Classical conditioning (also known as Pavlovian or respondent conditioning) is a behavioural procedure in which a biologically potent stimulus (e.g., food) is paired with a previously neutral stimulus (e.g., a bell). It also refers to the learning process that results from this pairing, through which the neutral stimulus comes to elicit a response (e.g., salivation) that is usually similar to the one elicited by the potent stimulus.
In other words, Classical conditioning is how we learn to associate a neutral stimulus (like a sound, or a light) with a consequence. Classical conditioning means “basic learning”. That’s it. It’s one of the simplest ways dogs (and all animals including humans) learn. Once this principle is understood. you will be able to truly see what is going on behind some “enigmatic” pet behaviours.
These classical conditioning examples are not because GSDs have a sixth sense. It is simply that your GSD has learned predict what will happen through classical conditioning.
There is a signal (something the dog hears, sees, or feels). This is called “neutral stimulus” by physiologists because without any learning, it doesn’t mean anything, it’s neutral. For example:
Immediately after the signal appears, something else happens. This event is called the “unconditioned stimulus or US” by psychologists because it triggers an “unconditioned response or UR” in the animal. These are events that naturally, and without training, elicit a reaction in the animal (a feeling, an action, an internal state, etc.).
After these events happen in that same sequence several times, classical conditioning happens. The dog learns (is conditioned) that the signal predicts an event. Now the signal (which is now called the “Conditioned stimulus or CS) alone will elicit the particular reaction (now called conditioned reaction or CR).
The dog has learned to associate two events
During classical conditioning our brain connects the two events to make them “feel” like they are the same thing!
This means that you will be able to train your GSD to feel good about a particular signal, such as a Marker Word or the sound of a clicker. This signal can then be used as a reward in and of itself.
Caution is needed to avoid accidently conditioning your GSD fearful of certain things. The classic example is leash-aggression. When dogs are young and you first take them out for walks, it is natural to feel a little protective of your new puppy. When other dogs approach you unconsciously pull on the leash and tense up. Your puppy feels your reaction and eventually will see other dogs and tense up mimicking your behaviour. Then, when combined with multiple intense encounters this becomes a learned behaviour leaving you with a GSD who is reactive only when he/she is leashed.
Classical conditioning is also known as “Pavlovian Conditioning”. Ivan Pavlov, a Russian physiologist, discovered this learning principle by accident. He was a scientist interested in gastric function. He used dogs to study salivation.
In his experiment: