What is Positive?

I want to use this post to clarify a few things, then I can add it to the “Useful and/or Important Posts” page, and it will be easy to refer back to, or expand upon should the need arise.

People generally have an understanding of the things around them based on what they learn; once we leave education (be that school, college, or university), we tend to learn from easily accessible sources – friends, family, people at work, media outlets, and the internet.  This is no less true when it comes to dog training, and the various terms used therein.  Obviously, this statement doesn’t apply to everyone – there are some people (and I include myself here) who actively go out and learn, from as many sources as possible.  We try to ensure we do not become “blinkered” by one person, or theory, and we understand that we can learn from everyone – even if we may not agree with their methods, or dispute their knowledge (or lack thereof).

This leads to us having different meanings for various terms than what is often understood by the general public, and other less-well educated, or more-blinkered, trainers.  That last part of the statement could be seen as a little mean, but from what I have witnessed, heard, and read, it’s certainly true.

I will use this post to explain some of the terms that may crop up from time-to-time, either in real life, on forums, discussion pages, or in my blog.

Reward
“Something given or received in return or recompense for service, merit, hardship, etc”.  It’s a safe bet that you or I would find money rewarding.  Additionally, I may find the receipt of chocolate cake, shoes, and/or jewellery rewarding too, but just because I find those rewarding, it doesn’t mean that every other human will, and I think this is where the definition of reward falls down.

I like to define reward as: “something of value, that is wanted by one, and is, or can, be given by another, often upon completion of a task by the first being (person/dog/etc)”.  In the past, I’ve looked after a puppy that would (at least in the house) “work” for medication.  Yep, he would sit as quick as he could, lay down still, and even wait, to get a pill which he would merrily crunch between his teeth, and then wait for the next “treat” (which, much to his dismay, was not forthcoming)! Other dogs, however, aren’t quite so excitable about medication!  Though I do think that example perfectly illustrates that it is the dog who chooses what is rewarding, and not us.

Positive rewards are reinforcing, they increase the likelihood of a behaviour occurring again. A good example of a positive reward is a dog who is praised, or rewarded with treats and/or toys, for doing what his owner asks (NB it is rare that a dog will do something just to receive verbal praise, or because he wants to please his owner).

Positive
“Tending to emphasize what is good or laudable (deserving praise)

Permissive
Permissive is an interesting word.  A lot of people often confuse the meaning of positive with that of permissive: “habitually or characteristically accepting or tolerant of something, [such] as social behaviour or linguistic usage, that others might disapprove or forbid”.

I like to say that being permissive is “letting someone get away with something, or do something they shouldn’t be”.  A permissive parent doesn’t tell their toddler off for hitting others; a permissive dog owner doesn’t do anything when their dog tries to jump up at people (other than maybe apologise).

Permissive and positive are two different words, with two very different meanings.  Anyone who tells you differently needs bought a dictionary at the next available juncture!

Negative
The opposite of positive is, of course, negative “refusing consent, [such] as to a proposal: a negative reply to my request”.

However, negative doesn’t always mean something bad, such as when used in negative punishmentremoving something the dog wants in order to decrease the likelihood of a behaviour occurring again”.

A great example of negative punishment, which almost every dog owner will have used at some point (whether they intended to or not!),  is to stop giving their dog attention when he is doing something they don’t like, such as barking, or soliciting attention for the thousandth time that hour when you’re busy.

Aversive
A reprimand, punishment, or agent, used in aversive conditioning”.  Hmmm, not very helpful!  Aversive conditioning is “a type of behaviour conditioning in which noxious stimuli are associated with undesirable or unwanted behaviour that is to be modified or abolished, as the use of nausea-inducing drugs in the treatment of alcoholism”.

For clarification, noxious is “harmful or injurious to health or physical well-being: noxious fumes”.  I think it’s synonyms are particularly telling also: “hurtful, unwholesome, unhealthy, detrimental, deleterious, corruptive.”

In behaviour modification, we would tend to say “so-and-so trains dogs with aversives”, or “such-and-such is an aversive trainer”.  What this means is that we are discussing a person who uses such things as choke or pinch collars (also called “strangulation collars”); shock collars (also known as “e-collars”, (though please note these are different to elizabethan collars, or “lampshades”)), and/or startle discs, to name but a few.

Punishment
“A penalty inflicted for an offence, fault, etc”.

It is prudent to remember, that just as with rewards, punishments can be seen differently by the different parties involved.  For instance, a lot of people shout at their dogs for barking; from the human perspective shouting is a punishment (from the dogs’ perspective, however it very rarely is).  It is also prudent to remember that dogs are situational learners, that is when they are learning cues (or commands – depending on whether you ask your dog, or you tell your dog), they are taking into account the situation around them.  If you give your dog a punishment (which they also see as a punishment) in the presence of a child, for instance, then you are running the risk of your dog associating being punished with children; meaning that in time your dog could end up being fearful of children, which could turn into aggression – to protect themselves from what they see as causing them fear, pain, distress, or whatever else the punishment makes them feel (the child/children in general).

So, hopefully that clears a few things up, if you think there’s anything I’ve missed, whether it’s an example, part of a definition, or an entire word or phrase – feel free to leave a comment below!

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7 thoughts on “What is Positive?

  1. Pingback: The words we use « Pawsitively Training

  2. Great write-up, I’m a regular visitor of your blog, keep up the great writing, and I’ll be a regular visitor for a long time.

  3. Pingback: Behaviour | Pawsitively Training

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