top of page



Classical Conditioning was first discovered by Ivan Pavlov. In classical conditioning an unconditioned stimulus (US) like food that has an unconditioned response (UR) of making the dog salivate is paired with something like a bell, that has no previous response. After a number of pairings, a conditioned response (CR) is created and the dog will salivate when it sees or hears the bell. The bell has become a predictor of food and now generates a response.

A good example is when your dog gets excited when you take out it's leash to go for a walk. Initially, the leash had no meaning associated with it for your dog. After many walks, it learned that the leash means he is going for a walk and he gets excited. The leash now predicts the walk and generates an excited response. 


At Pawsitive Ways Dog Training, we also use Counterconditioning to change the dog's emotional response to particular triggers. We pair the trigger with something that the dog likes, such as high value food. Therefore, instead of punishing the dog for his response to the trigger, which doesn't fix the problem that he is still fearful, anxious, etc., we use counterconditioning to change his underlying emotion to the trigger. In addition, we combine counterconditioning with desensitization techniques to keep your dog under it's trigger threshold where it is not reactive. 


Operant Conditioning is a learning theory discovered by B. F. Skinner and used by dog trainers as well. Some trainers may "say" they are "positive", but in fact, use aversive techniques. It's a matter of technical wording, and here's why... Some trainers will use "positive punishment" which can include physically hurting the dog, or using fear and intimidation as motivating factors. It is only positive in regards to the fact that they are adding something to the equation, but that "something" is an aversive technique. There are also "balanced" trainers who use a combination of the four quadrants of operant conditioning. These trainers are still using fear, intimidation and/or pain, all of which are unnecessary, and destroy the dog's emotional bond with the owner. Pawsitive Ways Dog Training uses only the Positive Reinforcement and Negative Punishment quadrants which do not include aversive techniques (see the description below).


There are four quadrants in Operant Conditioning which can be broken down into Positive, Negative, Reinforcement and Punishment.


Positive - refers to adding something


Negative - refers to the removal of something


Reinforcement - refers to the likelihood of a behaviour being repeated and hence increasing in frequency or being maintained


Punishment - refers to the likelihood of a behaviour not being repeated and therefore decreasing in frequency

The Science Behind It All -

A Basic Overview of Learning Theory


Negative Punishment

- remove something good to decrease the behaviour

- i.e., puppy plays too rough and I walk away; fun play time stopped to decrease rough behaviour


Negative Reinforcement

- remove something bad to increase the behaviour

- i.e., stop pulling on choke chain to increase walking nice on leash



Positive Punishment

- add something bad to decrease the behaviour

- i.e., add shock from shock collar to decrease barking 


Positive Reinforcement

- add something good to increase the behaviour

- i.e., give the dog a treat when it sits to increase the likelihood it will sit more often


There are other components to dog training such as, shaping, luring, reinforcement schedules, etc. This overview is intended to give you a basic understanding of learning theories used in dog training. 

Want to train your dog in a kind, positive way...


  • Facebook Clean
dog training in guelph

"We are so glad that we found you as a personal trainer and would highly recommend you to anyone. Your passion, love of dogs, your personality along with your training methods are amazing."

Barb and Laurie Shipp

*We are highly recommended by local vets and are on the Guelph and K-W Humane Societies' recommended trainers list for our positive approach!

bottom of page