OPERANT CONDITIONING FOR DOGS
When we train our dogs, we actually “condition” them. Conditioning is the process in which the frequency of a behavioral response is increased through reinforcement. Many behavioral dog training consultants today use a form of Operant Conditioning. Classical conditioning techniques are sometimes employed also. Classical conditioning involves making an association between an involuntary response (reflex) and a stimulus, while Operant conditioning is about making an association between a voluntary response or behavior and a consequence.
As above, Operant Conditioning involves the modification of voluntary behavior, operates on the environment and is maintained by its consequences. For example, a dog jumps onto you when you return home from the grocery store. What do you do when the dog jumps? What you do will be the reinforcing property or the consequence. In other words, if you reward (consequence) the dog for jumping (behavior) it will continue to jump. The reward is the consequence! To correct jumping, one must modify the voluntary behavior in all environmental situations that cause the dog to jump. We can do this by positively reinforcing a more desirable behavior. Remember, a consequence can be either rewarding or punishing. A rewarding consequence will cause a behavior to occur with greater frequency while a punishing consequence will cause a behavior to occur with less frequency.
Operant conditioning involves four types of reinforcement.
Positive Reinforcement: This occurs when a behavior is strengthened or repeated as the result of receiving a positive stimulus. As in the example of our dog jumping, the behavior is strengthened if the dog receives positive stimuli such as attention. This will strengthen, thus increase jumping behavior through positive reinforcement!
Negative Reinforcement: This occurs when a behavior is strengthened or repeated as the result of eliminating or avoiding negative stimulus. To use potty training as an example, if a dog is admonished (negative stimuli) for potty behavior in an inappropriate location (inside the house), they will soon begin to “hide” (eliminating or avoiding negative stimuli) where they go potty when going inside. This too will strengthen, thus increase the behavior through negative reinforcement!
Punishment: This occurs when a behavior is weakened or eliminated as the result of experiencing a negative stimulus. For example, a dog hears a high pitched sound (negative stimuli) whenever it barks (behavior). As a result, the barking will be weakened or eliminated.
Extinction: This occurs when a behavior is weakened or eliminated as the result of negative stimulus being discontinued or the result of not experiencing anticipated positive stimulus. For example, when we encourage excited behavior in our dogs, the behavior is positively reinforced. When we no longer encourage the excited behavior (not experiencing anticipated positive stimulus), the behavior will eventually become extinct!
Aversive Conditioning: This occurs when an aversive stimulus is paired with an undesirable behavior in order to reduce or eliminate that behavior. For example, your dog climbs over the fence to get out. You decide to shock the dog to eliminate the behavior. The aversive stimulus is the shock and the undesirable behavior is the fence climbing. PLEASE DO NOT TRY THIS TYPE OF CONDITONING ON YOUR OWN. CONSULT A PROFESSIONAL DOG TRAINER/BEHAVIORIST TO HELP YOU. You CAN make matters worse by incorrectly applying this type of behavior modification.
Note: There is a distinction to make between Punishment and Aversive Conditioning. Aversive conditioning is not punishment, it is a form of learning, but punishment can be used with aversive conditioning. Therefore, punishment can be a form or component of aversive conditioning.
Avoidance Learning: This occurs when a dog learns that a certain response will result in the termination or prevention of aversive stimuli. For example, this occurs in humans when a person avoids a yard that contains a barking dog, especially if the person has previously been attacked by a dog. Also, if a dog approaches a crate containing another dog and the dog inside the crate lashes out aggressively, the approaching dog will learn to avoid that particular crate. Note: This does not always happen as both dogs may lash out with an aggressive response, thus creating an aggressive episode between the two dogs. Then the fun begins!!!