Monday, April 9, 2018

Learning Theory 101

Learning theory basics, part 1- Classical conditioning in dogs: beyond the training session

Most of us have heard of classical conditioning. Pavlov demonstrated how a neutral stimulus could become meaningful to a dog when followed by something that elicits a natural response. So when a bell, meaningless in itself, is consistently followed with food, the sound of the bell alone triggers salivation. This discovery had a major influence on how we understood learning and was a key element of Behaviorism, the most influential school of thought in the early 20th century. Even though today our understanding of behavior has broadened to also include cognitive, genetic and biological influences, classical conditioning still plays a major part in our dog’s behavior. And it’s not limited to training! All through the day, no matter how old, our dogs develop new associations that will influence how they feel, react and interact with the world around them. As their guardians and the source of most of their most basic needs, we play a fundamental role in what our pooch learns and how he feels about the world he lives in. A good understanding of classical conditioning can make a significant difference in influencing Fido’s behavior.

As Bob Bailey often says, Pavlov is always sitting on our shoulder. In other words, in every interaction between our dog and us or between our dog and the environment lies the potential to develop an association, positive, negative or neutral with the event. Since there is no need to learn to like food, dislike an electric shock or run away from a loud noise, this category of stimuli is said to be unconditioned. In other words, they didn’t require any prior learning to elicit a reaction. The principal behind classical conditioning is very straightforward. Anything neutral, like a sound, a place, a word or an event, followed with something naturally meaningful to the dogs (unconditioned), like food, an electric shock or a loud sound can become associated with either positive or negative things happening.  Read the entire article

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