Language of Behavior: Learning

Do you wonder why your dog chooses a certain behavior? Why those paws return to your counter again and again? Why that lab launches from the end of the hall to jump on you when you come home? Well, there is a reason why all animals choose certain behaviors over others and that reason is Consequence.

Operant Conditioning: Conditioning is another word for learning. "Operant conditioning is a method of learning that occurs through rewards and punishments for behavior. Through operant conditioning, an individual makes an association between a particular behavior and a consequence (Skinner, 1938)"

Consequences determine the future likelihood of a certain behavior choice. This simple, yet extremely important sentence contains the answers to most behavior/training questions. And changing a recurring (reinforced) behavior is dependent on your noticing the consequence that supports your dog's behavior choice.

Words that make us cross our eyes: positive punishment, positive reinforcement, negative punishment, negative reinforcement. What does it all mean and do I really need to know this? I just want my dog to stop stealing my sandwich from the counter!

Here's what you need to know:

1. Reinforcement: to make stronger or more likely to happen in the future

2. Punishment: to make weaker or less likely to happen in the future

3. Consequence: what happens immediately after the behavior choice

4. Behavior will increase if the consequence is reinforcing (works) for the learner, not to you, but to the dog.

So, if you leave your sandwich on the counter in reach of the dog, the dog chooses to jump on the counter and gets the sandwich. Jumping on the counter will happen again, unless the dog doesn't like your sandwich, in that case, jumping on the counter will be less likely to happen again. Leave that sandwich on the counter at random times, and the dog is likely to jump up a lot, because the sandwich might be there, but I digress and schedules of reinforcement are a topic for another day.

A: Sandwich on counter-environmental antecedent B: Jumping on counter-behavior choice

C: Grab a yummy sandwich-consequence

Prediction: dog will jump on counter again looking for more sandwiches

Let's change the consequence and see what happens

A: Sandwich on counter-antecedent

B: Jumping on counter-behavior choice

C: Grab yucky lettuce-consequence

Prediction: dog will jump on counter less as dog doesn't like lettuce

How can I stop the dog from jumping on the counter? There are many ways, but the first issue is me-I need to stop leaving my sandwich on the counter where the dog can steal it.


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