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


Like people, dogs are motivated by gain and to avoid pain. Hence, to coach a dog, reinforcements or punishments may be used.

So What Are Reinforcements and Punishments?

Reinforcements are anything that increases the probability of a dog repeating a selected behaviour. Similarly, punishments are anything that decreases the probability of a behaviour being repeated.

What is probably not too clear though is that there are 2 sorts of reinforcements and likewise, 2 sorts of punishments. Here’s why…

The 4 Quadrants of Operant Conditioning

To bolster a dog for a selected behavior, you possibly can give it something it likes (e.g. a treat) or takeaway something it doesn’t like (e.g. an aversive). Each ways, the dog is rewarded to repeat the behavior. The previous is named positive reinforcement (R+) and the latter negative reinforcement (R-).

And to punish a dog for bad behaviour in order to diminish the probability of the dog repeating that behaviour, you possibly can administer something the dog doesn’t like (e.g. physical punishment) or just take away something it likes (e.g. a withdrawal of privilege say in the shape of a day out). The previous on this case is named positive punishment (P+) and the latter negative punishment (P-).

As may be seen from the above examples, the word positive and negative is solely used to point if something is being administered or taken away. And since you possibly can reinforce or punish a dog by adding or taking away things, we find yourself with 2 distinct varieties of reinforcements and punishments each or in brief, the 4 Quadrants of Operant Conditioning.

Examples of the 4 Quadrants Being Utilized in Dog Training

Listed below are common examples of the 4 quadrants in motion during dog training:

Positive Reinforcement (R+): Asking a dog to take a seat and giving it a treat when it sits

Negative Reinforcement (R-): When teaching a dog to retrieve, to pinch the dog’s ear (aversive) and releasing it (taking away aversive) only when the dog retrieves the item.

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

Negative Punishment (P-): When a dog is happily fiddling with one other dog, to Instituting a day out by taking a dog to a boring corner (taking away play time) the moment it becomes too rough or aggressive (undesirable behaviour)

Clicker Vs Compulsion Dog Trainers and the way they use the 4 Quadrants

Clicker and one other positive rewards based trainers generally apply plenty of R+ of their training. On rare occasions where punishment is required, they typically administer P-. In clicker training, dogs are regularly set as much as succeed, giving trainers the chance to mark, reward and reinforce desired behaviours. Such training is subsequently generally termed as more humane and dog friendly.

Conversely compulsion trainers focus rather a lot on using P+ and R- to get the job done. Dogs are at times deliberately set as much as make mistakes, giving the trainer the chance to correct the dog. Hence the term correction and compulsion are commonly related to such type of dog training.


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