Dogs lean towards that which is comfortable,
And away from that which is not comfortable.

This is a powerful idea when applied to dog training. It simply means that dogs look for comfort, enjoyment, and happiness, and that they will do things that cause them comfort, enjoyment, and happiness.

Before we talk about using comfort and discomfort in training a dog there are some questions to address.

First, what give us as humans, dog owners, and dog lovers the right to make our dog uncomfortable?

To answer this we need to turn to our knowledge about dogs. Dogs learn through association. Association is everything, or dogs have associations with everything. That is a big deal. Associations need some consistency to be formed. If you walk your dog every day at the same time, you dog will associate that time of day with a walk. If you get excited and give your dog a lot of attention when your dogs jumps on people, our dogs will associate a boost of excited energy and attention when she jumps on people. If every time your dog sits when asked, you get excited and give her attention she will associate excitement and attention with sitting and, more generally, with doing what is asked of her.

We live in a world that is dangerous for dogs. We live in a human world and dogs live with us. To keep a dog safe in this human world we have to use the dog’s natural ability to form associations and to do things that are comfortable, while avoiding things that are uncomfortable. In many cases the human owner of the dog may see a danger, or a reason for the dog to not do, or stop doing something, the owner need to be able to communicate quickly because the dog may not understand.

Second, is it necessary for a trainer to associate some intentional and controlled discomfort with misbehavior, lack of attention and non-compliance?

For me the answer is yes. Dogs are not born understanding the concept of “No”. I don’t think people understand that idea at birth either. The difference is people learn human language, dogs do not. Dogs learn through association, so with training we can associate the word no with discomfort, and the word yes with comfort. A dog can learn that it is more comfortable and better for them to do as they are told by controlled and proper use of intentional comfort and intentional discomfort. In time we will not need to create discomfort with the word “no”, just saying “no” will bring discomfort to the activity that the dog is doing and the dog will naturally stop that activity.

So for example the dog is chasing a squirrel, and leaving the park, the owner of the dog can say a word and that dog no longer feels comfortable chasing the squirrel and does not leave the park. That dog may not notice the busy street outside the park. The owner does and is able to keep the dog from entering into danger through associations that dog made with that word.

Third, how much discomfort is enough discomfort to communicate to a dog that good behavior, paying attention, and  complying are good things to do?

A good dog trainer is always trying to do as little as possible, using the least amount of effort required to get the dog’s attention and inform her of her mistake. No More Than That! There are four ways to use controlled discomfort, and controlled comfort to influence a dog’s behavior, to create associations and to create habits. They are Negative Punishment, Positive Punishment, Negative Reinforcement, and Positive Reinforcement.

I personally do not like or use the term punishment; punishment has so many connotations. I think of punishment in dog training as correction. If there are two pens on a table and you asked me to pass the pen and I passed one but you wanted the other one, you would correct me with, “No, not that pen, the other pen.” It would not be your intent to punish me. I do not intend to punish the dog, I intend to bring her attention to the behavior and communicate that it was not what I was intending or what I wanted her to do.

Simple negative punishment is enough for some dogs. Negative punishment is the removal of a desired item (item might be a person, a toy or a treat) after an undesired behavior.  When a dog trainer gives a dog a timeout that is negative punishment, because you remove contact from the dog. Isolation causes emotional discomfort, and anything that causes discomfort the dog will avoid.

Some dogs do better with Positive Punishment (correction), which involves creating and presenting an uncomfortable outcome after an undesired behavior. When a blind person uses a training collar to correct their dog for walking too close to a building that is Positive Punishment. The pull of the training collar is a bit uncomfortable to the dog and if every time the dog walks too close to the building she is corrected, she will stop walking too close to buildings.

In some situations Negative Reinforcement works well in making associations and creating habits. Negative Reinforcement is strengthening a behavior by stopping or removing a negative outcome. An example of this would be turning up the heat to get a person to leave a room. The heat in the room is annoying or uncomfortable and a person will leave. The reward for leaving is cooling down and feeling comfortable. With good use of our training tools we can create that effect with dogs.

Finally there is Positive Reinforcement. Positive Reinforcement is a very powerful tool in shaping behaviors, forming associations and creating habits. It works by rewarding a dog after a wanted behavior. Positive reinforcement is great for letting the dog know that you agree with the behavior that she is displaying. This works really well for some dog because dogs lean toward that which is comfortable and Positive Reinforcement is all about comfort.

All of the techniques have flaws, but when used together they do not fail, and there flaws are countered. Positive and Negative together make reality. We can’t have one without the other. It is because some things are negative that other things become positive. Our job is to balance and align the positive and the negative in our dogs lives.

You want your dog to choose not to jump on people, because you think that jumping on people is a bad thing to do. Your dog does not think it is a bad thing to do. She enjoys it. If we correct that behavior if will become uncomfortable for the dog to jump on people and the dog will soon associate jumping on people as being an uncomfortable thing to do. Your dog will stop jumping on people and you will reinforce that positive behavior with a pat on the head. It is an honest, straight forward, easy concept and your dog will understand you better because it works in concert with all the other things that we know about dogs. Thank you, Keep Practicing, and Enjoy Your Dog!!!