Operant conditioning is the use of
consequences to modify the occurrence and form of behavior. Operant conditioning
is distinguished from classical conditioning (also called respondent conditioning,
or Pavlovian conditioning) in that operant conditioning deals with the
modification of "voluntary behavior" or operant behavior. Operant behavior
"operates" on the environment and is maintained by its consequences, while
classical conditioning deals with the conditioning of respondent behaviors
which are elicited by antecedent conditions.
Operant conditioning is the main training
method of dogs.
Reinforcement and punishment,
the core tools of operant conditioning, are either positive (delivered
following a response), or negative (withdrawn following a response).
This creates a total of four basic consequences, with the addition of a
fifth procedure known as extinction (i.e. no change in consequences
following a response)
It's important to note that organisms are
not spoken of as being reinforced, punished, or extinguished; it is the
response that is reinforced, punished, or extinguished. Additionally,
reinforcement, punishment, and extinction are not terms whose use is restricted
to the laboratory. Naturally occurring consequences can also be said to
reinforce, punish, or extinguish behavior and are not always delivered
Reinforcement is a consequence that
causes a behavior to occur with greater frequency.
Punishment is a consequence that
causes a behavior to occur with less frequency.
Extinction is the lack of any consequence
following a behavior. When a behavior is inconsequential, producing neither
favorable nor unfavorable consequences, it will occur with less frequency.
FEARS IN DOGS
The first three months of a puppy's life
are the period when sociability outweighs fear. Therefore this is the primary
and most important time for puppy socialization. Socialization
is the developmental phase between 3 weeks and 12 weeks that a puppy goes
During the imprinting
phase (3 to 6 weeks), puppies emerge on their own from the litter. They
venture into the surrounding environment. This emergence from the litter
is a gradual and continual learning experience. During this stage of development
puppies learn basic behavioral patterns specific to dogs. While playing,
they practice different body postures, learning what the postures mean
and how they affect their mother and litter mates. They learn what it is
like to bite and be bitten, what barking and other vocalizations mean and
how to make and use them to establish social relationships with other dogs.
Such learning and activity tempers their own biting and vocalizing. From
the age of five weeks, the mother teaches her puppies basic manners. They
learn to be submissive to her leadership and what behaviors are acceptable.
If necessary, she growls, snarls, or snaps at them as a form of discipline.
When weaning the litter, for instance, the mother will discipline her puppies
so that they will leave her alone. Because the mother disciplines them
in a way that they clearly understand, after a few repetitions, the puppies
will respond to a mere glare from her. If a pup has not learned to accept
leadership (and discipline) in its early interactions with dogs, its training
will be more difficult. Puppies that are removed from the nest too early
tend to be nervous, more prone to barking and biting, and less responsive
to discipline. Often they are aggressive with other dogs. Generally speaking,
a puppy taken away from it’s mother and litter mates before seven weeks
of age, may not realize its full potential as a dog and companion. To maximize
the mental and psychological development of puppies, they must remain in
the nest with their mother and litter mates until at least seven weeks
From 8 to 12 weeks of age, puppies go through
a fear imprinting stage. During this time, it is crucial to carefully introduce
a pup to a variety of stimuli every day, and to ensure that the experiences
are positive. This is also a good time to start training the pup in basic
Socializing your dog is a very important
aspect toward having a well-adjusted, well-behaved pet. Even if you don’t
particularly enjoy taking your dog places, it’s still important to get
him out of the house, off your property and into the outside world.
Being a well-socialized dog means being
your pet should be comfortable with many things in life. In order to avoid
behavior problems such as excessive barking, separation anxiety, fear,
aggression and many more, your dog should be socialized with people, other
dogs, bicycles, joggers, noises, trash cans and as many more things as
you can possibly think of.
How does socialization relate to the problems
mentioned above? For example, dogs who are comfortable with people, dogs
and bikes are less likely to bark excessively when normal neighborhood
happenings occur near your house. Dogs who are thoroughly socialized are
far less likely to have confidence-related problems such as separation
anxiety, fear or aggression.
When taking your dog out for socialization,
it is important to handle situations correctly. Remember that whenever
you pet a dog, you’re praising a dog (positive reinforcement). Therefore,
if your dog is afraid of something he’s seeing, be sure not to pet him
while he’s acting afraid or is awaiting your reaction. Instead of feeling
soothed, your pet is likely to feel you are reinforcing his fear, as if
you’re saying, “Good boy, be afraid!” In a well meaning attempt to calm
their dog's fears, many people end up actually reinforcing the dog's
fearful behavior. In effect, the owner inadvertently trains the dog
to be more fearful. Be careful not to reinforce your dog's fearfulness
by offering reassurance. Our protective instincts cause us to reassure
the dog by talking soothingly, petting or even picking up the dog for a
hug. These actions flagrantly reward the dog for fearful behavior. It is
best to act cheerful or just completely ignore your dog when he acts fearful.
Let him learn by his own experience that there is nothing to be afraid
of. Save your praise and reassurance for times when your dog acts with
What is "functional"
or "disfunctional" when it comes to fears in dogs?
That is mainly for
us to decide.
Surely you don't want
to be your hunting Labrador to be afraid of gun shots, so we would call
this a disfunctional fear. The same applies to the sounds of fireworks,
thunder and lightning and city traffic. But you would want your dog to
be careful in traffic, and that requires a certain amount of fear or a
lot of training.
An example: my Labrador
Bas was about four months old when I took him to the countryside for a
stroll in the woods. Near the parking lot he discovered a horse in the
field, and before I could do anything about it Bas was om his way to that
"big dog" to sniff his backside. The horse however didn't appreciate this
gesture and kicked Bas. I can still hear the sound. Bas screamed, didn't
seem to be able to walk, and crawled towards me, the "Alpha male". Now
I could have done two things. 1. I could have taken Bas in my arms and
comfort him, and 2. I could try the "nothing's the matter" approach, and
if that wouldn't work I still could take him to the vets. So I said to
Bas, who was still acting disabled, "Come-on boy! Let's go for a walk!"
and I moved away from him. Bas looked at me, got up, and walked with me
as if nothing had happened, wagging his tail. In the future he wouldn't
be afraid of horses, but he would stay out of the reach of their legs.
This is functional fear.
Labrador puppies are
adorable and almost anyone seems to be enchanted by them. But not everyone
loves puppies or dogs in general. It is a good thing that your puppy knows
that. So if your dog is walking free in the park and jumps at a person
who kind of pushes or kicks him aside, not in a violent way of course,
then you, the "Alpha male", act like nothing's the matter. Next time,
or the time after, your dog will be more careful in approaching strangers.
You can even stage this situation, because your "NO!" may be less effective
than the direct negative reinforcement from the "stranger".
By operant conditioning
you can channel the fearful behavior of your dog, and you should start
with it as soon as your puppy comes to live with you. Don't wait until
your dog is "old enough" in your opinion. The distinction between socialization
and desensitization is an important one because desensitization demands
that you as an owner take an active role in controlling your puppy’s experience
in new environments. Exposing your puppy to the world teaches him what
to expect in certain situations and what you expect him to do. Desensitization
takes place when we introduce the puppy to a variety of people, places,
and animals and teach them how they should act. This means that you have
to be the judge of which fears are functional or disfunctional, and which
fears you want to reinforce or not.
Note: if you
are afraid of something, like fireworks or city traffic, then you are probably
not the right person to help your dog to overcome that particular fear,
because every human emotion, like fear, joy, sadness, anger, has its own
scent, and a dog who knows you will be able to tell the difference between
these scents (emotions). This in itself can be a reinforcement.
Psychology, by Jack Vanderwyk