What is "Training"?

Before we talk about dog training, I'd like to start with my definition of training:


Training is controlling consequences to change the probability of future behavior.

So on my VERY BEST training day, I can only hope to influence the likelihood of the dog repeating the training behavior sometime in the future (in 2 minutes, days, weeks, etc.). I achieve this by controlling the resources -- food, toys, access to things the dog wants-- NOT by controlling the dog! 

 Now some simple Learning Theory:


Antecedent  – This is the scientific word for what comes before a behavior.  (e.g. You pick up his leash.)

Behavior – This is what your dog does (e.g. He barks and spins in circles.)

Consequence – This is what happens immediately after  the behavior (e.g. You take him for a walk!

All behavior is influenced by the CONSEQUENCES of that behavior:

In the above example, the dog spins and barks and THEN gets taken out for a walk (something he wants) -- He is now MORE LIKELY to spin and bark EVERY TIME he sees you pick up the leash!! -- If you want the dog to stop spinning and barking, you must change the CONSEQUENCE (i.e. put the leash down and turn away).
When the dog offers a quiet sit, pick up the leash and if he stays quietly sitting, put it on and go for a walk. If at any time in putting on the leash, he starts to spin and bark, put the leash down and turn away... In time, you picking up the leash should lead to the dog sitting patiently. If you know your ABCs and stay consistent with rewarding only the behaviors you like, you will be more successful in your training.


REMEMBER: Sometimes is ANY TIME for a dog. If you (or another family member) are in a rush and just put the leash on and go out even though he is still spinning and barking, this will set back your training badly. It's a basic fact that behaviors that are randomly reinforced become harder to break.

EVERYONE in the family that interacts with the dog should be aware of, and be consistent with, the house rules!!

A LOT of people think that their commands (cues) like "SIT!" is what drives behavior, but that is an illusion. The cue starts the behavior but the STRENGTH of the behavior depends on the CONSEQUENCES that follow.

Think about a sprinter: The starting pistol fires (ANTECEDENT) and the sprinter starts to run (BEHAVIOR), but HOW FAST he runs and HOW MUCH EFFORT he puts in is influenced by his desire for the gold medal (CONSEQUENCE). If the prize for winning was a pat on the back and a banana, he might not be motivated enough to even finish the race!