Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Dog Behavior Part 1: Operant Conditioning

Dembre & I have decided to do a couple of posts on dog behavior and training. For the first post we would like to introduce basic dog behavior/psychology terms.
  • Operant Conditioning forms an association between a behavior and a consequence. The following definitions are the four ways operant conditioning can be applied.
  •  Negative punishment: In an attempt to decrease the likelihood of a behavior occurring in the future, an operant response is followed by the removal of an appetitive stimulus. In more simplified terms: when the dog does something unwanted you decrease the likeliness of the unwanted behavior being repeated by taking away something that the dog wants (i.e. When a dog jumps you take away any form of attention until the dog settles down.) 
  •  Positive punishment: something undesirable is given in response to the behavior. (i.e. Your dog lunges towards a distraction while on leash. In response you give a forceful leash correction. You are implementing something that the dog dislikes to decrease the likeliness of him repeating the undesirable behavior. 
  •  Negative Reinforcement: Negative Reinforcement can be thought of as nagging. If you pull on a dogs leash until he sits he will learn that when he sits the nagging (leash pulling) stops. This method of dog training can become abusive if misused, but can also be affective. 
  • Positive Reinforcement: Positive reinforcement is a behavioral technique in which desired behaviors are increased through the use of rewards, also known as positive reinforcers. A good dog trainer uses positive reinforcement every day. An example of positive reinforcement is using treats to reward a dog for sitting. Another example of positive reinforcement is showing excitement and giving praise when your dog comes on command. 
Operant Conditioning is also applied to child training. In the training of ever species of animal Operant Conditioning is used. Bob and Marian Bailey founded chicken camps where students can come and apply operant conditioning to chickens. In their camps they assigned each trainee to one or more chickens and had them teach the chickens three tasks over three days. Yes, they trained chickens. I find myself mainly using positive punishment and positive reinforcement in my dog training. I think that negative punishment is very effective and is one of the best ways to correct a fearful dog. I will go more in depth on reinforcement in my next post!

If you are interested in learning more about operant conditioning I highly recommend reading How To Behave So Your Dog Behaves by Sophia Yin D.V.M.. From her scientific standing Dr. Yin provides lots of information on the "new" scientific approach to dog training. She gives effective ways to use positive and negative punishment, and positive and negative reinforcement in every day training. For more on how dogs think I would suggest reading Dog Talk by John Ross. Ross, an experienced professional dog trainer, talks about the way dogs communicate and how to apply what we learn to more effectively communicate with your dog. Though this book talks absolutely nothing about all the things I talked about this post, it gives a very clear understanding that we need to stop thinking that our dogs think the same way we do!

Hope you enjoyed this,
~Elijah & Dembre

    No matter how scientific dog training is, it's not easy. The most important thing is that the dog and trainer have mutual respect for each other.


    1. Negative punishment is not thought to be abusive and necessary. Positive punishment generally is (ie correct a dog using a shock, prong or choke collar when he jumps on you). A good book to read is by Karen Pryor called Don't Shoot the Dog.

    2. also you have word verification/CAPTCHA enabled in order to comment on your blog. CAPTCHA is nearly impossible to navigate for people with vision and other disabilities. If you would like your blog to be accessable to all I would suggest removing it. Blogger spam filter does a good job of catching spam comments or you could turn on comment moderation if you are concerned about spam.

    3. Hi Elijah thanks for removing the CAPTCHA. Blogger has it set automatically to enable CAPTCHA unless you manually turn the setting off. CAPTCHA makes an otherwise very accessable blog program unaccessible.

      I agree that there is a time and place for each of the 4 quadrants of conditioning. Over use and abuse of any 1 of the 4 is detrimental to the dog-human bond. The mark of a good dog trainer is knowing how much, how little, when, where and why to apply any conditioner when teaching a dog a skill. I think it is very commendable that you are taking the time to learn about learning therory and how it applies to all animal behaivor, including dog and human. Many people just want to teach the dog to 'sit' they don't want to know the whys behind it. I am impressed and encouraged that you are asking such questions and learning such things. I hope you go far in the dog world.

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