Several people have sent me this article. It is fabulous, with a very modern approach to training (I am so glad that we keep improving). Perhaps it is too trainer-y for most, but take a look. Under the first listing, "Commits to using the most positive, least intrusive training methods," is the hierarchy of behavior change. This is a guideline to the general steps in creating a successful outcome with the least amount of emotional stress on the dog. The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers also has a position statement on the application of the Humane Hierarchy, a similar series of steps that keep training more positive and less intrusive.
I have expounded on these below for ease of understanding:
1. "Medical, nutritional, physical"
A dog that is in physical pain, cranky from a metabolic or hormonal disorder, is too hot, too cold or overly hungry is going to have a difficult time learning or may be displaying behavior that cannot be changed by any of the steps below. When in doubt, vet it out.
2. "Antecedent arrangement"
An antecedent is a thing or event that existed before the behavior occurred. This would be referring to the environment in which the dog is acting or reacting. Learning is difficult with lots of distractions so you would want to set up your dog's learning environment accordingly. In some aspects of dog training we use the word "trigger." Like during a thunderstorm the antecedent triggers a dog to hide under the bed. When a squirrel runs across the property it triggers a dog to get excited. Professional trainers are very attuned to the all the things in the environment that are possible causes for a dog's behavior. They will ask you many questions about this if dealing with behavioral challenges.
3. "Positive reinforcement"
Well, of course, you say! It's the current buzz word of the dog training community! But positive reinforcement is only positive if the dog perceives it as being reinforcing. Each dog has its own value system for reinforcement and that needs to be assessed (and possibly manipulated) before training begins. Most humans expect dogs to want to work for affection but, sadly, this works for a low percentage of dogs. In competition and working dogs, where we need precise and reliable behavior, we use food, toys, and play as rewards. But, if we are giving this stuff away free, all day long to our dogs, it probably won't be something they want to work for.
4. "Differential reinforcement of alternative behavior"
This basically means that you will ignore unwanted behavior (barking, jumping, pawing, lunging) while rewarding something else. It is frequently termed "give the dog something TO DO instead of telling it what NOT to do." If you want the dog to do a specific behavior like sit or lie down, you will need to teach it to do this reliably in a quiet learning atmosphere before using it as an alternative behavior.
5. "Extinction, negative reinforcement, negative punishment"
Extinction is making sure the dog receives no rewards for undesirable behavior. A dog who jumps on you may find the act of jumping and touching your body very rewarding. That same dog may interpret you pushing him down or yelling at him as rewarding because he is at least getting your attention. Identifying what is rewarding and not rewarding is an important skill for professional dog trainers.
Negative reinforcement is when you remove something to reinforce behavior. This could simply be an act of holding onto a dog's collar until he settles down before releasing him to greet a person or dog. Another example of this would be putting slight tension on your dog's collar when you want to change directions during a walk. When he yields to the pressure you release the tension.
Negative punishment is when you take something away to stop behavior. When a puppy jumps against his exercise pen or baby gate as you approach him, you can immediately turn around and walk the other way. Keep repeating and the pup soon learns that jumping on the pen causes you - the thing he really wants - to go away.
6. "Positive punishment"
Notice how this is in its own level - the last one - within the hierarchy? That is because positive punishment has a higher chance of fallout or side effects. It can create distrust in your dog. It can be more damaging if incorrectly used than any of the other types of reinforcement or punishment listed above. Positive punishment is when you add something to the environment to stop future occurrences of that behavior. It could be something uncomfortable or painful to the dog, or a sound that startles the dog into stopping what he is doing. It does not always invoke fear or stress; it could be simply stepping in front of the door each time it is opened to stop the dog from attempting to dart out. When the dog starts anticipating that you will step in front of the door, and no longer gets out of his bed when you open the door, positive punishment has occurred.