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You Cannot Divorce Operant Conditioning and Emotions

I have quite often seen statements by trainers to the effect that positive punishment is not necessarily aversive, because in its “pure” understanding +P simply refers to adding a stimulus that decreases a behaviour and there is no implication that the stimulus has to be unpleasant. They would say that, in the same way, + R is not necessarily pleasant, but is simply the addition of any stimulus that increases behaviour. In this slightly more technical article, I explain some of the science behind learning and the neural mechanisms involved in learning and emotions, which explains why learning always has an emotional context.

This is obviously a huge and complex topic and to thoroughly and holistically address how to prevent reactivity and aggression, one would need to look at everything from genetics and early environment to lack of socialisation and training methods. However, for the purposes of this article, I want to focus on one common factor which contributes to the development of this behaviour: lack of management.

On Lead Doesn't have to mean Reactive

While I am very much in favour of dogs having the opportunity to exercise off-lead, I frequently encounter owners who are actually afraid to leash up their dogs, even when it would be safer to do so, because of leash reactivity. This article looks at what leads to on-lead reactivity and how we can prevent it from developing.

Is "NO" a useful word in dog training?

I was recently quite dismayed to read an article in which a dog trainer stated something along the lines of: “I taught my children “no” so I teach my dogs “no” as well. The idea of not being able to say “no” to a dog is something we need to get over”. The author went on to say that the word “no” was a cue to her dogs – when I commented on the article and asked what she thought her dogs understood this cue to mean, I didn’t get an answer.


One of the first things we teach dog owners in our classes, is to avoid using the word “NO” with their dogs. I even know of a trainer who has a “swear jar” for clients who say “NO” to their dogs in class. So, I thought I would take some time to explain why myself and other force free trainers avoid this word like the plague:

Two Types of Learning

As a behaviourist and trainer, I follow a lot of dog training pages to keep up with new ideas and to find useful explanations of training concepts to pass on to clients. While “operant conditioning” and “the 4 quadrants” are referred to frequently by many modern trainers, what often seems to be missing is any reference to or understanding of another, equally important, type of learning: “CLASSICAL CONDITIONING” or “PAVLOVIAN CONDITIONING”.   So, I thought it was time to write an article explaining what both types of learning (conditioning) involve and why this second type of learning cannot be ignored, as it so often is.

Punishment: Is it ever okay?

With so many things having changed in the last 50 years with regards to dog training and behaviour modification techniques, I think a lot of dog owners have a vague idea that they shouldn’t really use punishment to train or correct their dogs, but are not really sure why this is. In this article I would like to discuss the definition of punishment, the problems which go along with punishment and the various ways which one can effectively and humanely deal with problem behaviour instead of using punishment.

The Dangers of Shake Cans and other distant punishers

Distant punishers (aversive stimuli like shake cans, spray bottles, pet correctors and shock collars) that are intended to stop unwanted behaviour while being dissociated from the owner are often very popular with dog owners and unqualified trainers, because they are perceived as being more ethical and less damaging than having the owner directly punishing a dog by hitting, kicking or hanging him. However, this is a false and dangerous perception.

What is the Canine Good Citizen Test?

The KUSA Canine Good Citizen Scheme is a non-competitive means of evaluating the level at which dogs have been trained and socialised by their owners. Canine Good Citizen is divided into three levels of difficulty: Bronze, Silver and Gold. While the bronze test covers very basic obedience and socialising exercises, the silver and gold require that dogs are trained to a higher standard and that owners have good control over them in all circumstances. The tests are as follows:

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