Blog - Operant Conditioning

There are so many posts on operant conditioning but the one’s that I’ve seen the most of are looking at it from a human perspective rather than from the dogs which, in my mind, can really muddy the waters and lead to confusion and it always seems to document using food, harsh handling and various bits of equipment, however this isn’t always the case.

The thing to remember in relation to operant conditioning, and classical for that matter, is that it is a formula that has been written by academics to document something that is naturally occurring in animal behaviour.

Based on Edward Thorndike’s Law of Effect (1898), which is basically that for every action there is a consequence and that our actions will impact future behaviour, B.F. Skinner expanded it (1948) to include an extra element, that of Reinforcement, and split it into 4 quadrants

  • something good starts (positive reinforcement… +R)
  • something good stops (negative punishment… -P)
  • something bad starts (positive punishment… +P)
  • something bad stops (negative reinforcement… -R)

To give an example of something that happened many years ago when I was running a gundog training day for a colleague. It was for a trainer that I’d worked with before but we were at a different field for the training and had a packed lunch with us. We sat down for our sandwiches and one of the labradors nipped in and grabbed a sandwich from a plate. Without thinking I immediately took the labradors jaws in my hands, opened its mouth and shoogled out the sandwich… it was something that happened, was very quick and over in a blink of an eye, however, in that moment we went through all 4 elements (quadrants) of operant conditioning and, from the dog’s perspective were as follows: -

Dog grabs sandwich – something good starts (+R positive reinforcement)
I grab dog – something bad starts (+P positive punishment)
Remove sandwich – something good stops (-P negative punishment)
I release dog – something bad stops (-R negative reinforcement)

When you look at it like this and from the dog’s perspective it’s really simple.

And, in relation to the video…

Dog leaves place something bad starts +P Ah-Ah and frowning (off camera)
Water withheld something good stops -P
Dog turns away from hosepipe something bad stops -R The frown
Dog returns to place something good starts +R water given

first published 1 March 2024

Blog - Operant Conditioning

There are so many posts on operant conditioning but the one’s that I’ve seen the most of are looking at it from a human perspective rather than from the dogs which, in my mind, can really muddy the waters and lead to confusion and it always seems to document using food, harsh handling and various bits of equipment, however this isn’t always the case.

The thing to remember in relation to operant conditioning, and classical for that matter, is that it is a formula that has been written by academics to document something that is naturally occurring in animal behaviour.

Based on Edward Thorndike’s Law of Effect (1898), which is basically that for every action there is a consequence and that our actions will impact future behaviour, B.F. Skinner expanded it (1948) to include an extra element, that of Reinforcement, and split it into 4 quadrants

  • something good starts (positive reinforcement… +R)
  • something good stops (negative punishment… -P)
  • something bad starts (positive punishment… +P)
  • something bad stops (negative reinforcement… -R)

To give an example of something that happened many years ago when I was running a gundog training day for a colleague. It was for a trainer that I’d worked with before but we were at a different field for the training and had a packed lunch with us. We sat down for our sandwiches and one of the labradors nipped in and grabbed a sandwich from a plate. Without thinking I immediately took the labradors jaws in my hands, opened its mouth and shoogled out the sandwich… it was something that happened, was very quick and over in a blink of an eye, however, in that moment we went through all 4 elements (quadrants) of operant conditioning and, from the dog’s perspective were as follows: -

Dog grabs sandwich – something good starts (+R positive reinforcement)
I grab dog – something bad starts (+P positive punishment)
Remove sandwich – something good stops (-P negative punishment)
I release dog – something bad stops (-R negative reinforcement)

When you look at it like this and from the dog’s perspective it’s really simple.

And, in relation to the video below…

Dog leaves place something bad starts +P Ah-Ah and frowning (off camera)
Water withheld something good stops -P
Dog turns away from hosepipe something bad stops -R The frown
Dog returns to place something good starts +R water given

first published 1 March 2024