Many people see dogs and other animals perform tricks and tasks the owners ask of them. When these are executed correctly, people are amazed and the dogs are happy because due to the reaction, they know that something good will follow. Owners use a technique called operant conditioning; they use reinforcement and punishment to curve or “shape” behaviors into the behaviors desired. If a dog is behaving well, performing the right tricks, etc, the owner will reward it with a treat or something good that the dog likes. Then the dog knows that whatever they did right before that was a good behavior, thereby reinforcing it. However, if it does something bad, the owner will do something bad to the dog to let it know that whatever it did is not acceptable and thereby punishing the dog. This will ultimate eliminate the behavior in most cases.
When I used to live in Missouri in middle school, my neighbor had a big dog that they kept outside in a big fenced in yard. I still to this day do not know what kind of dog other than it looked like a lion with all of its hair and the color. Since they began to lose interest/time to take care of the dog they told me that if I would like to go in and walk him or feed him, feel free. Little did they know I love dogs. The next day I went over, opened the gate and this big beast came and tackled me. It weighed the same, if not more than I did. This is where I, and my mom, began the operant conditioning.
I would go over everyday after school so he knew who I was and would play fetch with him and take him for walks. I noticed something weird though, the dog would walk perfectly. He would not take off running or pull you. He would simply walk at your pace and if he got too far and felt the leash get taught, he would stop and just wait. This confused me because I never heard of him being trained. After a couple months, he understood that tackling me is not good by me punishing him every time he did it. He was a very lovable pet.
Before I moved, I still was curious as to why he was so well trained in being walked so I asked my neighbors. They told me that he went to some teacher that trained him how to walk. This would explain why he acted so wildly in his yard but was very tamed when I walked him. Retrospectively I see how my operant conditioning took affect on him; towards the end of my time with him, he respected me and would not jump or tackle me anymore (along with some other behaviors). I saw how the training he already had curved some behaviors most dogs have when being walked while the other behaviors involved with just playing in the yard had not been checked yet.
Matthew Zackschewski – mgz5020