A decade later, when I had my first dog that I wanted to train to a competitive level, rather than to just walk beside me and to hop off the sofa when asked, Don’t Shoot the Dog was again recommended to me.
The principle behind Karen Pryor’s reinforcement training is based on behavioural science and nearly a century of controlled experimentation, but the principle in itself is very simple:
- A reinforcer is anything that, occurring in conjunction with an act, tends to increase the probability that the act will occur again.
A punishment is an aversive stimulus that occurs after the behaviour. Punishment does not result in predictable changes to the behaviour.
So a police car on the freeway is a negative reinforcer that increases the chance of your driving within the speed limit. A fine two weeks later in the mail from a hidden speed camera is a punishment that will have no predictable effect on your driving speed. A safe driver program where your eTag was automatically credited with $10 for every kilometre safely travelled uses a reinforcer and would tend to increase the possibility that you would drive within the limit.