Operant conditioning is a method of learning in which a dog forms connections between his reactions, activities and behavior with the outcomes, which happen in his surroundings and mean something to him.
A dog simply always behaves in a manner that makes him feel better or avoids a deterioration of the way he feels, which is why he is an active participant in a learning process.
This method is about learning by experimenting.
In canine studies there are four basic outcomes that cause a dog either repeat or avoid certain behaviors.
By acting in a certain manner, the dog gets something he likes. Forming an association between a dog’s behavior and a positive outcome, you may well expect the dog to repeat this behavior more frequently.
- A dog sits down, therefore he receives a piece of food.
- A dog barks at a person he found, therefore he gets a ball he likes.
- A dog runs to his handler, therefore the handler plays with him.
- A dog waits in a car, therefore he deserves to run around freely.
- A dog sits in front of you, therefore he deserves to be stroked.
NEGATIVE REINFORCEMENT (STIMULATION)
By acting in a certain manner, the dog makes an unpleasant feeling stop. Forming an association between the dog’s behavior and an end to an unpleasant feeling, you may well expect the dog to keep repeating this behavior in order for a certain unpleasant feeling to stop.
- A dog pulls the leash, therefore he feels unpleasantly. The moment he stops pulling, you loosen the leash, and the unpleasant feeling stops.
- A dog does not obey the recall command, therefore you start “grumbling” loudly. The moment the dog starts running towards you, the “grumbling” noises stop.
By behaving in an undesired manner, the dog is taken away something he likes. Due to the association between the dog’s behavior and deprivation of a reward, the dog is expected to abandon these undesired behaviors in the future.
- A dog is in a sitting position, and he is receiving rewards. The moment he gets up, the rewarding stops.
- A dog cooperates, and he is receiving rewards. When he stops participating, you stop rewarding and ignore him.
- A dog is chewing on his bone. When he growls at you, you take the bone away.
- While searching, a dog ignores a person who is hiding, therefore you tie him and thus enable him to get the final reward.
POSITIVE PUNISHMENT (CORRECTION)
By acting in a certain manner, the dog gets an unpleasant feeling. Due to the association between the dog’s behavior and an unpleasant feeling as an outcome − correction − the dog will abandon this behavior in the future.
(I hereby stress that, unlike the examples above, I do not recommend you do the following; I only wish to explain the meaning of positive punishment.)
- A dog picks food from the floor, therefore his leash is jerked strongly.
- A dog jumps at you, therefore you hit him with your hand.
- A dog jumps on the kitchen counter, therefore he gets burned on the cooker.
- A dog growls at another dog, therefore he gets attacked.
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