After the first vocabulary lesson (Read the first part) you now know that a professional dog trainer isn't likely to use the term "correction" because it isn't a scientific word and has no use in the field. I promised we'd talk about the difference between positive reinforcement and rewards, so off we go…
At first blush, the words reinforcement and reward look like they might mean the same thing. But as we look a little bit deeper, you'll see the difference – and how that difference can affect your dog's training.
"Reward" refers to giving (or receiving) something to compensate for a service. Whereas "reinforcement" refers to strengthening something. You reward a person for turning in a criminal by giving them a sum of money. You reinforce a bridge with steel beams and make it stronger.
In terms of behavior, the only thing increases the chance that behavior will happen again is reinforcement. Here's the difference between a reward and a reinforcement: the person (or dog) gets to choose the reinforcer (you can't tell me that an Almond Joy bar is good, especially if I don't like almonds!). But in a reward, the thing that is given (cash in our example above) is just laid out – regardless of who the recipient is or if cash is valuable to them.
So what's the difference? Well, if you're Bill Gates, what good is $1,000? Not a whole lot. How appealing is an apple pie if you've just finished a five-course meal, complete with double chocolate mousse as dessert? A reward doesn't ensure that behavior will repeat. If the reward is truly a reinforcement, the behavior will repeat. But if the reward isn't reinforcing, the behavior probably won't happen again.
A reinforcement, by definition, increases the chances that the behavior will recur. So if you gave me tickets to the opera as a reward for watching your dog, I probably won't volunteer to watch your dog anymore – I don't like the opera! However, if you gave me tickets to a Redskins game at FedEx field, I'd be asking you when I could watch your dog again!
The bottom line: make sure you know —and provide — things your dog loves as reinforcement for behavior you like. Not things you think your dog should love, but things that really float his boat.
Each of my dogs requires a different reinforcement for a job well done. For Tango, a chance to swim is on the top of his list. For Nemo, being chased by me is a huge reinforcement. And Lily would like nothing more than some one-on-one attention from my husband. If I tried to reinforce Tango's good behavior by chasing him (Nemo's favorite thing), I'd probably see less of Tango's good behavior because I'm not really reinforcing it.
Remember: the dog knows his own reinforcements – you can't tell him what he should like. No more than I can tell you that you should like boiled brussel sprouts because they're so good for you.