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The Basics of Science Based Dog Training

L E S S O N T I M E! What is operant conditioning? Grow your knowledge on the topic and take your next step towards a more positive relationship between you and your pup.





























Operant Conditioning

Operant conditioning is an associative learning process by which humans and their pets, alike, learn to distinguish between positive behaviors and punishable behaviors. Scientific research published on the topic indicates that our behaviors, both man and dog, are affected by the outcome of our last experience with the behavior (i.e. the response to a past behavior affects whether we will continue to perform the behavior).


Many trainers will claim to use “science-based training,” yet they will only make use of one of the four quadrants associated with operant conditioning. With this post, I hope to provide you with a well-rounded understanding of each quadrant.

Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is the presentation of a good consequence when an action or preferred reaction is performed.


Dog Example: You say "sit," your dog sits, and you dispense him a treat. This increases the likelihood of the response in the future.


Human Example: A child completes a chore, so the child receives an allowance. This increases the likelihood of the response in the future.


Negative Reinforcement


Negative reinforcement is the removal of a bad consequence when an action or preferred reaction is performed.


Dog Example: You say "sit" and pull up on your dog's collar until he sits. When the situation arises again, your dog's response time (the time it takes to stop performing the undesired behavior) will decrease.


Human Example: Your upstairs neighbor is playing loud music. You bang on the ceiling until they stop. When the situation arises again, your neighbor's response time (the time it takes to stop performing the undesired behavior) will decrease.


Positive Punishment


Positive punishment is the presentation of a bad consequence when an action or reaction is performed.


Dog Example: You are cooking, and your dog jumps on the counter. You immediately pop him on the nose. Your response serves to decrease the likelihood of the action in the future.


Human Example: A child touches a hot oven, so the child gets a burn on their hand. The negative outcome/pain serves to decrease the likelihood of the action in the future.


Negative Punishment


Negative punishment is the removal of a good consequence when an action or reaction is performed.


Dog Example: You tell your dog to "sit." Instead, he lies down, so you eat the treat you were about to give him. This serves to decrease the likelihood of the response in the future.


Human Example: Your child talks back to you, so you ground them or take something away from them. This serves to decrease the likelihood of the response in the future.

Reinforcement, whether positive or negative causes the behavior to become more likely.


Punishment, whether positive or negative causes the behavior to become less likely.

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