Operant conditioning is a type of learning in which an individual’s behavior is modified by the consequences that follow it. The behavior itself is referred to as the operant, and the consequences that follow it are either reinforcing or punishing. Reinforcing consequences increase the likelihood that the behavior will be repeated in the future, while punishing consequences decrease the likelihood that the behavior will be repeated.
Operant Conditioning With Dogs
Operant conditioning is a type of learning in which a dog learns to associate a particular behavior with a particular consequence. In the case of dogs, operant conditioning can be used to teach the animal to perform a specific behavior in response to a particular stimulus, such as a command from its owner.
This method of learning 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¨.
How does it happen with dogs?
One of the most famous examples of operant conditioning in dogs is the “sit” command. When the dog sits on command, it is typically rewarded with a treat or praise from its owner. Over time, the dog learns that sitting on command is a behavior that is rewarded, and it will be more likely to perform the behavior in the future. This is called Positive Reinforcement, but there are three other ways or quadrants in operant conditioning: Negative Reinforcement, Positive Punishment, and Negative Punishment
Science can be confusing?
Let’s bring some clarity. Science works with definitions. There are four quadrants of operant conditioning: Positive Reinforcement, Negative Reinforcement, Positive Punishment, and Negative Punishment. The scientific meaning of positive and negative are different of what you might think. Positive and negative in scientific terms has nothing to do with good or bad. Positive means you’re adding something and negative means you’re removing something. Reinforcement means you want to increase the likelihood of a behavior to be repeated and Punishment means you want to decrease he likelihood of a behavior not to be repeated. Let’s break it down:
- Positive reinforcement occurs when a behavior is followed by a pleasant consequence, and as a result, the behavior is more likely to be repeated in the future. In other words you’re adding a factor (Positive) to increase the likelihood of a desired behavior (Reinforcement). For example, a dog who receives a tasty treat for coming to you when called is more likely to come to you in the future because the food is the adding factor that will increase the likelihood of your dog coming to you (the desired behavior).
- Negative reinforcement occurs when a behavior results in the removal of an unpleasant consequence, and as a result, the behavior is more likely to be repeated in the future. In other words you’re removing a factor (negative) to increase the likelihood of a desired behavior (Reinforcement). For example, when working with a dog that is scared of other dogs. When another dog is near by, you wait until the dog offers a particular behavior (such as looking to you before allowing the dog to move away. Here, the behavior of looking at you after seeing another dog is being reinforced by taking away the scary situation of being too close to another dog.
- Positive punishment occurs when a behavior is followed by an unpleasant consequence, and as a result, the behavior is less likely to be repeated in the future. In other words you’re adding a factor (Positive) to decrease the likelihood of an undesired behavior (Punishment). For example, if a dog is “zapped” with an e-collar (adding factor, Positive) for attacking another dog, the behavior of attacking another dog is less likely to be repeated in the future because the shock is an unpleasant consequence (Punishment)
- Negative punishment occurs when a behavior results in the removal of a pleasant consequence, and as a result, the behavior is less likely to be repeated in the future. In other words you’re removing a factor to decrease the likelihood of an undesired behavior. For example, a dog jumps on you and you remove yourself turning your back and ignoring your dog (Removing factor, Negative). As a result, your dog will be less likely to jump on you because the result is the loss of your attention which will decrease the likelihood of the undesired behavior (Punishment).
What you need to know.
It’s important to note that operant conditioning is based on consequence regardless wether the consequence is good, bad, pleasant or unpleasant. The effectiveness of the punishment and reinforcement depends on the intensity, consistency and timing of the outcome. Also, it’s important to consider the ethical implications of using punishment, since it could lead to negative effects on a dog’s emotional and physical well-being.
I personally use Positive Reinforcement to train dogs on obedience and to teach them new behaviors. I use Classical Conditioning and Behavioral Training based on Emotional States of mind to modify and eliminate unwanted behaviors. Behavioral Modification Training is based on emotional responses and States of Mind not on consequence to manipulate behavior. To learn more about B.M.T (Behavioral Modification Training) click here:
Why is B.F Skinner important in dog training?
Burrhus Frederic Skinner is referred to as the Father of operant conditioning, and his work is frequently cited in connection with this topic. His books initiated his lifelong study of operant conditioning and its application to human and animal behavior.
Here are 3 of his key Principles:
- Behavior that is positively reinforced will reoccur; intermittent reinforcement is particularly effective
- Information should be presented in small amounts so that responses can be reinforced (“shaping”)
- Reinforcements will generalize across similar stimuli (“stimulus generalization”) producing secondary conditioning
Overall, Skinner’s work on operant conditioning has helped to bring clarity on the mechanisms of learning and behavior, and has had a lasting impact on the field of behavioral and social psychology.
In conclusion, operant conditioning is a type of learning in which an individual’s behavior is modified by the consequences that follow it. There are four quadrants of operant conditioning: positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive punishment, and negative punishment. Overall, operant conditioning is a powerful tool for training dogs and other animals. By associating specific behaviors with rewards, trainers can help animals learn to perform a wide range of tasks and behaviors.
© Gabriel Riesco, Pawmos Dog Training LLC | All Rights Reserved January 2023