Certified and professional dog trainers have science on their side. Dog training methods used by educated and well versed dog trainers are based on sound scientific principles that really do work. A good people trainer can take the complex world of learning theory and put it into a methodology that a pet dog owner can use and achieve effective results from. The DogSmith is an organization that not only understands the principles of learning theory but has the ability to teach pet dog owners so they too can take advantage of a professional dog trainer’s tool-kit. This promotes effective, efficient and fun dog training in an environment free of harsh methods and aversives and many other fall outs associated with harsh and in-humane training methods.
At the DogSmith we accept that dogs learn in two key ways.
Task-conscious or acquisition learning. The Pet Dog’s Environment
Acquisition learning is seen as going on all the time. It is ‘concrete, immediate and confined to a specific activity; it is not concerned with general principles’. Examples include much of the learning involved in and around the home. Some have referred to this kind of learning as unconscious or implicit. Rogers (2003: 21), however, suggests that it might be better to speak of it as having a consciousness of the task. In other words the learner may not be conscious of learning (Rogers 2003).
Learning-conscious or formalized learning. The Training Class
Formalized learning arises from the process of facilitating learning. It is ‘educative learning’ rather than the accumulation of experience. To this extent there is a consciousness of learning – subjects are aware that the task they are engaged in entails learning. ‘Learning itself is the task. What formalized learning does is to make learning more conscious in order to enhance it’ (Rogers 2003: 27). It involves guided episodes of learning.
When approached in this way it becomes clear that these contrasting ways of learning can appear in the same context. Both are present in the subjects living environment. Because we, The DogSmith believe dog’s learn in two ways we found it necessary to develop our MTR approach to Dog Training supported by our ARRF philosophy.
ARRF © methodology
A = Active Involvement. Active involvement in the learning process is critical. When the student is actively participating, rather than passively observing, greater learning takes place. This applies to both the dog and its owner.
R = Repetition. Newly acquired skills need to be repeated frequently in a variety of contexts to ensure they are robust. This means the skills you and your dog learn n will be effective in and around your home and out and about around town. Frequent re petition in various scenarios ensures the skill is truly owned so the student can not only generalize its behaviors in new situations but can also discriminate when appropriate.
R = Reward. Positive reinforcements, in the form of rewards for accomplishing skills successfully, are far more effective to ensure learning takes place. Rewards such as food and toys are quickly re placed by life rewards, such as attention and petting, when behaviors are under cue control.
F = Finite Objectives. Clearly defined and attainable objectives make it clear to student and instructor what is to be learned and taught. With clear objectives the student and instructor can easily recognize when a particular skill has been mastered and during the process we train – test -train to ensure our objectives are met.
ARRF evolved from our understanding and knowledge of respondent and operant conditioning and how we can utilize this scientific approach to training dogs. MTR, Management, Training and Relationship are the components that a dog owner has to understand to ensure their dog is receptive to learning, able to learn and managed throughout the learning process.
How Does Respondent Conditioning Take Place
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.
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.
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.
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.
There are four types of operant learning, defined as such because the behavior operates on the environment. Two of the quadrants of operant conditioning strengthen behaviors, referred to as reinforcements. The other two of the operant conditioning quadrants weaken behavior, referred to as punishments. The quadrants are referred to as a negative reinforcement, positive reinforcement, negative punishment and positive punishment. The terms positive and negative do not describe the consequence, they indicate whether a stimulus, has been added (positive) or subtracted (negative) to increase or weaken the preceding behavior.
Both positive and negative reinforcement increase the strength of the behavior due to its consequence. With positive reinforcement the behavior is followed by the appearance of or an increase in the intensity of a stimulus. The stimulus is called a positive reinforcement as it is something the subject seeks out therefore it reinforcers the behavior that precedes it. With negative reinforcement the behavior is strengthened by the subject’s ability to avoid or escape an aversive stimulus, thus negative reinforcement is sometimes referred to as escape-avoidance learning. An experience must have three characteristics to qualify as reinforcement. The behavior must have a consequence, the behavior must increase in strength and the increase in strength must be a result of the consequence.
As behavior is the function of its consequences and whereas reinforcement strengthens the likelihood of a behavior then punishments reduce the strength of the behavior. Punishers are aversive are something a subject works to avoid. When an aversive event is added to a situation then positive punishment has taken place. Negative punishment subtracts something from the situation, like privileges, and is sometimes called penalty training. Experiences must have three characteristics to qualify as punishment. First, the behavior must have a consequence, second the behavior must decrease in strength and finally the reduction in strength must be a result of the consequence.
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Chance, P. (2008) Learning and Behavior, Wadsworth Cengage Learning