You must have read about Ivan Pavlov’s experiment on dogs and the behavioral theory of classical conditioning that developed as a result of it in your school. But, how does it relate to dog training? Let’s discuss…
What is Classical Conditioning in Dog Training?
Classical conditioning, also often referred to as Pavlovian conditioning, is simply the name for the process of learning by association. It involves the use of specific (neutral) stimuli to produce learned (desired) responses.
Even though classical conditioning isn’t a predominant method of dog training, it is a powerful tool for modifying dogs’ behaviors.
An important and interesting fact to note here is that classical conditioning also occurs naturally. Ever noticed how your dog gets excited as soon as you take the leash out of its place, knowing that it’s time to go for a walk? That’s an example of natural classical conditioning.
How Classical Conditioning Works in Dog Training?
Unlike operant conditioning which involves training dogs to act or behave in certain ways, classical conditioning focuses on their feelings and modifying them to bring a change in their behaviors. In other words, the classical conditioning dog training method uses techniques that drive desired responses unconsciously. It does so by making use of positive stimuli.
Let’s consider an example to get a better idea.
Let’s say your dog is shy and doesn’t feel comfortable meeting new people. With classical conditioning, instead of trying to change his behavior, you work to change that feeling of discomfort. This could be done by praising or treating your dog every time he meets a new person. If done the right way, i.e., without pushing the dog too hard or overly scaring him, it will help your dog build a positive association with meeting new people. Over time, your dog will become less nervous and eventually confident in socializing.
Classical conditioning works on the premise that dogs’ behaviors and actions are driven by their perceptions and emotional reactions. Therefore, instead of changing behaviors, the training method focuses on changing the perceptions and emotional reactions they’re driven by.
What Is Classical Conditioning Used for in Dog Training?
As discussed in the example above, classical conditioning techniques can be used to help dogs learn socialization. They are particularly highly useful in socializing adult dogs.
Classical conditioning can also be used in dog training to help your canine friend overcome fears, control aggression, and reduce overexcitement. In other words, the psychological method of training is highly effective in teaching your dog impulse control.
The Final Word
Classical conditioning is a comprehensive dog training method that involves taking care of multiple factors and consistency. You do not want your dog to feel overwhelmed. The process becomes even more critical when the dog already has negative associations with certain things.
To ensure success with classical conditioning in dog training, get help from a professional dog trainer!