How We Communicate Human-dog communication is complex so we will look at three aspects in simple terms: (a) Types of Reinforcement (B.F. Skinner's Theory of Operant Conditioning):
Positive Reinforcement: Involves the addition of a reinforcing stimulus following a behavior that makes it more likely that the behavior will occur again in the future. Example: Giving a dog treats when they do a behavior you want.
Positive Punishment: Works by presenting a negative consequence after an undesired behavior is exhibited, making the behavior less likely to happen in the future. Example: Giving a leash "pop" when a dog jumps up on a counter.
Negative Reinforcement: When a response or behavior is strengthened by stopping, removing or avoiding a negative outcome or aversive stimulus. Example: Giving a "place" command and applying mild collar pressure until the dog reaches the "place". Studies show that learned behaviors are less likely to extinguish with negative reinforcement.
Negative Punishment: Involves taking something good or desirable away to reduce the occurrence of a particular behavior. Example: If a dog is barking and jumping obnoxiously for a toy, you remove the toy.
(b) Reinforcement Schedules How often you reinforce a behavior is critical to training. Rewarding a behavior every time it is performed is Continuous Reinforcement. This is often used when initially teaching a behavior to associate a particular behavior with a reward. However, this behavior quickly extinguishes if you stop rewarding the behavior. At this point you switch to a Partial Reinforcement schedule. Randomness is important in partial reinforcement schedule to solidify behaviors. Keeping the dog guessing when the reward is going to come helps maintain their focus and makes behaviors harder to extinguish. (c) Markers Markers are a crucial part of communicating with your dog. Markers are how we give our dogs information as to whether what they are doing is correct or incorrect. Markers can be words, sounds, or clickers. Teaching your dog markers is critical in teaching them any behavior.
Correct Markers: Dogs should understand a correct marker, "click" or "yes!" for example, immediately followed by a reward. Another correct marker is for "you're on the right track but the reward isn't coming yet" such as "gooood".
Incorrect Markers: Incorrect markers are not physical corrections, they are simply a word the dog understands as "that's not right, try again". Simply using the word "Nope" works just fine. Dogs that understand incorrect markers will keep trying to offer behaviors until they hear a correct marker.
How to Capture Behaviors Shaping: Often done with a clicker, shaping works on capturing behaviors when the dog voluntarily offers the behavior. When a behavior is more complex, shaping works by caputuring closer and closer approximations to the desired behavior until the goal behavior is reached. For example, to teach a dog to put two feet on a box you capture and reward the dog looking at the box, then coming close to the box, touching the box with one foot, putting one foot on the box, until the dog has both front feet on the box. The benefit of shaping is there is no need to fade a lure on a shaped behavior. Luring: This is often done with food, where the dog follows the food "lure" into a specific behavior. This approach is easier to get the dog to perform the goal behavior, but the lure must be faded out. In the same example of teaching a dog to put its feet on a box, you would lure the dog onto the box, then reward with the feet on the box.
Which is better? That would be a long discussion. Most trainers use a combination of both. We recommend learning both methods and using the one you feel most comfortable with. It may be shaping for one behavior and luring for another.