Dog Training – The 4 Quadrants of Operant Conditioning – What They Are and How They’re Used

Like humans, dogs are motivated to avoid gain and pain. Therefore, reinforcement or punishments can be used to train a dog.

So What Are Reinforcements and Penalties?

Supplements are anything that makes a dog more likely to repeat a certain behavior. Similarly, punishments are anything that reduces the likelihood of a behavior being repeated.

But what is not so clear is that there are 2 types of reinforcement and likewise 2 types of punishments. Here’s why…

The 4 Quadrants of Operant Conditioning

To reinforce a dog for a particular behavior, you can give him something he likes (a treat, for example) or give him something he doesn’t like as a takeaway (for example, something repulsive). Either way, the dog is rewarded for repeating the behavior. The first is called positive reinforcement (R+) and the second is called negative reinforcement (R-).

And to punish a dog for bad behavior and reduce the likelihood of it repeating that behavior, he or she may apply something the dog doesn’t like (e.g. corporal punishment) or simply take something he likes (e.g. taking back the privilege in the form of a time-out). In this case, the first is called positive punishment (P+) and the second is called negative punishment (P-).

As can be seen from the examples above, the words positive and negative are simply used to indicate that something has been managed or taken. And since you can strengthen or punish a dog by adding or subtracting things, we end up with 2 different types of reinforcement and punishment, each or, in short, 4 Operant Conditioning Quadrants.

Examples of 4 Quadrants Used in Dog Training

Common examples of four quarters in action during dog training are:

Positive Reinforcement (R+): Asking a dog to sit and giving him a reward when he sits

Negative Reinforcement (R-): When teaching a dog to retrieve it, pinching the dog’s ear (it’s disgusting) and releasing (to pick up) only when the dog picks up the object.

Positive Punishment (P+): Using a leash pop to correct a dog for an undesirable behavior.

Negative Punishment (P-): Taking a break when a dog is happily playing with another dog, by placing a dog in a boring corner (taking playtime), as soon as it becomes too harsh or aggressive (undesirable behavior)

Clicker vs Compulsion Dog Trainers and how they use the 4 Quadrants

Clicker and other positive reward-based instructors often apply a lot of R+ in their training. In the rare cases where punishment is required, they typically apply P-. In clicker training, dogs are often set up to succeed, giving trainers the opportunity to mark, reward and reinforce desired behaviors. This training is therefore often referred to as more humane and dog friendly.

Conversely, strength trainers focus a lot on using P+ and R- to get the job done. Dogs are sometimes willing to make mistakes on purpose, giving the trainer an opportunity to correct the dog. For this reason, the term correction and coercion is often associated with this type of dog training.

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