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Simple Explanations - Training Theory

Updated: Aug 4

For the first time or novice dog owner, ensuring they have a well trained and happy well adjusted canine can seem overwhelming. The cute little ball of fluff doesn't come with a manual so how do you end up with a dog that will be comfortable and relaxed in our society?


Speak to enough trainers, or spend some time on google and you soon learn there are many many different theories out there on how to train your dog, how to treat your dog, what you should do, what you shouldn't do. It can be extremely overwhelming. You can think you are doing everything right, only to be told by someone in a position of responsibility that you are wrong.


It is your responsibility as a pet owner to advocate for your pet, be it a dog, cat, horse or a rat. Your pet relies on you to ensure they are safe, well fed, protected and healthy. They rely on you to teach them how to survive in our human world.


This post wont provide in depth analysis of all the training theories out there. It will however look at the basics of the one in which it can be argued, all others fall under- Operant conditioning.


Operant conditioning was described by B F Skinner back in the 1950's. Skinner used it as a way to explain how a subject will respond to a consequence of a behaviour.





Skinner identified 4 quadrants of behaviour.


The positive quadrants:

These quadrants add something to the situation. A cue occurs, the dog performs a behaviour and is given something. What is added will result in either the behaviour increasing (reinforcement) or decreasing (punishment)


If the behaviour is wanted, such as sitting when asked or coming when called, then the dog is given reinforcement such as food, or a toy, or verbal praise. The goal is to encourage the behaviour to occur again by making it rewarding to the dog.


If the behaviour is unwanted such as barking or lunging at an approaching dog or person then the dog is given a punishment more often than not in form of a correction such as a sharp jerk on the lead. The goal is to discourage the behaviour from occurring again by making it unpleasant.


The negative quadrants

These quadrants remove something to the situation. A cue occurs, the dog performs a behaviour and something is removed. What is removed will result in either the behaviour increasing (reinforcement) or decreasing (punishment)


A dog that barks at people who pass by their yard is experiencing negative reinforcement. The people come towards the dog. the dog barks, the people leave, the dog gets what they want and the behaviour gets reinforced.


A dog that jumps is wanting your attention, by withholding the attention until the dog stops jumping is a form of negative punishment. The attention the dog craves is taken away (not given) and the dog stops jumping as the behaviour is not rewarded and this makes it less appealing as the dog is not getting what they want.


The above is a simple explanation of Skinners operant conditioning. Further information can be found here and here


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