Animal Training Commands & Terms of Confusion

Before you decide that you understand what is being said, you should always question the person you are having a conversation with how he or she is using a phrase. The same applies to animal training commands:

Terms of ConfusionNegative Reinforcement, Flooding, Extinction, Oh My!

In a pub where the bartender was fluent in 187 distinct space languages, a man from Pluto and a lady from Mars met each other and fell in love. Because of the striking similarities between many space languages, it is not uncommon for individuals from distant worlds to be able to communicate with one another without the need for translation or interpretation. After maintaining significant eye contact with the Plutonian for a few minutes, the Martican ambled up to him and said, “Hey, Pluto, do you want to barble my flinkum?”

The Plutonian’s eyes glowed with excitement, and he said, “Dwing!”

The bartender gave me a sideways glance before saying, “She’ll come back without him… and she’ll be upset.”

“How do you know?”

“Well, in both of their mother languages, the word “mine” functions as a possessive, which means that anything belongs to the one who is doing the speaking, is that correct?”


And the meaning of “Dwing” in both English and German is “I was hoping you’d propose that!”

“Very obviously…”

“However, it is terrible since in the Martian language barble means “kiss” and flinkum means “lovely lips.”

“For a space bar, that’s very mild! What does it imply when translated into Plutonian?

“To barble someone meant to “go on a date with,” and the word “brother” comes from the word “flinkum.”

In the field of animal training, you might not end up introducing a cute guy to your brother, but you just might walk away from a conversation thinking you know what was just said, while the person you were talking with took away something very different from the conversation. This might happen even if you don’t end up introducing a cute guy to your brother. When discussing conduct, it is of the utmost importance to choose a language that is understood by everybody. If you believe that “negative reinforcement” means to remove something after a behavior and notice that the rate of the conduct rises, but the person that you are talking to thinks that it implies any form of unpleasant disciplinary step, then you are not speaking with each other. Because different trainers use different terms to describe the same procedures and sometimes use the same term to describe different procedures, you should always ask the person you are speaking with how he or she is using the word before deciding that you understand what is being said. Trainers use different terms to describe the same procedures and sometimes use the same term to describe different procedures.

The majority of the techniques that are used in the field of clicker training originate from the scientific field of behavior analysis. However, there are sometimes inconsistencies to be found. Because it would make my job much simpler if everyone used the technical behavior analytic terms, it goes without saying that I would prefer that everyone do so. However, since I am aware that communities of people already use a variety of terms, the most important thing to keep in mind is what I’ve already said. Always be sure to ask the individual you are speaking with how they are defining a phrase before using it yourself.

I’d want to go over a few words and explain why it’s crucial that we always use them in consistent ways. I’ll start with the word “consistent.”

Reinforcement that is Unfavorable

The word “negative reinforcement” is one that is often used, but unfortunately, it is also frequently misunderstood in today’s environment. Even though trainers are often more knowledgeable than the average person, I’m going to go over this material nevertheless so that we can get this conversation started. If you see an animal, even a human animal, avoiding or attempting to flee from anything, you may deduce that negative reinforcement is taking place someplace. This is true even if the animal in question is a human being.

You are undoubtedly aware that reinforcement refers to a process in which an event occurs in conjunction with a behavior (either at the same time or subsequently), and as a consequence, the rate at which that behavior occurs either increases or remains the same. When we talk about rates, we are referring to the frequency with which a certain activity occurs. If we stated the behavior became worse, we may mean it got louder, it might mean it got longer, or it might indicate it started happening earlier. During the shaping process, you are able to make changes to those behavioral features… a descriptor deserving of its own own essay!

When discussing patterns of behavior, the word “negative” is a mathematical concept. It doesna€™t convey a moral judgment. (It’s not always the case, but negative reinforcement may be a good thing.) When the phrase “negative reinforcement” is added to the definition of “reinforcement,” the definition becomes somewhat more robust. A technique known as “negative reinforcement” is one in which something is removed from the surrounding environment in order to bring about an increase in the frequency of a certain behavior or to keep it from decreasing. Note that the pace of the activity is still increasing or maintaining itself, despite the fact that the term suggests that it is negative. When discussing reinforcement, people almost often refer to the process of establishing or maintaining a habit. When used in this context, the word “negative” refers to the removal of that event from its surrounding environment.

When we think about operant training, one of the villains that often comes to mind is negative reinforcement. It is true that there are situations in which it is utilized in a coercive or unpleasant manner. On the other hand, it may be used in ways that are not only more successful than positive reinforcement but also less unpleasant.

Let’s pretend that Fido is terrified of other dogs, but we insist on taking him for walks in areas where there are other dogs and feeding him Scooby Snacks. It’s possible that he’ll accept them, but eating doesn’t seem to be his primary concern right now. You are correct in asserting that it is dependent on the dog in question. But even if you train a dog to eat when other dogs are around, the dog could still be afraid of other canines despite having learned the behavior. If you want to educate a dog not to be frightened of other dogs, the best method to teach him is to offer him with escape from other dogs whenever he performs any behavior that is not as terrified as what he used to do. This is the most effective approach to teach him how to overcome his fear of other dogs. If he exhibits a soothing signal (for more information on this topic, read On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals, a charming little book written by Turid Rugaasa), such as licking his lips, smelling the ground, or diverting his eyes, someone should remove the other dog from the area. You will go forward a great deal more quickly as a result. Strange as it may seem, this also has the effect of making the other dogs less hostile.


In addition to its application in dog training and horse training, the phrase “flooding” is also used in the training of parrots and horses. The practice of negative reinforcement is sometimes confused with floods. However, there is a distinction between the two. When a student demonstrates the desired behavior, the unpleasant stimulus is removed from their environment as part of a method known as negative reinforcement. For instance, I’ve seen various trainers of different kinds of animals firmly grip animals in order to make them feel more at ease. Traditional parrot trainers may use techniques such as wrapping a bird in a towel and holding it motionless until the bird has stopped fighting before releasing it. (By the way, I am not advocating that you do this.) Even if there are more humane methods to handle animals, many animals learn to accept being handled in this manner.

When compared to negative reinforcement, flooding is distinguished by the fact that no matter what the animal tries, he is unable to escape until he is freed. This is not the case with negative reinforcement. There is no miraculous action that can make the uncomfortable circumstance go away, thus there is no way to escape it. The conclusion is not something he can influence. When using negative reinforcement, the animal is allowed to leave the training area if he or she fulfills a specified behavior requirement. It is up to him to decide how he will get away. Certain actions lead to the animal gaining reward in the form of freedom from the unpleasant circumstance, which serves as reinforcement for the animal. It is important to keep in mind that each time you see escape functioning as a reinforcer, you are observing negative reinforcement.

The method of negative reinforcement would be utilized by the parrot trainer if he kept a struggling bird still by wrapping him in a towel until the bird stood calmly on his arm, and then as soon as the bird stood calmly on his arm, he removed the towel. If the bird continued to stand calmly on his arm more often in the future, the trainer would continue to use this method. The term “flooding” refers to the situation in which the trainer kept the bird stationary no matter what the bird tried, and the bird eventually gave up. The fact that he was standing still on his arm despite the floods did not cause the towel to be taken away. There is no way that the parrot might make an impact on its surroundings. The use of negative reinforcement will allow the parrot to have an effect on its surroundings via the performance of certain actions.

Escape Extinction

Did you know that it’s possible to stop a behavior that’s being adversely reinforced? If your dog always sits because you stop pulling up on his collar when he does, but then you no longer stop pulling up on his collar when he does, he may eventually stop bothering to sit, unless sitting is more comfortable than doing something else. If your dog always stands up because you stop pulling up on his collar when he does, he may eventually stop bothering to stand up. (The release of pressure being applied to the collar will serve as the reinforcer in this scenario.) Why should he be sitting there? He is going to suffocate regardless of what you do! This phenomenon is referred to as escape extinction in behavior analysis. In addition, it is a kind of what is referred to as flooding in the context of training. An extinction takes place when a reinforcer that has been supplied for a specific behavior ceases being delivered, regardless of whether the reinforcer in question was a positive or negative reinforcer. Stopping the animal from escaping is the first step in eliminating a habit that is being perpetuated in a harmful way.

Why does it matter what we call stuff?

The significance of the object is not dependent on the name. The most important aspects are the technique and how it influences people’s actions. If you are using flooding to help your dog do calming signals more often in the presence of other dogs, but you tell someone else that you are using negative reinforcement (escape), they may find that they do not have the same results you get when they go home and try it on their own. This is because they may not be using the same technique as you are. If you believe that you are engaging in negative reinforcement, but in reality, you are engaging in escape extinction, then you have two difficulties. Reinforcement has the effect of amplifying behaviors, whereas extinction has the opposite effect. In the event that you are discussing two distinct topics, you run the risk of instructing someone in a manner that will result in outcomes that are substantially dissimilar to those you had in mind.


As a result, I’m going to repeat myself. Always make sure you question the individual you are conversing with how they are referring to a certain phrase so that we can be certain that we are using the same terminology. Oh, and be wary of weird people in public spaces like space bars.

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