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Training your dog through conditioning
Published 2010/12/20

Conditioning is another word for learning. Dogs can learn through classical conditioning or operant conditioning.

Classical conditioning is when a dog, faced with a given stimulus, exhibits a given behaviour because he knows that this stimulus triggers an action. For example, when you put a leash on your dog for the first time to take him for a walk, the dog won’t react, but after three or four times, he will associate the stimulus (the leash) with the walk. The dog will then become excited every time he sees the leash. The leash, initially a non-conditioned stimulus which meant nothing to him, becomes a conditioned stimulus as soon as it elicits a reaction on his part. The dog then learns to associate “leash” with “walk”.

Operant conditioning is when a dog learns that a given behaviour triggers a given reaction. For example, if a dog happens to put his head on your lap and you pet him, he learns that this behaviour leads to petting, and will repeat this behaviour whenever he wants affection. Conversely, if you pet a dog when he jumps on you, you are only reinforcing this bad behaviour!

When you come to understand how dogs learn, you come to understand your dog’s behaviours. The golden rule of training is to positively reinforce good behaviours and to ignore bad behaviours. Dogs aren’t born with good manners but they can definitely learn to repeat good behaviours if you positively reinforce them!

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