Its The Dog

Learning through dogs



In training the word “method” is commonly heard. Method refers to the kind of training you take part in, or what quads of operant conditioning you take part in. There are some other dirty details and I’ll talk about those as well. But first; the quads.

The quads of operant conditioning.

During the early 20th century a scientist by the name of B.F. Skinner experimented with learning theory with pigeons, rats and dogs in a laboratory setting. Through his studies he defined a basis of learning in which consequences influenced the future behaviors of an individual organism. Today Skinner’s works are employed in behavior modifications from whales to hamster.

Positive Reward: Through a positive consequence a behavior is strengthened(more likely to occur again).

Negative Reward: A behavior is strengthened through avoiding or ending a negative consequence

Negative Punishment: The withdrawal of a positive consequence results in the decrease of a behavior

Positive Punishment: A behavior is followed by a negative consequence resulting in a decrease in that behavior.

What about Extinction?

Extinction is part of the operant conditioning model, but is often forgotten or considered a phantom quad. Extinction as a learning element is the act of ignoring an unwanted behavior. Under the theory that a behavior that is not reinforced will diminish(read be come extinct). When employing this as part of your lesson plan you will likely encounter extinction bursts where a behavior becomes more intense and frequent prior to diminishing.


There are many different methods at the disposal of trainers(lay persons included). Often you will hear terms such as “dominance” and “positive training” But what do they mean?

Dominance as described by ethologists is the relationship between two or more individual organisms that through force, aggression and submission is established for priority to resources. Resources are defined as food, water, shelter and mates.

Dominance is a term you often hear in traditional training techniques based on captive wolf social interactions. The problems with this are; Dogs are not wolves, dogs are dogs. And wolves in captivity do not behave as they do in the wild due to the stresses of confinement. Forcing a hierarchy on a species that does not establish a solid alpha position can lead to undue stress. Many dog behaviorist have shown that dominance theory can create aggression, or make an aggressive dog worse.

Positive training Positive training takes many forms, and as I said training is liquid and sometimes those forms aren’t exactly positive. Some traditional trainers will call themselves positive trainers despite their use of aversives. Although typically this type of training makes use of positive reward and  negative punishment.

Marker (clicker) training falls under positive training. But as I said some traditional trainers do make use of marker training along with aversives.


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