How To Train A Dog 101: Dog Behavior Conditioning Guide

In dog training the desire is for the dog to learn certain tasks and modify certain other behaviors to meet our needs; whether training hunting breeds to hunt rabbits or training protection breeds to hunt criminals, the desire to alter and modify behavior is still the same. In order to accomplish these tasks, it is necessary to understand the basic concepts. This article is meant to serve as a refresher of basic concepts and terms.


– what is it exactly and how do you teach the dog how to learn what he is expected to know and understand. Learning is said to be the process where the individual adapts to changes in his environment by responding to changes and appropriate behavior. These changes also must be relatively permanent. One must be able to distinguish between changes in the normal course of behavior due to motivational factors and those characterized as learning. For example, if a dog passes prey, such as a beagle passing a rabbit without chasing it, this could be due to the fact that the dog has not been sufficiently stimulated or if, on the other hand, the dog ignores the prey because it associates it with an earlier experience of an unsuccessful hunt, then it is due to learning. All learning is a connection between at least two (2) experiences involving cause and effect. A complex succession of behavior requires greater amounts of motivation and a stronger association. A dog can be taught to lie down by reflex, classical conditioning, or by reinforcing the behavior/action through operant conditioning. In order to teach a dog to retrieve, a longer sequence of positive reinforcements directed towards the final goal is required. Dogs will often try and solve problems that they are motivated to solve.

Classical conditioning

– is a learning process where an unlearned stimulus is connected with a learned stimulus to elicit the same response (a learned or conditioned response). Pavlov discovered classical conditioning in his experiments with dogs. He presented food to a dog pairing it with a flashing light; the food caused the dog to salivate. Later, when the flashing light alone was presented the dog began to salivate. A conditioned reflex consists of a conditioned stimulus eliciting a conditioned response; this is learning. A reflex is said to be unconditioned when an unconditioned stimulus elicits an unconditioned response. Unconditioned reflexes are not learned they are instinctive.

Operant conditioning

– is based on operants, an operant is anything that changes behavior or influences the environment (reinforcements are operants). If an event or action, following a response, increases the frequency of that response, then it is reinforcement. There is a high expectation that a response that is reinforced will be repeated. Reinforcements are necessary to condition operant behavior in the same manner as two (2) stimuli are necessary to condition a reflex behavior. Reinforcements are operant events or stimuli that increase or decrease the frequency of a certain response. These reinforcements may either be negative or positive. In using operant conditioning, both positive and negative reinforcements are used – not rewards and punishments.

  • Unconditioned Stimulus = Unconditioned Response
  • Conditioned Stimulus = Conditioned Response

The following four (4) rules must be recognized when using conditioning:

  • The stimulus to be conditioned must be neutral before conditioning.
  • The conditioned and unconditioned stimulus must be paired together repeatedly.
  • The conditioned stimulus must be paired together with the unconditioned stimulus. This pairing can be conducted slightly before the connection but never afterwards.
  • After a period of time where the conditioned and unconditioned stimulus are not paired together re-conditioning will always be required.

Basic Principles Of Training

Like young children, dogs are curious and love to explore. They eagerly test their world in a variety of ways. Once your dog realizes you are the source of its needs and wants, it will experiment with different ways of attracting your attention until one or more brings results. The object is to channel these natural inclinations into paths that are socially acceptable, as well as useful and helpful.

From the time a puppy enters your life, it is learning and adapting its behavior to you and its environment. Thoroughly pragmatic, dogs use modes of behavior that yield maximum results with minimum discomfort. Thus, if your dog learns that whining or refusing to eat results in attention, it will continue to whine and turn its nose up at dinner. If eliminating indoors brings less comfort through discipline than the discomfort of waiting to go out, the dog will resist housebreaking. However, if your dog learns right from the start that your way of doing things results in praise and affection, while contrary ways result in firm, unvarying correction, it will choose the easier way. Making sure what you want is the easier and more desirable way is a fair definition of training.

The keywords in training are persistenceconfidence, and consistency. You should feel confident in yourself as a trainer, but your dog should also feel confident you will consistently respond to a particular action with the same reaction. In training, this means certain actions are always prohibited and certain others are always encouraged. Inconsistency is the deadliest enemy of good training, it destroys the secure world in which all dogs, at any age, seek to live. A well-trained dog knows what it can do and what it cannot do, and this is only established by consistent reinforcement. A dog that is praised every time it does right and corrected every time it does wrong will soon learn acceptable behavior.

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