Technical jargon can sound impressive, scary, intimidating or any combination of the above. I get that there are proper, technical definitions. However, using jargon to explain jargon isn’t very helpful to people that are new to dog training and rehabilitation.
Think of this as a stepping stone, one that I recognize is taking liberties. The concepts are accurate, but the words are less formal. Hopefully you won’t need migraine medication after looking up a definition.
If you’re learning about learning theory, I hope this layman’s guide helps get you over the initial hump. From there you can progress to more technical versions.
Please note, just because a strategy is included in the dictionary, it does not mean that it is effective, without risk or appropriate for your dog. This is just a glossary of terms with examples.
Classical Conditioning (AKA Pavlovian Conditioning AKA Respondent Conditioning)
Take something meaningless and pair it repeatedly with something good or bad. Meaningless things take on meaning by association.
Easy example: I run the can opener. I repeatedly feed the cat a can of food. The cat starts salivating when it hears a can opener.
Or, you could just click here and watch this clip from The Office where the neutral Window’s sound is paired with Altoids. That leads to the Window’s sound triggering dry mouth.
Dog example: Get the leash, go for a walk. If the dog likes walks, it will become happy and excited to see the leash. Be careful, if the dog is scared of walks, the dog can become scared at the sight of the leash.
Process: You can teach your dog to like things through careful association. The word, “yes” makes the dog salivate because “yes” has been paired with treats. Conversely, “No” can be paired with a leash correction, triggering fear.
Conditioned Emotional Response (CER+ or CER-)
Learned emotional reactions that come from our experiences. They can be pleasant, neutral or negative. We learn that things predict “good”, “bad” or neutral feelings. We develop feelings about things that predict these outcomes.
Easy example: A special phone ring tone means a loved one is calling. We feel happy when we hear that ring tone. (Or the opposite if we associate the sound with someone that we dread talking to.)
Dog example: Sight of training gear such as a collar, treat pouch or special leash means fun times. Dog feels happy at seeing these things. (CER+) The dog can also learn that the sight of nail clippers means pain, so they feel dread or fear if they see nail clippers. (CER-)
When you break previous conditioning by NOT following through with the consequence..
Easy example: The neighbour’s car alarm repeatedly goes off which used to mean danger. The alarm keeps sounding for no reason, so now it means nothing.
Dog example: Your dog has learned that the sound of the clicker means food. You click but do NOT give food. Eventually the dog realizes that the click has become meaningless. A second example would be a dog that received attention for barking. If attention is no longer given, the dog stops barking because it is no longer rewarded.
Process: Present the trigger and do NOT follow with the expected consequence. You can extinguish associations, and you can also extinguish behaviours.
Take something that has previously been classically conditioned. Pair it with something different to change the reaction.
Easy example: You hate loud rock music. You have a child, that child decides to take up drums and play in a rock band. You get so much joy out of watching your child play, you start liking rock music.
Dog example: The dog is afraid of strange people. Each time your dog sees a stranger, you give them special, tasty treats. With repetition, the dog starts feeling happy when they see strangers.
Process: Present the scary thing, and then give something that the animal can ENJOY in that moment. The dog leaves the situation while enjoying the experience.
Gradually expose the animal to something it fears in baby steps while teaching it to relax. Begin with easy steps and work toward more challenging exposures.
Easy Example: You are scared of spiders. You learn to relax while looking at a fat lazy spider in a locked box. Later on you learn to relax while looking at a fast moving spider that jumps around, while the spider is locked in a box. You learn to relax while the fat lazy spider is in an open box. You learn to touch the fat, lazy spider. You learn to relax while looking at a medium speed spider in a partially opened box….etc.
Dog Example: You teach a dog that is afraid of other dogs to relax when faced with other dogs. At first, you might work at a distance, with a very slow moving animal that is facing away. Then you expose the dog, but approach a bit closer. You then teach the dog to relax while the slow moving dog is far away, but facing each other. You work toward situations where the dog has to face fast, unpredictable dogs in close proximity…etc.
Process: The dog is slowly exposed to things it fears, working from easiest to hardest. The dog leaves the situation while it is relaxed. The dog learns to relax at each step or level prior to moving on. Important note: Easiest to hardest does not mean farthest away to closest, nor does it mean you work in chronological order. Different dogs have different triggers. Triggers are actively worked in the order in which the dog finds easiest to hardest.
Negative Reinforcement (R-)
Something unpleasant ends when the dog engages in a specific behaviour we want to encourage.
Easy example: Your spouse is nagging at you to do chores. They keep nagging until you do what they want, at which point the nagging stops. You do what is wanted to make the unpleasant nagging stop.
Dog example: The dog learns that by standing calmly, it will be allowed to move away from scary things. The dog stands still more often because that is how it has learned to escape.
Process: Show the dog the thing it fears. Wait for an appropriate behaviour. When the dog does what you like, encourage the dog to leave. The dog leaves when it feels uncomfortable enough to want to leave, thus feeling relief. Dogs can learn to stop things like pain as well.
Immerse the patient into something scary. Prevent escape until they get over the fear.
Easy example: Lock a person that is afraid of spiders into a room teeming with spiders. Do not let them out – no matter what – until they are fine with spiders.
Dog example: Take a dog that is scared of other dogs. Drop him off into a crowded dog park. Do not let him leave until he is over his fear of other dogs.
Process: Take the dog and force it to face what it fears. Prevent escape regardless if the dog becomes aggressive, loses bowel control – nothing can allow the dog to escape.
A rather passive process where one is accustomed to something until they no longer notice it.
Easy example: You move near a set of railroad tracks. With time, you no longer hear the trains.
Dog example: A dog hears a dog bark on television and reacts. As the dog is exposed to more television, it realized that dog noises from the television are irrelevant. The dog barely notices them.
Process: Keep repeating something until the dog fails to notice it any longer.
Process of becoming more sensitive and aroused to things after repeated exposure or exposure to highly aversive stimuli. Individual usually becomes more aroused to all stimuli, not just the one in question.
Easy example: A repeated and annoying sound starts to get on your nerves. As you become irritated, all sounds start to grate on your nerves.
Dog example: Dog hears scary noises. As the sounds repeat, the dog because more aroused, more jumpy. May start to startle at other noises
Positive Punishment (P+)
Adding something unpleasant to hopefully decrease a behaviour you do not want.
Easy example: Spanking. The child has a tantrum. You spank the child in the hopes that they do not do misbehave in the future.
Dog example: The dog reacts at the sight of another dog. You leash correct the dog in the hopes that the dog will stop reacting at the sight of another dog.
Process: The dog is allowed to react/misbehave and is corrected for doing so.
Differential Reinforcement (DR)
Using positive reinforcement, reward a behaviour you would like to increase, while ignoring behaviour you do not want. There are various ways you can do this. For example, you could reward incompatible behaviours.
Easy Example: Giving stickers and attention to a child when they sit at their desk working quietly instead of running. As the child sits quietly more often, running about reduces because sitting is rewarded more.
Dog Example: The dog is rewarded for sitting instead of jumping. The dog cannot be sitting and jumping at the same time. The dog sits more often because it is rewarded more.
Process: Teach the dog a behaviour by rewarding it. Continuing rewarding that behaviour so it takes place of a problem behaviour. Often times, unwanted behaviour is prevented to ensure safety. For example, you might have the dog on a leash to ensure Grandma isn’t knocked to the ground.
Negative Punishment (P-)
Take something away that the animal wants, suppressing an unwanted behaviour.
Easy Example: Take away television privileges when the child swears. The child learns to reduce swearing so they do not lose further television viewing time.
Dog Example: Put the dog into timeout when it jumps for attention. The dog loses the opportunity to get attention and social contact. In the future, the dog learns to jump less often.
Process: When the dog misbehaves, take away something they value. The dog has to lose something, and not just be waiting to earn the next reward.
Positive Reinforcement (R+)
Giving something pleasant that increases the chances that the dog will do something you want.
Easy Example: Give a child a sticker for completing a homework correctly.
Dog Example: Give the dog a treat or play session when the dog comes when called. The dog starts coming when called more often.
Process: When the dog does something that you like, follow that behaviour with something the dog finds rewarding.
You could watch this clip from The Big Bang Theory for a visual example.
When an animal is going through extinction, but the behaviour increases before it decreases.
Easy example: A child has a temper tantrum. That tantrum escalates before it stops.
Dog example: An owner decides to ignore all food begging at the table. The dog pesters more, insistent on getting food before finally quitting.
Process: Although not something one usually strives for, it happens as a by-product of extinction.
This list offers a good overview of the main strategies used in dog training and rehabilitation. There are others that I’ll add to the list as they come to my attention. Let me know if there are terms you want to see!
One important note. These strategies are not based on intent. It is always the dog and their reaction that determines which strategy actually happened. For a more detailed explanation, click on this previous blog post. For example, owners might intend to reward their dogs with praise and petting. However, if the dog is scared, human contact might be punishing. Look at the whole picture when deciphering which technique is at play.