I read Val Bonney's article, 'It's time to make decisions' in the November 2011 issue of 'The Queensland Dog World' with great interest. Everybody would agree that we need to be asking questions, explaining the options and be open to discussion as to which training choices to make. This article is presented from the perspective of someone who has made the decision to switch from traditional to positive reinforcement training.
For any ongoing debate to be useful the basic terminology initially needs to be agreed. To assist in discussion I firstly offer the following explanations of some terms used in this article.
A behaviour, for sake of the debate, is any action that a living animal is capable of doing. Animals of all species learn behaviour either through desirable or undesirable consequences, operant conditioning (Skinner), or they learn through reflexes, classical conditioning – also sometimes known as respondent or Pavlovian conditioning. Training primarily involves the use of operant conditioning. No matter what the species, every single trainer in the world, knowingly or not, utilises one or more of the four quadrants of operant conditioning (positive punishment, positive reinforcement, positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement) when training any behaviour.
[The technical function of reinforcement is to increase the occurrence of a behaviour. The function of punishment is to reduce the occurrence of a behaviour. Reinforcement is positive when something nice is added to the animal's environment (e.g. food) and it is negative when something nasty is removed (e.g. an electric current is switched off). Punishment too is either positive, when something unpleasant is added (e.g. hitting or turning on electricity) or it is negative when something pleasant (e.g. food or attention) is not given or is removed. ]