Operant Conditioning

An associatory learning process

Operant conditioning is a form of associatory learning process through which the force of a behaviour is modified by reinforcement or punishment. It is also a process that is used to bring about such learning.

What does it mean?

It means that there are also consequences for actions - both positive and negative

All training methods, no matter what they are called are based on the principles of classical and operant conditioning. Punishment and rewards are an integral part of the theory that explains a few of the more basic methods of learning and applies to humans and animals alike.

Learning the psychology behind dog training through operant conditioning examples enables you to successfully teach your GSD to carryout commands given or desired behaviour.

Positive vs. negative training

The term “positive” in the contexts of dog training, is used to imply that they use rewards as the main component of their training technique. The term “negative” tis used to imply an obedience method based on corrections is used. When is we are honest both groups use “positive” and “negative” within their training history with their dogs. Here is why…

Operant conditioning is how we learn to associate our own behaviour with a consequence.
There are 4 possibilities

  1. Positive Reinforcement (+R)
  2. Positive Punishment (+P)
  3. Negative Reinforcement (-R)
  4. Negative Punishment (-P)

Let’s break those 4 possibilities down into their basic components.

Positive and negative does not imply “good” or “bad”. Positive means to give (i.e.: give a treat, give a jerk on the leash). Whereas, negative means to take away (i.e.: take away your attention, take away the pressure on a choke chain). Therefore, positive can be “good” or “bad” depending on what you are giving your GSD and negative can also be “good” or “bad” depending on what you take away.

Reinforcement and punishment does not imply “good” or “bad” by your standardsReinforcement means that the behaviour will happen more often.

Punishment means that the behaviour will happen less often.

Reinforcement and punishment are defined by the outcome!

You give your GSD a pat on the head every time he/she sits next to you. You assume that is “positive reinforcement”. 

But now you notice that your GSD sits next to you less frequently and perhaps is even reluctant. You think to yourself, “Why is this happening? I always reward him/her with a pat.”. The reason this is happening is very simple, he/she may actually HATE being patted on the head! Some dogs seriously HATE head patting. Therefore, a nice scratch behind the ears or under the chin may be more appropriate

So, let’s put this into prospective, you did give him/her something – the pat on the head – BUT it is something he/she dislikes therefore, making it a punishment and your GSD sitting next to you less often.

You just unintentionally used positive punishment!

It is only a reward if it increases the behaviour
an aversive event is only a punishment if it decreases the behaviour.

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