There are two commonly
accepted theories that describe the learning or "conditioning"
process of dogs. One is Classical Conditioning and the other
one is Operant Conditioning.
Classical Conditioning (or Pavlovian Conditioning)
was first demonstrated by Ivan Petrovich Pavlov in the late
1890s and early 1900s. Pavlov describes how the introduction
of two different stimuli to a dog over a period of time (one
with significance to the dog and another one without), can
condition the dog to develop a response to the stimulus
without significance even if presented alone at a later time.
In Pavlov's classic example, he demonstrated how his dogs
already started to salivate whenever he rang a bell. In the
months leading up to this experiment, he used to ring the
bell at the same time he fed his dogs. Many traditional dog
training methods are based on the classical conditioning principal.
A jerk on the dogs leash towards the ground that immediately follows the verbal "down" cue is still a common method to teach a dog
to lie down on command. In this scenario, the meaningful stimuli
is the jerk on the leash and the otherwise meaningless one is
the verbal cue. Dogs that learn this way will obey the down cue only to try to avoid the unpleasant jerk on the leash. For
further reading on classical conditioning click here to visit
Operant Conditioning. Most modern-day dog trainers
(should) have switched to training techniques that are based on learning
principals developed by Burrhus Frederic Skinner (1904-1990).
His theory of Operant Conditioning explains how a subject
can learn that voluntarily provided behaviors enable it to
"operate" (or modify) its environment to achieve a certain
result. For a dog, this means that it can accomplish both
good and bad things simply by choosing behaviors that are
either rewarding or penalizing. At the heart of Skinner's
work are four different consequences which are grouped in
tools of reinforcement and tools of punishment (with the addition of a fifth procedure known as extinction).
Reinforcement is a consequence that causes a behavior
to occur with greater frequency.
Punishment is a consequence that causes a behavior to
occur with less frequency.
Extinction is the lack of any consequence following a meaningless behavior.
The four procedures are:
Positive reinforcement. Your dog's action results
in a pleasant experience. Example: You call your dog by his
name and he comes running to you right away. You say "Awesome!"
and feed him a treat. Since this was a positive experience
for your dog, it is very likely that he will come again next time
you call him.
Negative reinforcement. Your dog's action eliminates
something unpleasant. Example: You are walking your dog and
he is pulling on his leash until his choke chain tightens
around his neck. This causes your dog discomfort. Your dog
stops pulling and the discomfort goes away. Unless his desire
to drag you somewhere else at his choosing outweighs his desire
to make the discomfort go away, he is likely to stop pulling
on his leash.
Positive punishment. Your dog's action results
in an unpleasant experience. Example: You catch your dog trying
to steel a cookie from the kitchen counter. At the moment
he launches for it, you drop a metal serving tray on the ground
and support the loud noise with a firm "Nooo!". Your dog jumps
away from the counter and crouches towards you to appease
you. Since this was a negative experience for your dog, he
will probably not try to steal from the kitchen counter again.
Negative punishment. Your dog's action eliminates
something pleasant. Example: You tell your dog to "Sit" and
move a treat slowly from above his muzzle towards his neck.
Your dog tries to launch for the treat but does not sit down.
You take the treat and put it back in your pocket. Since your
dog did not get rewarded for its behavior there is a good
chance that he will try something different next time.
Avoidance learning is a type of learning in which a certain behavior results in the cessation of an aversive stimulus. For example, performing the behavior of shielding one's eyes when in the sunlight (or going indoors) will help avoid the aversive stimulation of having light in one's eyes.
Extinction occurs when a behavior that had previously been reinforced is no longer effective. In the Skinner box experiment, this is the rat pushing the lever and being rewarded with a food pellet several times, and then pushing the lever again and never receiving a food pellet again. Eventually the rat would cease pushing the lever.
Non-contingent reinforcement refers to delivery of reinforcing stimuli regardless of the organism's (aberrant) behavior. The idea is that the target behavior decreases because it is no longer necessary to receive the reinforcement. This typically entails time-based delivery of stimuli identified as maintaining aberrant behavior, which serves to decrease the rate of the target behavior. As no measured behavior is identified as being strengthened, there is controversy surrounding the use of the term non-contingent "reinforcement".
Even though all of the above outlined procedures of conditioning
can help you train your dog, I want to focus on just two of
them: Positive Reinforcement and Negative Punishment. I am
not claiming that I am only sticking to those 2 procedures
with Andy, but there is a considerable risk that something
goes wrong if you are new to training dogs and start out with
positive punishment. Positive punishment is a very common
method to stop undesired behavior. The downside of it is that
your dog learns only what was wrong and not what is expected
from him. In addition, positive punishment that is not proportionate
to the offence can be outright abuse. It takes a lot of experience
to evaluate your dog's behavior, choose the right method and
dosage of punishment and then act on it almost within a blink
on an eye - because if you are too late your dog probably
does not even remember what he was punished for.
Operant Conditioning is not only a better way to teach your dog, it is the only way to teach your dog how to use his brain to solve "problems" by himself. Once he has learned that he can "operate" his environment to achieve a certain result, you will be surprised how quickly he learns new things. More about this in chapter 10.
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