'Not only is punishment risky, but it also fails to teach the dog an acceptable alternate behaviour. The dog does not learn what to do the next time he is in the same situation. He only learns to fear the situation.' Emma Parsons, Click to Calm p73

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Need to Please: or why my dog is a suck-up.

Today we played fetch with the frisbee, rather than with the usual balls. Lola didn't know why--and she didn't care.

Lola is a dog that is very, very driven to please me. After coming from Jess (who couldn't care less if I sank into the earth tomorrow, as long as someone was there to feed her and occasionally pet and walk her), it's a huge thing.

On one hand, a stern word from me can stop Lola in her tracks from doing something Wrong. This means Lola can be off lead pretty much anywhere, even around strange dogs and people, as long as they don't come too near. On the other hand a too-sharp correction can destroy her confidence in an instant, and stop her from doing anything but wiggling pathetically at me for the next couple of minutes.

For a terrier (a type of dog that isn't exactly well known for its ability and desire to work closely with humans - unlike herding dogs, for example), Lola is strangely in tune with what I want. As the photo caption said, today I decided we were going to play fetch with our frisbee, rather than with the ball. We've only ever played with the frisbee three or four times, and all of those indoors with Lola competing with Jess to bring the Thing back to me for food... yet within two throws when we got to the field my little dog was rocketing off after it and bringing it back reliably enough.

(Her ability to hold the frisbee correctly, however, still wasn't great! She tripped a lot, and I laughed every time.)

I said that Lola is driven to please me, and by that I don't mean the 'traditional' dog training idea that a dog should only work to 'please their master' or whatever (i.e. working to avoid punishment). The ratio of positive punishment (applying something Lola doesn't want--such as a verbal correction) to positive reinforcement (applying something Lola does want--such as praise, a toy, a little bit of cheese) and negative punishment (removing something Lola does want--such as the opportunity to be with me, or the chance to get some food) is probably something like one instance of P+ to every fifty of R+/P-, if not a lot less. And we never use negative reinforcement (removing something Lola doesn't want--such as pinching her ear to make her fetch).

I feel comfortable, therefore, in assuming that Lola doesn't work to avoid punishment. She works to earn her wage (food, praise, play, cuddles) primarily: and I think this is a large part of why she's so into listening to me. Ever since she's been a puppy, we've used most of her meals in training--meaning that if she didn't want to listen to me, she didn't get food. The message, apparently, sunk in well.

I am the source of all good things. Don't listen to me? Don't get what you want.

Lola isn't a stupid dog. She's figured out that if she does silly things, I'll laugh - and she gets a happy, full body wiggle when I laugh because she knows that sometimes I'll give her food for being so funny. She's opportunistic at every level, and although she does often push her boundaries (how far can I get into the kitchen without mum knowing? is apparently a question she asks herself every other day), she's also barely a year old, crappily bred, and a terrier.

She wants to please me--because she wants to get things for herself, and that's the best way for her to get what she wants.


Sara said...

Lola wants to please you, because it is rewarding in so many ways when she does so! What a great demonstration of the power of positive reinforcement.

Ricky the Sheltie said...

Well written and thought out. You explained the benefits of positive reinforcement perfectly!

Ci Da said...

Good entry. I think it's natural for a little bit of P+ to enter into our relationships with our dogs, since we're only human. I feel strongly that true motivation should come from creating value for the correct behaviour.

An English Shepherd said...

Yes it’s funny how all dogs are very different :-)