Got Curiosity?

If you have a pet, you’re probably a curious person. As a child, I’d lie next to my dog, Freddy, and wonder what he was thinking. And even though I’m a professional trainer now, I still don’t know what my dog or cat is thinking. I’ve given up on figuring that one out! Instead, I’ve studied how they learn. Ever wonder if training your dog and cat has anything in common with our own education? It absolutely does!

“All living things want to make good things happen and bad things go away.” Pat Miller. If we keep that thought in mind, understanding the science behind animal training is pretty easy! There are 2 types of learning. Classical Conditioning, discovered by Ivan Pavlov and Operant Conditioning, discovered by B.F. Skinner.

Classical Conditioning is pairing an unlearned stimulus with a primary reinforcer, eliciting a reflexive response. Because the bell ringing (unlearned stimulus) was paired with meat powder (primary reinforcer), Pavlov’s dogs drooled (reflexive response) whenever they heard that bell ring.

Operant Conditioning is consequence driven. Behaviors that are rewarded increase, and behaviors that are punished decrease.

Both Operant Conditioning and Classical Conditioning are happening at the same time. Like our pets, we’re constantly making positive and negative associations with everyday tasks. I don’t mind picking up dry cleaning because they have a candy dish by the register!

Because both types of learning are occurring simultaneously, punishment should be humane and used as little as possible. I want a training partner not a training slave. If I have failed to set my dog up for success, she gets a time out for her misbehavior. During her time out, I make a training plan to prevent the undesirable behavior from reoccurring.

Now that you understand both consequences and associations affect behavior, start troubleshooting some behavior challenges you are having with your pets. Pssst, this learning science works on people too! Don’t forget to check back next week for a quiz about jumping, barking, chewing, pulling on leash, and stealing laundry. Not that YOUR dog does any of these, but other dogs have been known to. Aren’t you curious?

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