and toys only. On the other end of the spectrum, some dogs do not value treats or toys.
Finally, we believe in following natural forms of communication. Dogs correct each other near constantly. Even mother dogs nip their puppies to teach them healthy and safe boundaries. Corrections are not inherently emotional or dramatic, but a normal part of life. Among humans, +R is equivalent to never telling children "no" and allowing them to run across busy streets if they want.