Sunday, February 05, 2017 12:30 AM | Bob Self (Administrator)

While this work is not a dissertation on the specifics of conditioning it is interesting and important to understand how Pavlov’s famous experiment revealed that dogs could be conditioned to give an unconditioned response.  In other words, a previously neutral stimulus that caused no particular reaction could be conditioned to cause a very specific response. The following video depicts how this discovery was made.

Pavlov’s Famous Experiment


In day-to-day life a dog's learning goes beyond the unconditioned response.  Left to their own devices dogs normally do those things that are to their advantage and avoid those that are to their detriment. In other words, a dog will repeat acts that are gratifying and repress those that cause dissatisfaction. These operant behavior patterns depend upon the dog learning the consequences of its acts. Dog training is no different, the dog must learn that certain acts always bring him pleasure and are to its advantage.  The dog will repeat these.

As the likelihood that pleasurable behaviors will be repeated so is it that non-pleasurable behaviors will not.  This is where many contemporary training methods fall short in their approach.  Encouraging behavior only with food, praise, or sound is missing half of the equation.  Training a dog desirable behaviors so it receives a pleasant reward is wonderful concept, but this does little if nothing to dissuade the dogs from engaging in undesirable behaviors.

Physical corrections are un-pleasurable, but this is not to say that they must be painful or cruel.  Physical correction is simply not satisfying to the dog and therefore undesired behaviors are discouraged from recurring.

Many behaviorists classify the pleasant as reward and the unpleasant as punishment. Similarly trainer’s actions that cause pleasant reactions are called positive motivations and those that cause punishment are classified negative motivations. Hence, leash corrections are considered negative and giving praise or food would be considered positive.

Training is based on a balanced approach between the positive and negative. There are dogs that are highly motivated by a handler’s praise, while others (even from the same litter) seem to have little need of approval. Food can motivate one dog to a great extent while another will ignore it.  Some dogs will respond to much less physical correction than others.  Balanced training does not indicate equal parts of positive and negative reinforcement. Rather it is an approach that suggests trainers assert humane, measured actions in order to achieve desired repeated behaviors from the dog.

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