#30daysofcaninescience *Day 12*

Day 12 is about Operant Conditioning.

This is something that get many people confused (including me, I realised). 

Operant conditioning is about consequences to behaviours. For example, the dog sits leads to it getting treats (sit = behaviour, adding treats = consequence). This can either make the sit happen more often, or make it happen less often. As in the example, there are two concepts to take into account. Reinforcement and punishment. Reinforcement means that you do something that makes the behaviour increase in frequency, whilst punishment is something that makes it decrease. So basically anything can be reinforcing and punishing depending on the dog. Maybe petting is something seen as reinforcing for us, but for some dogs it decreases the frequency of the behaviour, which means it’s then seen as a punishment in operant conditioning. We have to understand that it’s not a question of pain or treats, but what made the behaviour happen more or less often between sessions. We can only tell if something was reinforcing or punishing after we actually done a few training sessions. 

The punishment and reinforcement comes with a + (adding something) or a – (taking something way).

So our mission was to find out what is reinforcing or punishing a behaviour in our dogs. Is it when something is added, or when something is taken away?

I made this experiment with Rusa. The behaviour was to put her head in my lap. I started with 30 sek of giving treats to teach the behaviour, since I know that treats makes her learn. After that the experiment started.

Every session had a duration of 30 sec when we were sitting on a chair. I then had to count how many times Rusa put her head in my lap (or took it away) when doing these 4 different scenarios:

I sat on a chair waiting for Rusa to start putting her head in my lap.

1. Add treats from above
Rusa did it 6 times in the first session and 8 times in the second session. The behaviour increased with 2 times. That means it was reinforcing, and I added something which gives it a plus = Positive reinforcement (R+).

2. Move away the chair (take something away)
The first session she put her head on my lap 6 times, and the second 8 times. The frequency increased which also makes it reinforcement. However, here I took something away (moved away so she couldn’t do the chin in lap). That gives it a minus. So it is then negative reinforcement (R-).

3. Adding petting on her head
In the first session she only did her behaviour once, but in the second twice. So it still became reinforcing in this case. I added something = a plus. Positive reinforcement (R+)

4. In the last scenario I was supposed to count how many times Rusa lifted her head from my lap if I hid the treat behind my back every time she did it. 
In the first session she took away her head 3 times, and in the second 4 times. It increased the behaviour, which means it was Reinforcement. I took something away which means its negative. Negative Reinforcement. 

This is all a scientific way to see things in the behaviourist theory, but it can be interesting to try since it shows what actually makes the dog do what you want more or less often. And we also realise that punishment doesn’t have to be something that is painful, but just made the dog do something less than in the last session. 


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