Conditioning Behavior

When trainers use unproven or unscientific methods, the results may not be favorable. To produce effective results it is crucial that the techniques used be rooted in science.


Conditioning Behavior

There are two primary behavior-conditioning styles: classical conditioning and operant conditioning. Both are useful in shaping behavior.

Classical Conditioning

Classical conditioning is also called “Pavlovian conditioning.” Classical conditioning is best defined as the dog understanding a simple association.


The dog never had to learn to salivate when he smelled food. The trainer made a simple association for the dog between bell and food until the dog anticipated food at the sound of the bell.

Operant Conditioning

Operant conditioning
is best defined as teaching a dog that the particular behavior he chooses to do has a particular consequence. This means that the most significant influence on an animal's behavior is what happens immediately after he makes a particular choice of behavior. A dog makes all of its choices based upon the value of the reward it anticipates as a result of that choice. If the behavior is rewarding, the likelihood of choosing that behavior is increased. If the behavior is "not" rewarding, the likelihood of a dog choosing that behavior is significantly decreased. 





There is always a consequence to behaviors with operant conditioning. In the above example, the dog must learn to back away from the food at the sound of the bell in order to get the food. Since backing away from the food is not an automatic response to food (like salivating or moving toward food) but rather something the dog must learn to do, it qualifies as operant conditioning.


Operant conditioning is comprised of 4 quadrants or 4 possible consequences of behavior choices and extinction learning.

   Positive Reinforcement - Something Good can start or be presented, so behavior increases


   Negative Punishment - Something Good can end or be taken away, so behavior decreases

   Positive Punishment - Something Bad can start or be presented, so behavior decreases 

   Negative Reinforcement - Something Bad can end or be taken away, so behavior increases

   Extinction Learning - Occurs when a behavior that had previously been rewarded is no longer effective at achieving the dogs desired reward.


All of my training methods involve positive reinforcement (something rewarding) to increase correct responses, negative punishment (no reward marker) to decrease incorrect responses and extinction learning to eliminate your dogs bad habits.  


Many trainers frequently have a problem with training behaviors that are opposite of the reflexive response dogs have when they feel pain. Even when positive reinforcement is used to reward a favored response, the use of leash corrections, shock collars and other physical punishments for failure usually results in making the dog’s primary motivation for compliance to avoid the correction.


The reflexive response many dogs have to pain and/or force is to crunch up their body, freeze, lie down and/or move away. How many times have you seen a trainer attempt to force a dog into a sitting position, only to have the dog crunch up, lie down or rigidly resist being forced to sit as a response to the physical correction?


Many trainers get themselves into a vicious training cycle when the technique they are trying to use actually prompts the dog to give the opposite behavior they are trying to teach.


So Why are Punishment Techniques Still Popular Today?

Many trainers still use aversive methods, leash corrections, electric, choke and prong collars as their training tools. There are 4 main reasons why.

1. They work.

Punishment techniques have been successful in the past because punishment suppresses all behavioral responses, including the undesirable ones. Unfortunately, some dogs are more sensitive to punishments than other dogs. If all dogs “shut down” or stopped offering behaviors altogether after each leash correction, punishment would not be used at all. The fact that only some dogs shut down or stop offering behavior is not reason enough for all trainers to stop using these techniques.

2. These techniques were used on us.

Our society is widely based on punishment techniques such as tickets for speeding, getting fired for poor job performance, getting yelled at or spanked for violating a rule, etc. Our society does not reward people who obey the speed limit, do their jobs well or follow the rules. These things are expected, not rewarded. It’s easiest to use the techniques with which we are familiar.

3. They can curtail many behavior "symptoms" thus appearing to be effective.

Snapping a leash attached to a choke or prong collar can usually stop a dog from growling at an approaching stranger or dog. The actual problem will still be untreated (and probably made worse) because all the dog learned was to not growl....Very dangerous!

4. The act of punishment itself can be rewarding to the punisher.

Punishment can serve as revenge for whatever the punisher views as deliberate acts of defiance against him or her. Punishment can also be viewed as an effective way to establish and maintain dominance.


Den Solutions Dog Training LLC
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