Reinforcement and Punishment

I would like to start this post by defining some terms that important to the content of the post. The first is operant conditioning. Operant conditioning forms associations between behaviors and resulting events. So when an animal does some action or behavior that operates on the environment, there is some consequence. Now there are two ways to “train” an animal to do certain things, which is called shaping. One of them is through reinforcement and punishment. Reinforcement is an event that strengthens any behavior that precedes it. Punishment is just the opposite. It is an adverse event that can help decrease certain behaviors. These are often used to train animals to do certain tricks or to prevent them from doing something, such as sitting on the couch.

When I was very young, perhaps five or six years of age, we owned a dog, specifically a Dalmatian. We got this dog just after birth, and it was, as you can imagine, quite small. I was also quite short at the time. After a few months, the dog was getting quite large, growing much faster than I was at the time. It was so big in comparison to me, after a period of time, that when I would try to pet it or interact with it, the dog would basically “run me over” or knock me down. This obviously caused me pain, and I would start to cry. My parents were a bit concerned over the matter, and used punishment, as described above, to attempt to train the dog not to do this, a be a bit more gentle when interaction was taking place. Whenever the dog pushed me over, they hit it on the head. The dog did not like this. After a while, as you can image, the dog learned not to knock me over, although it took a lot longer than one might expect. Afterwards, the dog and I got along just fine.

2 thoughts on “Reinforcement and Punishment

  1. mpk5197

    I also went through a similar scenario with a pet. My dog, as a puppy, go to the bathroom in the house. We would spray her with a water bottle. After awhile the dog associated going to the bathroom in the house with getting sprayed by the water bottle. She then began barking at the door to make sure she was let outside to go to the bathroom as that did not lead to getting sprayed. Unfortunately there are certain situations such as when we leave the house for a long period of time that she has no choice but to go to the bathroom inside. Obviously we are understanding about the situation but when we get back and discover the mess, my dog has a look of fear in her eyes as she is preparing herself to get sprayed. We would not spray her when we understood that she had to go inside. This is a sure sign of my dog’s association between going to the bathroom in the house and a punishment of getting sprayed.

  2. Peter DeMartino

    My grandma went through the same thing when she got her new dog. A long time ago, she had a German shorthaired pointer, and she missed her dog when he passed away. She got a new German shorthaired pointer, but this dog was much more energetic than the last one. This dog wanted to play, and he would jump on everyone, which knocked over my little cousin a couple times. Every time the dog would jump on someone, my grandma would spray the dog with water, and the dog eventually learned to stop jumping on people.

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