Wednesday, January 20, 2010

How can positive reinforcement be so bad?

As clicker trainers, we practice and preach positive reinforcement. Positively reinforce every behavior you wish to see again and you shall receive. This sounds pretty fool proof, right? isn't that easy. Every once in a while, I come across a client who wants to reinforce a behavior that "kinda" resembled the correct one. "well, Puppy kinda sat" or "Fido kinda came back to me". Sometimes, people think giving their dog reinforcement that wasn't exactly deserved is doing them a favor because "they look so sad" or "I don't want them to get discouraged." Inconsistencies like this can be confusing to any trainee. I can use myself as an example.

Tag Teach is a wonderful way to positively train people! I'm part of a trainer's forum that positively reinforces posts every week. For example, one week the moderator will post "This week's TAG point [the action that will get you positive reinforcement known as a TAG] is 'trim your posts when replying to the forum'". At the end of the week, every one who posted to the forum and remembered to trim their posts will be recognized by the forum moderator. Personally, I love being recognized. I like knowing I've done something right and someone noticed. Lately, however, I've received TAGs for things I've never done. I haven't posted to the forum in two weeks but somehow I've managed to make it on to the weekly listing of people that did something right. Sure, I feel good that my name is on the list. But I've literally spent the last couple days perplexed. Did the moderator make a mistake by posting my name...twice?? Did my posts not go through properly/on time?? Is there someone else by the same name? If that's the case, have we both been improperly recognized this whole time?

The point is this: when you think you are doing something good by giving away "freebies" you could very well be confusing your dog just as my "freebies" confused me. I still don't know what posts were correct. I can't repeat the behavior - even though I know what the moderator asked for, I have no idea what I actuallydid. When training your dog, remember to be consistent. Even if you think they're sad because you think they deserved that treat/toy/praise. If they didn't perform the behavior you're looking for, then they don't get reinforcement. This isn't cruel - it's helpful for the learning process!

Happy Clicking Everyone!


1 comment:

  1. Excellent example, Erica. And so true. We think we're "helping," but we're really adding to the confusion when we reinforce for the "kinda's."