A behavior that elicits a consequence is called an operant behavior. Operant conditioning concentrates on the relationship between various outcomes of operant behaviors. Outcomes can be positive consequences, negative consequences, or punishment.
Positive reinforcement is when you encourage an operant behavior by rewarding it with something good. Examples of rewards include treats, playing with a toy, silly talk, petting, running and pretty much anything that your dog likes. In terms of physiology, most positive reinforcement methods stimulate a dopamine response at the basal ganglia (brain stem). It makes them happy, feel good, and makes him want to do the action again.
Negative reinforcement is a very subtle concept, and it can have profound effects on what your dog learns. Negative reinforcement is when you take something bad/unpleasant away. Contrary to popular belief, negative reinforcement is NOT a punishment.
Punishment is when you do something unpleasant in response to a behavior your dog exhibited. This includes spraying with a water bottle, smacking, pinching, blowing, shouting, rubbing noses in urine and feces, news paper hitting, and any other aversive behavior. I personally would never condone punishment as an effective way to train your dog. Punishment tends to stimulate an adrenal response, which is also known as the "fight or flight" response hard wired into pretty much everything that lives. In addition to the adrenaline response, all sorts of stress hormones can be released as well. These stress hormones interfere with the learning functions of the brain, which is completely counterproductive when it comes to training. Using punishment can lead to a fearful dog, which in turn can lead to a dog that is unstable or one that will bite (which is a fear response) in stressful situations.
Working from the outside in.
Traditional training methods involve physically manipulating your dog's body and then using a cue with those manipulations. For instance; Steadily pulling upwards on a collar, the dog has two choices. Choke or sit. The dog Sits. You say "sit" as soon as his bum moves towards the ground. Another example would be pulling your dogs collar towards the ground to teach them "down".
These methods do work, and the dog does learn, but it is not the most effective way to teach your dog.
Working from the inside out.
This is where clicker training shines. You are teaching your dog to WANT to listen to you. Every interaction you have with the dog ends in a positive outcome. When you use clicker training, you are teaching your dog how to learn. You open up an amazing avenue for communication which helps improve the canine-human bond, which results in your dog wanting to listen and learn. In short, you get your dream dog and your dog gets his "dream" owner.
Contrast the above example of "sit" and "down" with the following.
Understand this; If a dog is bored, under-exercised, and generally under stimulated, barking turns into a very rewarding and fun game to pass the time. In most cases, the reward is the intrinsic value of barking itself. It's fun, it's something to do, and it normally gets a response. We need to figure out a way to make it so that barking is no longer rewarding
The most common way to teach a dog to stop barking with clicker training is to use the idea of behavior extinction. Extinction is when a behavior or action is no longer rewarding, so the dog stops doing it because it simply isn't worth doing. The way we accomplish this is to change how your dog is receiving his reinforcement to bark. We are going to teach your dog a new trick, and get rid of an annoying habit all in one swell foop (or is that fell swoop). More on this later, if I get enough requests I will put up a step-by step on how to teach a dog to stop barking.
Read the next section for clicker training theory.