When dealing with learning or modifying behavior, we are actually working with Classical Conditioning and Operant Conditioning. For the purposes of this article, we will mainly focus on Operant Conditioning. However, if you have an understanding of both it will help immensely. The following information is a brief summary of the types of Conditioning

Classical Conditioning:

This type of conditioning refers to an automatic, or involuntary, response to stimuli. This form of conditioning is commonly referred to as either Pavlovian or respondent conditioning. Dr. Pavlov’s name is associated with it because he conducted many famous experiments that used dogs during the early 20th century.

Classical conditioning occurs when an animal learns to associate things. In other words, this is where the dog will learn that certain behaviors come with special rewards or, sometimes punishment. For example, your dog can learn that if he or she goes “potty” outside, a treat will follow closely behind. Another example is when you say “Do you want to go for a walk”, and your dog gets excited because he or she has already associated that phrase with happiness for going on a walk.

Classical conditioning works on more than just dogs. For instance, your cat will run to its food dish when it hears the can opener because it knows its feeding time. In any case, this type of conditioning produces predictable relationships among events and the animal will earn to respond in anticipation to the first event in order to achieve the second. One more example of classical conditioning is when you teach your dog that a treat will follow the sound of the clicker.

Operant Conditioning The next type of conditioning is a group of principles that describe how animals learn to survive through consequences, or reinforcement. Operant conditioning is achieved when an animal’s actions are affected by the consequences that pursue them. For instance, if you tell your dog to “sit” and give him a treat for doing so, he will be more likely in the future to respond to the word “sit”. Alternatively, if you say “sit” and then smack the dog in the head when he does so, he will be much less likely to “sit” in the future. These responses were formed through operant conditioning. This phrase was first coined in 1938 by B.F. ‘Fred’ Skinner in 1938 in his book “The Behavior of Organisms”.

Operant Conditioning is built around four possible consequences to a behavior. Those consequences are:

1. Positive Reinforcement: This occurs when your dog is rewarded for good behavior. For example, if your dog comes, sits, heels, fetches, or any other positive behavior and you give your dog a treat in return. Rewarding the dog will greatly increase the likelihood of the behavior happening again. It was once said that “Positive reinforcement is the basis of all conditioning” (K. Pryor 1984).

2 Negative Reinforcement: This process involves the removal of a bad consequence when the action is performed. For example if you say “sit” and pull up on the dog’s neck with a choke chain and your dog sits, then you stop choking him with the chain. In this case, when you release the chain you are reinforcing the words “sit”. The use of a choke chain is most likely to quickly teach your dog to “sit” when he hears the word. However, it is widely believed that this is actually a punishment because it is not pleasant for a dog to learn to sit by being choked.

3 Positive Punishment: This involves the addition of a bad consequence when the response is not correct. For example, if you tell your dog to “sit” and he lies down, you jerking him to his feet with the leash is the positive punishment. This consequence will serve to decrease the probability of the same response in the future. Positive punishment is actually quite popular; some examples are a puppy pees in the floor and gets spanked with a rolled-up newspaper. The puppy will learn that if he pees in the floor he gets spanked, therefore, he stops peeing in the floor.

4 Negative Punishment: This will involve the process of removing a good consequence when a certain action is performed. In other words, if you say “sit” and your dog lies down so you put the treat you were going to give him away. This is a negative punishment because the dog did not perform the action you requested so he did not get the treat he wanted. Another example is if you stop petting your dog when she begins to paw and mouth you. This will eventually teach the dog that the behaviors will only lead to being ignored; thus not responding that way in the future.