For 40+ years we've helped over 300,000 dog trainers just like you!

Learn more about Leerburg

$6.99 Flat Rate Shipping

Learn more
Ask Cindy Our Newsletter Free Catalog

Leerburg Dog Training Blog

The best source for dog training news, tricks and treats, right from world class leaders in dog training.

The best source for dog training news, tricks and treats, right from world class leaders in dog training.

All right, Instrumental Learning or O.C, get it? or not?

Tired of hearing about OC and people who believe OC means clicker training??? Yes clicker training can be defined by OC or by another name Instrumental Learning as well as by Pavlovian Conditioning. But damned these things tend to come with some politically charged opinions among the uneducated!!

So, let’s look at learning as it pertains to dogs. Or you for that matter. What is positive reinforcement? It has nothing to do with “good”. We must deconstruct this laboratory language! Positive means you added something….like mathematics. Reinforcement is something that results in the creature referenced doing the behavior more! So positive reinforcement pretty much means you gave a critter something that caused it to repeat the behavior. This is viewed as a result, in other words past tense. If I give my kid 20 bucks allowance which includes cleaning his/her room each week and they continue to do this then I have used positive reinforcement to accomplish teaching this behavior. What happens if they fail to clean their room? Then I with hold their 20 bucks! This is negative punishment…get it I took their 20 bucks! This is intended to decrease their behavior of failing to clean their room. If it does change their behavior and they go back to cleaning their room, then we say they learned through negative punishment. But damned, my kids would feel like it wasn’t a big deal to blow it off. 20 bucks not that big of a deal (hell , grandma would give them $$ regardless of my opinion!). So they got punished for failing. Oh, this could be anything, a swat on the ass maybe (ok, I really wasn’t big on corporal punishment but you get the gist), this was me adding a punishment. You failed to do a known task and you you got a an unpleasant experience. But, this approach really relies on the kid knowing what was in store. The kid must be aware of the defiance for this to work! Here is the crux with dogs that I have found over the years, they understand less than we think think they do and defy less than we believe they do. I am not going to say that a spanking….also known as a correction doesn’t work. I got a smack across the mouth for bad mouthing my mother in a K-mart once……..fifty some years later I remember it and I do not badmouth my mom. I knew it was wrong at the time but defied her, and got the back of her hand. This is a perfect example of the application of positive punishment. In dog training it is limited in usefulness until training is well accomplished. Yet, for dogs that have many highly rewarding behaviors like our working dogs have through breeding and rearing, it does have a role. Despite what the uninformed say about it.
There is one other area of reinforcement that we need to discuss. This is where we remove something uncomfortable. So, if you are given a new sweater and it itches something fierce what do you do? You take it off. That sweater just taught you through negative reinforcement. Yep, it is very common in life. Ever wander into a hornets nest? Yep, you get the hell out of there! You have learned through negative reinforcement to not hang out around a hornets nest. Natural consequences! So this experience of having an unpleasant stimulation you need to do something about is used in dog training as well. Many trainers use this technique very successfully. It is part and parcel to a disciplined retrieve, to a place board reinforcement (stay on the board or else). It is the heart of most ecollar training. Now don’t get all positive only on me here! Or I will positively punish you by kicking you off the blog! yep that is positive! Not all positive is pleasant. It is just an addition.
In police dog training we place these results under two broad categories. These are inducements (some may recognize this better as coercion, but I prefer inducement ) and compulsion. In inducements we have things like luring, and capturing using things like food, toys, praise. In compulsions we have punishments using voice, collars, even a heeling stick. There is also enforcement which covers removing an aversive (uncomfortable feeling, stimulation like our sweater example). So when someone tells you that to train in OC you must have a clicker……..look at them sideways cause they only understand a part of the story!  A part I haven’t even included here.


  1. Avatar
    November 17, 2018

    This is exactly what I was looking for. Thanks for wrnitig!

Sorry, comments are closed.

$25 off Michael Ellis 3 Day Workshop and Raising Your Puppy with Michael Ellis, and $15 off The Foundation of Puppy Bitework with Michael Ellis, good through Thursday, August 6, 2020 at 11:59 PM CT