“Difference between Training/Conditioning and Behavior”

Your dog can know 100 “cues”, “commands” and tricks and yet still have a lot of behavioral issues. This is an example of how all my clients emails start: “My dog is very sweet and smart, but ….”)

There is a big difference between Training/Conditioning and behavior. These two concepts are usually misunderstood or completely unknown even among some professional dog trainers.

Let’s start defining them:

1.-   Training / conditioning  means teaching your dog human language and cues to condition your dog to do certain commands like sit, stay, down etc – usually  with treats and positive reinforcement or sometimes with harsh punishment, which I do not recommend or support.
This is based on Classical Conditioning (Ivan Pavlov) and Operant Conditioning (B.F Skinner)

Classical conditioning is a type of learning that happens unconsciously. When you learn through classical conditioning, an automatic conditioned response (salivating) is paired with a specific stimulus (a “bell ring” followed by a tasty treat”)

Operant Conditioning is a method of learning that employs rewards and punishments for behavior. Through operant conditioning, an association is made between a behavior and a consequence (whether negative or positive) for that behavior.“If you do this : “sit”, you get this: “reward” or if you do this : ¨unwanted behavior¨ you get this: ¨punishment¨.

2.- Behavior Modification means to fade out or change unwanted behaviors. This is based on changing the state of mind of your dog. Using body language, energy and techniques that change the emotional response of your dog. What you accomplish here is basically three things:
1.A relationship with your dog. Who is the driver? Who is the parent?
2.The way you communicate with your dog: Body language and energy. Different from hand signals and treats.
3.The ability to change your pups state of mind or emotional response to triggers or environments.

I a nut shell Training/conditioning is great to teach your dog to DO things and behavior modification is best to teach your dog NOT to do things. The first is based on motivation and rewards the second is based on boundaries, self control and sound state of mind.

Any given human can have very sharpened skills or even be a genius at maths, law, or computer programming but still struggle with social behavior, boundaries, manners or simply adapting to an environment because they are not in a sound state of mind.
Acquiring a specific and sharpened skill doing something doesn´t mean you are social adaptable to an environment, in a healthy state of mind or emotionally sound.

A simpler way of seeing this is thinking of Behavior as social skills (Being in a controlled state of mind and emotionally sound) and thinking of training/conditioning as going to Harvard or MIT , where you can learn very specific skills.

You don´t need to be a genius to be successful with social behavior and you don´t need to be successful with social behavior to be a genius. You can have one, the other, both or none.

The one that will put you or your pup in trouble is the lack of social / behavioral skills. This has to do with Self Control, Respect and Boundaries.

In other words you are not going to go to jail because didn´t go to Yale, but you will go to jail if you destroy Yale.

Most of my clients have a done a lot of dog training/conditioning. They took their pups to obedience class or taught them a good amount of commands and skills like sit, stay, leave it, off, lay down, bring me etc  you name it. Yet they’re dogs are still aggressive, anxious, overexcited, compulsive, fearful etc which tra

The fact is that even after being successful at training all those commands, the pup is still having behavioral issues. Why? Because the lack of Self Control, the lack of clear boundaries and being in an out of controlled state of mind

There are several reasons for this:

1.Your Relationship with your dog. If your pup doesn’t view you as someone they can trust or as a decision maker then he/she will expect you to listen to him or her. An example of this is when I hear the dog owner saying:  ¨My dog only listens to me when he or she wants to¨ or ¨My dog only listens to me when I have a treat on my hand¨.

2. The fact that your dog learns the meaning of a certain human word  (ex: sit)  doesn’t mean that your pup is actually going to obey when you say so. The same way you can know the meaning of a Speed Limit Sign and yet you decide to drive faster 😉

3. Your pup learns to listen to your reward (treats, toys etc) not to you.

4. If your pup is in the wrong state of mind, no matter how much training and conditioning you´ve worked on, your pup wont´t listen. Any animal on fight/flight state of mind will not listen to anyone unless you force them. And forcing does not create acceptance it creates resistance.

Knowing when and how to use and integrate this two different approaches (Training/conditioning and Relationship / Bonding and Commnicating) is key in order to create and to maintain a harmonious relationship.

Usually when you want to add or teach a new behavior you use positive reinforcement (Conditioning and training) and when you want to remove a behavior you focus on changing the state of mind or emotional response of your dog with boundaries, limits and rules (Relationship, Bonding and Communicating).

© Gabriel Riesco, CT, re-edit November 2022