Explaing Positive Reinforcement rethinking key "sound bites"

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Explaing Positive Reinforcement rethinking key "sound bites"

Post by jacksdad » Mon Oct 10, 2011 2:42 pm

So much goes into what we call Positive Reinforcement that if you tried to explain it all in one sitting you risk causing eyes to glaze over with information overload. So we tend condense it all down into "sound bites" to get the idea across. Which makes the "sound bites" we use important, because we rarely get a second chance to make a good first impression.

What got me thinking about this was listening to and offering explanations of PR this weekend while at a local dog shelter/rescue fund raiser.

One "sound bite" that jumped out as one that needs improved is the "ignore bad, focus on good/wanted" type comments. With enough time to develop this idea with examples and background it makes sense. But what about someone who isn't a dog training "geek" and they just want to for example solve the problem of their dog bathroom in the house. Being told "ignore the bad..." isn't that helpful.

So, what are we really trying say most of the time when we say "ignore the bad, focus on the good/wanted"? The conclusion I came to was in a lot of cases, what is really being said is that we replace an unwanted behavior with a wanted one. We don't want the dog to bathroom in the house, so we teach our dogs to go outside. replacing the unwanted bathrooming in the house, with the wanted bathrooming outside.

Rather than saying "we ignore the bad, focus on the good/wanted" maybe we should say things along the lines of....

"Rather than telling our dogs no or bad dog when they do something we don't want/like, we work to teach our dogs what we would rather they be doing. We replace the unwanted with the wanted. We then make it fun/rewarding to do the wanted and building it into the new default habit of the dog."

Still needs to be "de geeked" a bit and probably shortened, but when discussing with someone who isn't familiar with PR, it (at least to me) leaves more of a feeling of solution/hope than "ignore the bad, focus on the good/wanted" comments might.

What other phrases can we improve that might help explain Positive Reinforcement in easy to get and understand ways that leave a positive and solution orientated feeling?
Last edited by jacksdad on Sat Oct 15, 2011 10:05 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Explaing Positive Reinforcement, rethinking key "sound bits"

Post by Nettle » Mon Oct 10, 2011 3:07 pm

I am too tired to think of clever phrases, but I bet when I come back tomorrow morning you'll all have a heap of them :)

Sorry Jacksdad, I went off topic there.
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Re: Explaing Positive Reinforcement, rethinking key "sound bits"

Post by JudyN » Mon Oct 10, 2011 3:34 pm

I think 'set them up for success, not failure' is a good one, though may require examples. It's a guideline I often bear in mind when considering how to approach a training objective.
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Re: Explaing Positive Reinforcement, rethinking key "sound bits"

Post by jacksdad » Mon Oct 10, 2011 4:02 pm

well what I am after is not so much clever/"sales" pitch phrases. Rather trying to find better ways of phasing what we already say/know in short concise ways that make sense to someone you just met and you have 1 or 2 minutes to explain why you train the way you do.

in my above example, "ignore the bad, focus on the good" type comments means more to someone who is much more familiar with PR, but might be a turn off and/or mean nothing to someone who isn't familiar with PR. so what other "short cuts/sound bits" do we currently us that might actually need a bit of tweaking for someone who isn't familiar with PR. That's more of what I am getting out.

Looking to improve how we explain what it is we are trying to explain.

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Re: Explaing Positive Reinforcement, rethinking key "sound bits"

Post by Fundog » Mon Oct 10, 2011 6:08 pm

I think a more concise way to phrase "ignore the bad, focus on the good" would be, "Instruction, rather than correction." (Walk, versus "don't run," Get out of the trash, versus Bad Dog!, "Look what I've got", versus "Noooo!")

I don't really know of any other "sound bites" we use--- especially those that aren't already quite self-explanatory. All I can come up with is, "Keep it fun, keep it simple."
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Re: Explaing Positive Reinforcement, rethinking key "sound bits"

Post by Suzette » Mon Oct 10, 2011 6:54 pm

For me, when folks ask or it just comes up in conversation, I tell them I use positive reinforcement training to teach Piper, which simply put is a training lifestyle that focuses on the positive while either ignoring or redirecting the negative. While this doesn't do +R complete justice, it's frequently enough to pique their interest and to me it's about as concise as you can get in one sentence. If that intrigues them, (and often it does) then I'll expand on it and go into as much detail as they seem interested in hearing.

Though it's not a dog park per se in that none of the dogs are running free, but all on leashes, we do meet a lot of dog people at the park that we often take Piper to and this has worked very well for me. For me, it's not so much about boiling it down to a few words that say it all, it's about saying just enough in a few words to capture their interest and get them asking for more info. :D
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Re: Explaing Positive Reinforcement, rethinking key "sound bits"

Post by Erica » Mon Oct 10, 2011 7:30 pm

Instead of thinking "I want my dog to stop that," think "I want my dog to do this."

^The way I think about different situations. :) Instead of "I want my dog to stop pulling," "I want my dog to walk beside me." So you train a heel instead of correct a pull, etc.
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Re: Explaing Positive Reinforcement, rethinking key "sound bits"

Post by jacksdad » Mon Oct 10, 2011 8:43 pm

I like the suggestions.

It just kind of hit me that sometimes the little "sound bite" explanations we use sometimes leave the wrong impression on someone who isn't in the "know" about PR or is encountering it for the first time.

This weekend one of the people I was with was going through the basic explanations, and doing a great job. but as the explanation was wrapping up the person getting the explanation had that kind of look that say "ok, right...never mind" and that was when it kind of hit me that sometimes how we phrase things can leave out a lot of details or give the wrong impression.

so I caught him as he was walking away and quickly expanded on the idea of "ignore "bad"/unwanted, focus on "good"/wanted" and simply said, "we don't literally ignore, we replace the unwanted with what we do want".

So the whole idea I had was to just to kind of kick around some ideas that might improve some of the more "clunky" phases or "sound bites" that we might have slipped into. Some may not be "broken", but some are and as there is always more than one way to approach the same trick or behavior we want, there will undoubtedly be more than on way to improve on a explanation of a point/concept.

at the moment, I am also drawing a blank for other phrases that could use a tweak, but that is why I threw it out to you all. because maybe it's not as a big a problem as I was thinking OR maybe one of you has noticed something that could use a little help.

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Re: Explaing Positive Reinforcement, rethinking key "sound bits"

Post by chay » Tue Oct 11, 2011 12:56 am

very good questions jacksdad. i have thought about this a bit too, often finding myself on the receiving end of the glazed eye look if someone makes the mistake of goading me to talk about dogs :lol:

one that i often find myself saying is "everything a dog does, is completely reasonable to that dog. its up to us humans to teach them appropriate ways of getting along in the human world, because to a dog its completely natural to poop on the floor / eat the cookies off the counter / (insert endless examples here)"

i guess where i get stuck, is not that people don't understand what we're saying - but that they just don't believe it anyway. one i often find myself arguing (explaining?) about is (for example) the concept that 'dogs don't do guilt' (in terms of housetraining, of course). i don't think it matters if you say 'instruction/ not correction' OR 'ignore the bad/ reward the good', some people are still just stuck in the way that the dog KNOWS what it is donig is wrong, and its behavior is a willing affront to the human involved.

i dont know how you fix this bit, but i'll keep thinking about different ways to phase things for the people who are receptive to a quick and succinct explanation of why what we do not only works, but is the better way...stay tuned....

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Re: Explaing Positive Reinforcement, rethinking key "sound bits"

Post by Nettle » Tue Oct 11, 2011 4:07 am

The horse people have some phrases that adapt well to dogs:

"If the horse (dog) says "No", then you have either asked the wrong question, or the right question in the wrong way".

"When you come to train, leave your ego at the door".

"The dog is allowed an opinion, but the owner has the casting vote. Use it wisely".

From me: "Why is your dog doing this?"

"Dogs don't do the things that annoy us specifically to annoy us. They have no idea why these things annoy us. We have to explain what we want in a way they can understand."

"A reward says 'thank you'. It is not weakness to reward. We all work better for reward".
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Re: Explaing Positive Reinforcement, rethinking key "sound bits"

Post by minkee » Tue Oct 11, 2011 4:43 am

Maybe this, to improve on your original sound bite, Jacksdad:
Prevent the bad, forgive the mistakes, reward the good
Though I think Fundog's
Instruction, not correction
sums it up very clearly.

I think emmabeth is one who often says something about how dogs repeat rewarding behaviours. There's probably a good summary in there - to make the best behaviours the most rewarding ones.

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Re: Explaing Positive Reinforcement, rethinking key "sound bits"

Post by emmabeth » Tue Oct 11, 2011 11:59 pm

I do struggle sometimes to get people to see the sometimes subtle (sometimes really NOT), differences between telling a dog NOT to do one thing, and telling it TO do another thing.

And then you hit upon the problem that its actually so simple, people disbelieve that it will work...

Forrrrrrrrrrr example, mmmm lets call him P (thats not his initial, thats er, the initial of the insult my dad calls him! :lol:) who has a LOVELY dog of a large, rare breed.... and he is trying to do positive reward training, but he comes from a background of punishment/coercive training and I think he is struggling.

Anyway said dog is at t hat stage where hes still a puppy but looks like a grown up dog to most people. He likes to jump and he likes to mouth....

P just CANNOT get his head round the simple concept of, taking a toy to the pub with the dog, handing that toy to people the dog wants to meet, and asking them to stuff the toy in the dogs mouth rather than their hand, as the dog 'sits' when told.

Instead he pulls the dog away, slaps it gently in the face, tells it NO NONO...... and the upshot IS going to be that this lovely dog is going to wind up hating strangers as all he ever gets when they are there, is shouting and slapping and lead corrections.

P is full of 'but he ought to know' and 'but he wont just 'sit'' and 'putting a toy in his mouth is rewarding him for doing the bad thing'.... and I have to confess, i have walked away from it (easy enough now but that pub will be my local in a few months time!!). Maybe when I am there more frequently I can suggest things with greater effect (shame he wasnt in the night I taught another regulars lovely lurcher not to launch himself at peoples hands/plates for goodies!).
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Re: Explaing Positive Reinforcement, rethinking key "sound bits"

Post by ClareMarsh » Wed Oct 12, 2011 7:22 am

I'm not a marketeer so I haven't got this into a catchy sound bite but it might be worth weaving in some stuff about the benefits to handlers, what's in it for them personally to appeal the human being's naturally selfish side :shock: (so besides a "better behaved", happier dog, knowing you're doing the right thing for your dog etc). I guess this is more why do it than what to do but a good "sales pitch" needs to convince the "buyer" :D

I have found that I understand my dog better and have a better relationship with him already which is making looking after him a more pleasurable experience.
I have a lot more fun with my dog, looking after him is much more exciting.
I am a lot less stressed when training him, we're focussing on the good stuff and so we're both more relaxed and the things he does "wrong" are ignored/not blown out of all proportion so we move on from them quickly.

I'm not sure I have explained this very well but hopefully someone will understand my babble and move it in the right direction :oops:
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Re: Explaing Positive Reinforcement, rethinking key "sound bits"

Post by Noobs » Wed Oct 12, 2011 9:31 am

Jumping in here, because my friends are struggling with their puppy and meeting her needs while training her. They are teaching "give" by wrenching a toy out of her mouth. They teach "off" by saying "no" (when I'm at their home I say "off" and hope it sticks). They just wish she would stop mouthing things (she's 13 or 14 weeks old now). They're waiting, as advised, until SIXTEEN weeks to take her out and THEN they're going to leash train her. Ughhhhhhh.....

Anyway, I have used this phrase a lot - "I'm not the pack leader, I'm the teacher," "I don't want to dominate; I want to guide." And I also sometimes use "Positive Reinforcement is not about food; it's about rewards."

But how much of that will actually stick? People come to this board and are willing to hear this AT FIRST and then they leave when they realize their "reward" of a well-behaved, pleasant dog doesn't come as fast as they want. How successful does anyone expect to be when they are trying to be brief and concise with someone in person?

Apologies for the tone. My "wounds" are still quite fresh so I'm still struggling to be upbeat and positive when on this topic. :?

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Re: Explaing Positive Reinforcement, rethinking key "sound bits"

Post by WufWuf » Wed Oct 12, 2011 9:53 am

I'm actually not totally comfortable using the term positive reinforcement as I don't think it really explains the type of training I do. I guess I get stuck with thinking about the 4 quadrants (+/-R, +/-P) and I find it kind of clunky to explain. It doesn't help that lots of people where I live think it's fine to dicipline a child with physical punishment so why would it be wrong to smack a dog?

I now say that I practice non aversive dog training. If asked what this is I try to keep it short and say something like "oh you know, modern training based in the science of learning theory". If asked what non aversive means I say something like "not having to do anything unpleasant to my dog to get them to do what I want them to do"

Frankly I've gotten sick of being laughed at and belittled for my training beliefs. Recently a 9 yr old boy anounced loudly that I give my dog too many treats, to which the other dogs owners laughed loudly. So I ran Honey through her list of tricks as he pretended not to watch - to which he quietly said "your dog's much better trained then mine" and I said yup thats what the treats are for :roll: :oops: .

grr better stop writing or I'll just go off on a rant which although it might have some catchy sound bites I don't think they'd be quite what you were looking for.... :wink:
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