You can solve any behavior problem by either changing the trigger or changing the consequence. In its simplest breakdown, it is a way to positively communicate with a species that doesn’t quite speak your language. Understanding the building blocks of applied behavior analysis can also help you understand why an animal repeats certain appealing or annoying behaviors. Coming back to these basics will help you whenever you are dealing with problem behaviors, and more importantly, it can help you keep the good behavior repeating.
The most basic training is maintaining and shaping everyday behaviors. As a pet owner you can make your life, and relationship with your pet, easier by rewarding behaviors you like and not rewarding the ones that you do not appreciate.
Using Positive Reinforcement
Positive reinforcement is an effective way to train all kinds of animals. In technical terminology, positive reinforcement is the presentation of a stimulus following a behavior that serves to maintain or increase the frequency of that behavior. Simply put, it is training through rewards. Giving the reward increases the likelihood the subject will perform the desired behavior. Positive reinforcers (rewards) are usually something the learner finds
enjoyable and pleasant. This is often a treat, but it can also be praise and a scratch behind the ears.
Perhaps the best thing about positive reinforcement is that the learner tends to exceed the effort necessary to obtain the reward.
The best way to train is often through positive reinforcement. Certainly all means of training, even punishment, can work. They just don’t work as well and are not as much fun. In her landmark
book Don’t Shoot the Dog, Karen Pryor notes that an interesting thing happened when trainers across continents, training different species, began to use positive reinforcement as a sole means of shaping behavior. Everything from bears to horses to fish have
demonstrated intelligence, enthusiasm, and curiosity in their training sessions when positive reinforcement was used. It turned out dolphins, which had been trained with positive reinforcement for decades, weren’t the only playful intelligent animals. All animals exhibit more creativity and interest when they have the opportunity to puzzle out what they are being asked to do, and
when they are anticipating something good at the finish line.
Hopefully, you are now starting to think about why your pet(s) present certain behaviors. Think of applied behavior analysis not so much as training as a way to clearly communicate with an animal. By being mindful of what you are triggering, or how you are telling the animal to interact with you, you are having a conversation. There is something specific that triggers every repeated action, and if it happens repeatedly, then there is a way it is being rewarded. Likely, you are a part of this equation. Are you accidentally giving a dog encouragement for jumping on you by talking sweetly to it instead of turning your back? Is standing in the kitchen waiting for the cat to come eat a trigger for the feline to hide under the bed? How can you change the way you create and reward behavior? What are you actually saying with your actions? If you understand the basics of applied behavior analysis, you will be saying exactly what you mean.
By Sarah Zumhofe