A Simple Explanation of Respondent Conditioning

As a dog training professional many of your clients will present behavioral or training challenges that are a result of an emotional response, a problematic emotional response.

The observable behavior you see, the operant behavior is elicited because the dog is afraid, scared, anxious etc.  To change the problematic operant behavior you have to change the emotional response.  In order to change the dogs emotional response you need to understand respondent conditioning.

 

 

Here is a simple and succinct explanation

Within an organism there are two types of reflexes, unconditioned reflexes and conditioned reflexes. An unconditioned reflex (UR) is unlearned and occurs unconditionally, whereas a conditioned reflex (CR) is acquired and considered impermanent (Chance 2008 p 63).

An unconditioned reflex consists of an unconditioned stimulus (US) and an unconditioned response (UR).  An unconditioned stimulus is something that when presented evokes a natural, unconditioned, response,  such as blinking when air is pushed towards the eyelid or sweating when stressed or scared. Unconditioned reflexes are important for an animal’s survival.  Freeze dried liver offered to a dog is an example of a US and the dog drooling is an example of the resulting UR.

A conditioned reflex occurs when a conditioned stimulus (CS) creates a conditioned response (CR).  This is a learned response to a given set of conditions occurring in the environment.  Pavlov recognized that any stimulus could become a conditioned stimulus when paired repeatedly with an unconditioned stimulus (Chance 2008 p 64).

Respondent conditioning takes place when an unconditioned stimulus that elicits an unconditioned response is repeatedly paired with a neutral stimulus. As a result of conditioning, the neutral stimulus becomes a conditioned stimulus that reliably elicits a conditioned response.  Each single pairing is considered a trial. With respondent conditioning the presentation of the two stimuli, neutral and unconditioned, are presented regardless of the behavior the individual is exhibiting. The behavior elicited is a reflex response (Change 2008 p 64).

High order conditioning takes place when a well established conditioned stimulus is paired with a neutral stimulus to elicit a conditioned response. High order conditioning takes place in the absence of an unconditioned stimulus. With high order conditioning many more stimuli can come to elicit conditional responses not just those paired with an unconditioned stimulus, thus enhancing the ability of the animal to adapt and survive.  But high order conditioning also affects and influences many emotional reactions such as fear (Chance 2008 p 66).

 

Chance, P. (2008) Learning and Behavior, Wadsworth Cengage Learning

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