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A brief outline of learning theory

A brief outline of learning theory

There is plenty of misunderstanding about training terms and meanings, so here they are in a nutshell

POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT (R+)

A reward is added to increase the likelihood that behavior will be repeated. An example is rewarding a dog with food if he comes when called. After a few repetitions the dog will learn to return quickly to his owner in anticipation of the reward – what a wonderful way for a dog to learn.

NEGATIVE REINFORCEMENT (R-)

An aversive is removed to increase the likelihood that behavior will be repeated. An example of this is to apply force to push a dog into a sit, removing the physical pressure only when he sits. The dog learns to sit to avoid the physical pressure – not the most pleasant way to learn.

POSITIVE PUNISHMENT (P+)

An aversive is added to stop behavior. An example of this is to use a spray collar to stop a dog from barking. The collar is activated by the sound and ceases working when the dog stops barking. However, the distress of the punishment is likely to linger and the dog may become fearful, anticipating something unpleasant (the spray) whenever he hears a similar hissing sound from any source. This is not a pleasant way to train a dog.

NEGATIVE PUNISHMENT (P-)

A potential reward is removed to stop behavior. An example of this is to turn or move away without looking at or speaking to a dog that is barking for attention. He will learn that his undesirable behavior lost the potential reward (the attention of the person). This is the only form of punishment that has a place in modern dog training.

CLASSICAL CONDITIONING

Using this method an involuntary response from a dog can be paired with an unrelated and neutral stimulus. It was made famous by Pavlov who noticed that dogs salivate before feeding, a response not under the dog’s control (unconditioned response). He then began to pair the neutral sound of a bell with feeding and the dogs began salivating at the sound in anticipation of food. A bell had now become the conditioned stimulus. The sound of the clicker is often introduced using Classical Conditioning in preparation for using it as a valuable Operant Conditioning tool.

OPERANT CONDITIONING

A dog learns that his own actions influence the consequences of his behavior. People often ask why their dog repeats a behavior that they feel they have punished before, so it helps to understand if you see Operant Conditioning through the dog’s eyes. For example, when a dog jumps up for a fuss and successfully gains attention, even if he is punished by the person shouting at him or pushing him away, the reward (i.e. attention) outweighs the consequence and it is therefore an effective behavior, which will be repeated by the dog. On the other hand if the dog is consistently ignored when he jumps up and only rewarded with attention for keeping four feet on the floor, he will learn that jumping up is not an effective method of getting somebody to notice him. The consequence of his actions will influence him not to jump up to get attention.

From 100 Ways to Train the Perfect Dog, Copyright by Sarah Fisher, licensed through ContentOro, Inc and used by arrangement with D & C

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