I had always thought that a No Reward Marker was sometimes justified if used for information when a dog has choices (the use of No to reprimand a dog being a different thing).
What about telling a dog ‘No’ when he’s ahead on a walk about to turn in a direction you don’t want to go when there is a choice of paths, particularly if he’s looking round for your input?
Should we just let him get it wrong and find out for himself when he loses us?
Pickle, my Cocker Spaniel, will often lose his ball in the field, having dropped it to go on a sniffing spree. Pickle doesn’t use his eyes unless it’s to chase something moving, he’s a sniffer. I say ‘Fetch your ball’ and he will run about, nose down and tail wagging, my voice a kind of remote control.
An encouraging ‘Yes Yes YES’ as he heads in the right direction, and as he turns away ‘No No Nooooooo’ in a low and unenthusiastic tone always gets him turning in the right direction again.
From a couple of feet away he will see the ball and jump on it, triumphant.
In another thought-provoking article, Stanley Coren asks in Psychology Today: Should Trainers Tell Dogs When Their Behavior Is Wrong? Is telling your dog when he has done the right thing all you need for training?
He relates a story of a Golden Retriever who was told Yes for selecting the correct object and Sorry for the wrong one.
To quote Coren: “I asked the trainer why she chose to use this “no reward marker” and she said, “Telling the dog that it is wrong simply provides him with extra information and allows him to abandon any dead-end responses and move on to other behaviors that are more likely to be rewarded. I have read a number of times, and been to workshops where several well-known dog trainers have claimed that telling the dog when he is incorrect as well as when he is doing the right thing is a more efficient method of training.”
Here is Zak George explaining it’s not the word No itself, it’s how you say it.
Coren quotes Skinner who says something different. “Every time you reward an animal for doing the correct thing you strengthen that response and make it more likely that it will occur again. But signalling to an animal that it is wrong makes that very signal a kind of punisher. And the truth is that animals want to avoid anything associated with any situation where they might get punished.”
Coren writes of a thesis written by Naomi Rotenberg, who was a Master’s degree student at the City University of New York’s Hunter College. Rotenberg’s study involved 27 dogs which were being trained to perform a simple trick. Half of the dogs were taught using only the reward sound of a clicker, the other half was taught with both a clicker but also a chosen sound which told the dog that he had made a mistake.
The results, says Coren, “were quite unambiguous. The dogs who were rewarded for their correct responses and who simply had their incorrect responses ignored did considerably better…… The dogs who are simply working to discover the correct behaviors, and are rewarded for those behaviors, keep at the training task and ultimately succeed, while those dogs who are not only told when they have made the correct response but are also told when they have made the wrong response seem to become despondent and give up on the whole learning task.”
It seems I am wrong about letting my dog Pickle know when he’s running off in the wrong direction.
It’s like playing the ‘hotter, hotter – colder colder’ game with only the ‘hotters’.
I wonder how many people, in real life, can avoid using no reward markers, never conveying to the dog that he’s about to do something you don’t want him to do?
I shall be going out soon to see if Pickle finds his blue ball more quickly if I only use the ‘Yes Yes Yes’ and keep quiet when he is going the wrong way.
Here is the story of a dog I went to where it was a big challenge to avoid NRMs like ‘Uh-uh’ to pre-empt unwanted behaviour.
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