When is it a good time to use conditioning in dog training? Any time you have a single behavior that you want to occur in a specific operational space this is a good place to start. A couple of examples would be the “Place Command” and Crate Training. Hey Crate Training is almost a repetition of Skinner’s work anyway.. you have to learn to laugh at yourself. So, dog training based on conditioning is a useful tool and can serve as a great course of action when attempting to “perfect a behavior”, “clarify a behavior” or create a “reflexive action”.
Now regarding the tools of training based on good O’ conditioning. Keep those. The food, the clicker and targeting pole are all exceptional tools to perfect timing and comms. This is true for the handler as well as the dog. We have got to have a means by which we can 1. ask for what we want, 2. indicate clearly and in a timely manner that .. yes.. that is exactly what I want, and 3. We are finished with this action. Any time you or your dog try to learn something it helps to perfect each step in the process. Does your dog really know what “sit” means? does your dog understand how you want them to “sit” . Conditioning is great for associating a specific environment, object or location to the target behavior. for example a service dog, learning to get the paper, turn on the lights or any similar, repetitive task that is confined to an single environment. You can “perfect” a behavior So, yes you can begin your practice of timing and nonverbal comms using these methods. As you improve your consistency, credibility and predictability using these conditioning tasks, command, mark and reward they do clarify and condition a singular response.
The second use for the tools of conditioning is a little tricky. I often use conditioning for tough spots with-in a behavior this is during the process called shaping. When I seem to be having a hard time clearly communicating to the dog what I want the target behavior to be it is often a good step to fall back to a distraction free environment and begin “refining” the behavior using conditioning. This is really a series of “near misses” shaping or what I like to call small victories. I use conditioning until I am clearly leading the team in the right direction and I know that the dog understands exactly what I am asking for. Notice this process is mostly for me to learn to communicate and lead effectively not necessarily for the dog. However, if you are working on a behavior that you want the dog to perform without thought, what I like to call a “reflexive action” you will need to continue repetition in low stress environments until the dog simply acts on your command. At Motley Dog we use a method of elaboration to achieve or alter these responses but, you have to perfect, command + mark + reward.
Just keep in mind that at Motley Dog conditioning is used mostly for you to learn your role in all of this. Conditioning used to create a “reflexive action”. Such as the example of your dog looking at you every time you say their name works great but, you have to elaborate the behavior in various environments or the behavior will become state or context dependent. Other dog trainer have caught on to the fact that unless you only want a reaction in a specific place you had better elaborate in various environments, so good job. However, if say you want fluffy to attack anyone entering a specific space you can use conditioning. The only problem is that once you have assimilated or made this behavior a reflex it is very difficult to alter. There seems to be a correlation between the dogs association to an emotional state and the task at hand that determines the ease and effectiveness of counter conditioning. Think threat,+ fight, + anger + aggression= protect, is far more difficult to alter then say, the place command, simple association of, command + place = reward . Once again conditioning is best used for you to learn to communicate and lead clearly and not a technique you want to base your entire training process on unless you intend to create a ritual.
Conditioning is great for simplifying the situation, things like learning to pay attention to one another and establishing your “basic language” together are assisted by the simplicity of conditioning. After all even people need to know, when they are being asked to do something, when they have done what you intended and who doesn’t enjoy a good reward for a task well done. So, anytime something is not going right, fall back to the basics. 1. Does my dog really understand and believe what I am asking them? (did I really teach my dog the behavior?) 2. Am I doing a good job of letting the dog know when they have done exactly what I wanted? Are you clear, deliberate and consistent? 3. Do I do a good job or rewarding or making their job motivating? You would be shocked at the number of problems that are caused in this world by unclear, inconsistent comms.
Hopefully, I have impressed upon you that conditioning is similar to a habit, addiction or behavioral pattern such as an emotional response to a situation, or object in the environment. Anyone who has attempted to go from a couch potato to a gym rat knows regardless of the potential reward results are far less then guaranteed. In kind, anyone who has attempted to break an addiction, bad habit or any behavioral pattern again, it is anything but certain you will succeed. It is important to really think before conditioning a behavior and do it the way you want it because correcting or counter conditioning a conditioned behavior is even more difficult. As a matter of fact counter conditioning has a horrible track record and is even more difficult then primary conditioning. So, the use of conditioning even when used successfully should only be used in situations that you know will never need alteration, correction or addition. These can not be predicted with great success so, use condition to clarify and master your role, to make comms between teammates more accurate and in situations where you need to focus on one skill that is lacking.
Motley Dog Training Tip: when training is not going as smoothly as you would like. Just as people occasionally lose awareness of their emotional state or get confused so, do dogs. So, regain composure, make sure you have taught yourself and you dog the skills required for the task. Go back to the basics and try to see the world as your dog might, think like your dog might. There is nothing more basic then go O’ Command, Mark and Reward. Just as with people it is good to eliminate all distractions and focus on one cue (yes a cue becomes and association) to make communication clear.
If you really study conditioning you may realize it is about creating associations to things more so, then deep learning. Just as I like to return to the basics, conditioning is a basic but, realize what it truly is, it is just a simple tool to clarify and prefect not a sound bases for a model of training or teaching. Here is a truly sad experiment but, it makes clear the simplicity of conditioning and demonstrates that no understanding or true learning is occurring just a simple association.
GO Motley !!!!
Motley Dog Training tip…
it is not about the number of repetitions it is all about making each step in the skill, clear to you and the dog be consistent and overt with every action.