Operant conditioning – the basics

In the bulletin “you say potato” we talked about the language used to describe dog training such as positive reinforcement etc.

In this bulletin I want to put these terms into their scientific context.

Behaviour (and the training of it) is covered by Operant conditioning. This is often used as a catch all phrase which includes Pavlovian (classic) conditioning but we will look at that in later bulletins.

Operant conditioning is also known as instrumental learning. In a nutshell it concerns the way animals learn as they operate in their environment.

If they do something that they find rewarding they are more likely to do it again.

If they do something they find unrewarding they are less likely to do it again.

So as trainers we need to

REWARD BEHAVIOUR YOU WANT, IGNORE BEHAVIOUR YOU DON’T.

Operant conditioning has 4 quadrants – 4 outcomes to any behaviour. Any action will be affected by one of the outcomes but they are not all equal.

For training purposes, positive reinforcement is the best outcome as it is the only one that applies to the actual behaviour we want and has no negative side affects. Positive punishment, negative punishment and negative reinforcement all contain punishing elements and may lead to pain, fear, avoidance, stress or displacement behaviour. They are also applied to behaviours we don’t want which still leaves us having to do something to get the behaviour we want.

Remember

REWARD BEHAVIOUR YOU WANT, IGNORE BEHAVIOUR YOU DON’T.

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