BDBN 19 | Operant Conditioning

“How Do I Know Who To Trust?”

Do you trust your dog trainers? How do they train your dogs? In this episode, Doug Poynter provides insights on looking at where your dog trainer operates at the four quadrants of operant conditioning. It should raise a red flag if trainers are unfamiliar with the four quadrants of operant conditioning. Doug also touches on escape avoidance training and how it is effective but not a motivating method to train a dog. Know your trainer and tune in to this episode today.

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“How Do I Know Who To Trust?”

I’m the owner of the business Better Dog Behavior. I’m located in Central Virginia. I service the state of Virginia with live sessions. I go to people’s homes and help them directly with their dogs. I also have clients all over the country and a few in different areas of the world. Those sessions are done by Zoom. I use positive reinforcement. I use marker training and clicker training. I help people and dogs. I train people and dogs.

I work with aggressive dogs. I work with pre-active dogs, fearful dogs, dogs with separation anxiety, and dogs that have got behavior problems. That’s what I work with. I do dog obedience training as well. That’s not the primary thing that I do, but I use dog obedience training to help with solving the behavior problem.

I primarily use behavior modification in solving the behavior problem. Many times, obedience exercises are helpful to make that behavior modification work even more effectively. I do my best never to use a correction. “I can’t believe he said that.” That will get some people all hacked off when they hear that because they think that’s a wimp way to train. You’ve heard me say it before. My experience has been if you rely on corrections, it’s intellectually lazy. Sorry, that’s my opinion.

You might disagree with me on that, but the most highly trained animals in the world are trained with marker training. I have a friend of mine who will remain nameless, who has an excellent protection dog, who is a Belgian Malinois. I’m sure some of you are familiar with Belgian Malinois. They are pretty intense dogs, not the average dog for the average owner. It doesn’t matter how great they look in the movies. Trust me, Belgian Malinois is more intense than 95% of you want to deal with. Don’t even think about getting it. The shelters are starting to fill up with Belgian Malinois because they’ve been in the movies of late.

Anyway, she has a Belgian Malinois who is an excellently trained dog. She has done a lot of training in France and here in the United States. In France, they’ve banned the use of the eCollar and the prong collar. Over there, trainers have got to be a bit more creative. What’s very interesting is that she trained her dog in obedience using a clicker unbeknownst to the protection world here in the United States and in her general area. That’s because there’s a lot of work that goes on, a lot of training that goes on, and protection work that’s high-level stuff and cool stuff.

There’s quite a bit that’s Neanderthal in its approach. There are some great protection trainers out there. I admire what they do. There are lots and lots of protection training that is in the Cro-Magnon days. Here’s the interesting thing. A decoy is a guy in protection work who wears the bite suit or the sleeve, and many times is also the trainer.

Her decoy was stunned at how calm her dog was, how well her dog did with bite work, and how well her dog did with obedience training. He was stunned to see how great this dog was at such a young age. She told me her secret was she had trained the dog with positive reinforcement. There’s a lot of force that goes into a lot of people’s training in the protection world.

She didn’t do any of that with her dog. I said to her, “I think one of the things that you may want to do is educate your trainer.” In the corporate world, we call it managing up or managing your manager. I said, “Educate your trainer because you know more than he knows.” She was a little doubtful as to whether I was right about that.

What ended up happening is later on down the line, there was a little problem in the club and he didn’t do her well. She left and her mentors in Europe had mentioned to her the same thing that I was mentioning to her, “You know more than these folks.” She found herself another decoy in another area of the country who was good at what he does. He told her, “I can’t teach you anything. You know this stuff already. You know more than everybody out there.”

What’s so interesting is that her dog is so calm but intense and focused, and she has done none of the harsh commands and correct-based training with her dog. There are lots of folks who say they’re balanced trainers who do positive reinforcement, but they also use corrections. There are a lot of that in the protection world as well.

They still can’t hold a candle to the methods that this friend of mine has used with her dog and how great this dog is doing with it. I’m hoping that they begin to see more and more of that in the protection world so that they can reap the same benefit, and their dogs can reap the same benefit because it’s a whole lot easier on dogs. Anyway, that’s my little two cents. I give that about every week. I’m going to keep working on this. I’m going to keep pounding on it until there’s no need to pound on it anymore because everybody gets it.

At any rate, I wanted to talk to you about some of the things that you can do to make sure you’re finding somebody good that can help you with your dog in your area. I did an earlier episode about this and gave you some tips and hints about how to do that. I got a few more. I want to update you a little bit and give you a little information that hopefully will help you find somebody to help you and your dog.

I mentioned in the previous episode that you want to find somebody who’s in an organization that focuses on behavior modification and positive reinforcement and using the least intrusive methods with your dog. No aversives. The International Association of Animal Behavioral Consultants (IAABC) that I’m a member of. The American Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) was created by Dr. Ian Dunbar if I’m not mistaken. His books are good books about behavior problems. William Campbell’s books are good books. The Owner’s Guide to Better Behavior in Dogs by William Campbell would be a good book to read. As I’ve always mentioned, Don’t Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor gives you an introduction to clicker training.

Find somebody in an organization focusing on behavior modification and positive reinforcement and using the least intrusive methods with your dog. No aversives. Share on X

The International Association Of Animal Behavioral Consultants (IAABC)

What you want is you want a trainer who specializes in this type of work. How do we know this? I find a lot of my clients feel lost and confused because they read so much stuff. There’s so much conflicting information out there. We don’t know what to believe. What I’m going to suggest to you is that first of all, you take the whole dog training world and you toss it up into a big barrel, and then you take 50% of the names and the organizations that are in there and toss them out. As harsh as that sounds, that has been my experience. That’s how it works.

How do we know who to toss and who to keep? There are some questions you can ask that will give you an idea as to what methods this person or this organization uses that will let you know, “Do I want to work with this person or not?” I’ll give you an example of why this is so crucial. I had some clients a couple of years ago who had a pit bull named Cooper if I’m remembering correctly. The problem was that he would lose it when people came into the house. When people entered their house, he would go nuts. When people came to their yards, he would go nuts. They had taken him to some training organizations and training programs to get him trained in standard obedience training. All of a sudden, he started having these problems, so they wanted to get those fixed as well.

They had sent me a video of their dog. They had two people that were relatives of theirs that had come into their house. They were seated calmly in a chair and the wife had Cooper on a leash. She wasn’t pulling it tight, so she wasn’t winding him up that way. He was going ballistic, barking at these guys, and she was correcting him. Every time he barked, she would pop him with the leash and say, “No.”

Every time she popped him with the leash, the barking would escalate. The husband came over and bent over him, a dominant position, and then popped him with the leash. Cooper redirected and nipped the husband. It wasn’t a bite. He nipped him, actually just touched him on the leg with his mouth, and then went back barking again. They had sent me this video.

They lived about three hours from me. The first time I talked with them over the phone, I asked them a question I don’t think they expected. I said, “When was the first time your dog exhibited fear?” There was silence. The husband said, “In training class.” I said, “Tell me the scenario if you would.” They were in an organization. They were doing a group class, a puppy class. All the dogs were in the heel position, which is to the left of the owner.

He was seated next to the owner. That’s where they wanted all the dogs to be. This guy told me that there was a loud sound. There was a bang from the back of the building and it scared Cooper. He broke the sit in the heel position, went around behind him, and hid behind his legs. I said, “What was the trainer’s response?” “The trainer said, ‘Correct him.’” I said, “What was the correction?” “Pop him with the leash.” I said, “Let me ask you a question. When was the last time you were scared that if someone had popped you would’ve made you less scared?” Before I could almost even finish the question, the owner said, “I was thinking the same thing.” I said, “Guess what? You were right. The trainer was wrong.”

Here’s why I’m going over this with you guys again because this is an organization up in their area that’s supposed to be respected. They’ve been in business for quite a long time, but they were dead wrong. As a matter of fact, from that moment forward, Cooper had a problem with people. The answer to fear is not correction. The fact that this trainer is a person who recommended that, notwithstanding what the trainer’s “credentials” are, is a mistake. It’s wrong and it harms this dog.

It is something that we got to be on the lookout for. I’m going to give you some questions that you can ask that I think can help with this scenario and help you decide, “Have I got the right person? Have I got the right organization?” I’m going to give you some information and some questions that you can ask that can give you an idea if you want to work with this organization or this person.

If you want somebody who can help you with a behavior problem with your dog or even help you get your dog obedience trained in an effective manner, you want someone who’s got knowledge of operant and classical conditioning. You need to have a little bit of knowledge of operant conditioning yourself so that you understand what you’re hearing from this person as to what they know and what they don’t know.

Quadrants Of Operating Conditioning

Let me give you this information here. There are quadrants of operating conditioning. Quadrants mean four. There are four of these. This is something that anyone who works in positive reinforcement and works heavily in operating conditioning would understand. If your person doesn’t understand these, then you might want to think twice about giving this person or this organization your money.

BDBN 19 | Operant Conditioning

Operant Conditioning: There are quadrants of operating conditioning, and it is something that anyone who works in positive reinforcement and works heavily in operating conditioning would understand.


Here’s the deal, the quadrants of operating conditioning are positive reinforcement, positive punishment, negative reinforcement, and negative punishment. In this model, the word positive does not mean good and negative means bad. The word positive means I’m adding something and the word negative means I’m taking something away. The word punishment means something that makes behavior stop. The word reinforcement means something that makes behavior continue.

Positive reinforcement means I’m adding something that would make the behavior continue. For example, the dog sits, I give the dog a food treat. The food treat was added and that is going to reinforce sitting, which means sitting will continue. Positive reinforcement. Positive punishment means I add something that makes the behavior stop. The dog barks and I zap him with the eCollar. The zap makes the behavior stop and it was added, so that’s the positive piece. The punishment piece was it makes the behavior stop.

Negative reinforcement means I take something away that makes the behavior continue. With an eCollar, for example, the way it is typically used if it’s used correctly is very low levels of stimulation. They feel weird to the dog. It feels like a tickle to us. As we asked the dog to sit, we depressed the eCollar, so the dog gets the tickle. As the dog sits, then we let off on the eCollar. He was able to make it stop.

We took away that weird feeling and that made the behavior continue. That’s negative reinforcement. Negative punishment is we take away something that makes behavior stop. You’re out walking your dog and your dog is pulling because he wants to walk. You stop and you don’t go forward. When he stops pulling and relaxes, then we start walking again. Taking away the walk makes the pulling stopped. That’s negative punishment.

You want to ask your person, “What do you work in primarily in the quadrants of operant conditioning?” I’m not saying that if the person doesn’t know that information, that necessarily means that that person or that organization is not a good one. I’m saying that that would raise a red flag for me if they don’t know what that means. If someone says positive reinforcement, that’s good. A lot of people do that.

The next thing that I would say is, “If you have a scenario or behavior that you don’t want to continue, how do you handle that?” Let’s hear what they say. If you hear positive punishment, then you may want to think twice. That’s corrections and that’s aversives. That can damage your relationship with your dog. If the person says negative punishment, then I think you might have somebody there that you want to work with. They know what they’re doing.

If what I’ve said to you about the quadrants seems like I’m brushing over it or giving you a high-level view, it is, but you can go read up on this. There is plenty of information on the internet about the quadrants of operant conditioning and what they are. This is the type of information you want to make sure that whoever you’re working with as a trainer has knowledge of. You want to find out whether or not they’re using an eCollar or a prong collar.

We’ll tell you, there’s a big controversy out there right now about the eCollar. There’s something out there that says they’re going to ban the eCollar in San Francisco. A lot of folks are up in arms about that. I will tell you this. My problem with the eCollar is the way it’s used by many folks. The other problem I have with the eCollar is even if it’s used correctly, it’s still negative reinforcement, which is not the most motivating way to train your dog. It definitely works, but if that’s all you rely on, then it’s not very motivating.

It’s called escape avoidance training. I escape something that’s mildly unpleasant or weird. When I do what my owner wants me to do, it makes me want to do it more because I can escape that feeling. It’s related to the old-school way of training the dog to sit by pulling up on the leash. You tell the dog to sit and pull up on the leash. The collar tightens around the dog’s neck. When the dog sits, you lighten up on the collar.

He has made the collar loosen up by sitting. We’ve taken away something negative or the pressure of the collar, that makes behavior continue or the sit. It definitely works, but it’s not the most motivating way to train a dog. I’ve seen dogs that were trained exclusively with negative reinforcement and they seem to be devoid of personality. They can get morose. I don’t want to know if I want to say morose, but it’s like they’re dull. They don’t have any life to them. That escape avoidance training is not something that you want to use primarily. I have some friends who train and use the eCollar. They only use low levels of stimulation of that negative reinforcement. I’m happy to see that they’ve also added positive reinforcement to their training.

I don’t use the eCollar at all. I don’t want to get into the negative reinforcement area. I certainly don’t like it when people then take an eCollar and use it for positive punishment. That’s zapping the dog. That’s adding something, that shock, to make a behavior stop. It’ll make the behavior stop, but it can also create some very negative consequences, superstitious behavior. Now I start to associate the pain of that eCollar with whatever is around me when I get it.

A dog that’s reactive to other dogs, if you zap him with the eCollar to try to make that stop, you can make it worse. Now the association is, “When I see other dogs, I was already not happy with them. Now I’m getting zapped. I’m really not happy with them. I associate the sight of another dog with something painful.” That positive punishment has got lots of consequences.

A dog that's reactive to other dogs, if you zap him with the e-Collar to try to make that stop, you can make it worse. The association is the sight of another dog with something painful. Share on X

My problem with the eCollar is that people rely on that too much. I’ve never had a chance to do this and maybe it’s not the right thing, but I always think that if I’m talking to somebody who uses an eCollar and uses it in that way, I would say, “Let me ask you a question. Would you use the same methods on yourself that you use on a dog? Put the eCollar around your neck and show me what level you zap the dog with it if you want to correct behavior, and let me hit you with it. Would you let me do that?”

Of course, they’re going to say no because it’s painful and it’s probably not safe to have an eCollar around your neck, near your brain, and get electricity zapped into it. That’s my problem with eCollar. It’s not going to bother me if they ban the eCollar. I don’t know that they’re going to do that countrywide. They have it in France but I don’t know if they’re going to do it here. It wouldn’t bother me because I don’t use it anyway.

I think that we can all become better trainers if we find more innovative ways to train and solve behavior problems using positive reinforcement and if we need to use punishment, using negative punishment. Negative punishment means I take away something that the dog likes if it’s not behaving the way I want it to behave. If it’s pulling me on a walk, I stop walking. When the dog relaxes again and comes back to me, then I start walking again. Does it take longer? Yeah, but there are no negative associations with it.

There’s nothing in that where it creates a problem for the dog. There’s nothing in there that harms the dog. That’s where I stand on this, and that’s what I think you need to be searching for. If you’re looking for someone who can help you with your dog. If you have a behavior problem or if you’re doing obedience training, you want someone who’s working in those areas.

Classical Conditioning

I’ve mentioned this before. If you want to see someone who’s good at it online, go to YouTube and put in Kikopup. Emily Larlham is good. She’s got some very highly trained dogs and she uses no force at all. She’s using all positive reinforcement and nothing that would create a negative association for the dog. Those associations are classical conditioning. The operating conditioning is I operate on the environment, I behave in a certain way, and I get a result.

We’ve gone over what the four quadrants are. I think that you need to familiarize yourself with that and make sure that the person that you may want to work with is familiar with it as well. Classical conditioning is involved with all of this stuff. It’s an association. If you remember Pavlov’s dogs experiment, he rang a bell as he was feeding his dogs.

As they got ready to eat, he rang a bell. He did that over and over again at every mealtime. I can’t remember exactly what the timeframe was. Something is telling me it was two weeks, but I could be wrong. With no food present, he rang a bell and they drooled. Why? It’s because they associated the sound of the bell with eating. Drooling is a physical response to eating. The drooling was classically conditioned. There are all kinds of potholes to fall into with negative associations with your dog. Positive punishment opens up those chasms that your dog could fall in, and we don’t want that.

BDBN 19 | Operant Conditioning

Don’t Shoot the Dog: The New Art of Teaching and Training

I think that you need to do a little bit of research on your organization and ask a few questions. Do some research. Go online and look this up, Quadrants of Operant Conditioning. Karen Pryor’s book, Don’t Shoot the Dog, and look at some trainers online. A lot of trainers will tell you that they use positive reinforcement, but they end up using a lot of positive punishment as well. I’m giving you the names of folks who don’t do that, so you can count on that.

Emily Larlham is a good one. Ken Ramirez is another one. He is a master of this. He runs the ranch at the Karen Pryor Organization and he’s got some stuff on YouTube that would be good for you to view as well. There’s another guy named Steve White who trains police dogs with marker training. You might take a look at him as well. This is very inventive stuff. It’s very cool stuff and you want to find somebody in your area who knows the same thing. Ask questions, educate yourself, and understand that not everybody who says that they’re great at what they do is doing it in the way that’s best for your dog.

The problem with all of this is that dogs are so easy and so tractable for the most part that even when we’re doing bad stuff, we can get some results. It’s not the best for the dog. I hope this has been helpful to you. You can always hit me up on my website, There’s a contact page in there. I’m happy to talk with you if you’d like to talk with somebody. I hope this has been helpful to you and I look forward to talking with you next time.


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