BH101: Learning Theory for Dog Sport Trainers

Posted in Dog Behavior

Instructor: Amy Cook

Course Details

Learning theory: the study of how animals learn, and how we can best explain things to them. If you know that a good understanding of learning theory is important if you want to train a dog for competition, but have resisted studying it because it's so dry and boring, we have good news for you! This quick-and-dirty theory class has one goal: to make you a better hands on trainer. 

In this course, we'll take a look at the basic scientific principles used in training. We'll start with basic terminology so we can all be on the same page, and then we'll jump in with both feet, looking at operant conditioning, classical conditioning, their intersection, and the current state of animal learning since Skinner and Pavlov made their initial contributions. At every step of the way, we'll be asking and answering the questions, "Is this relevant to me?" and "How can I best use this information in my training?"

Practical exercises may be suggested periodically, but they will be used mainly as a jumping-off point for discussion, and are not required nor evaluated. This class is a Silver- and Bronze-level only, with no working spots or video from either the students or the instructor. This is a discussion-rich class, so bring your questions and come prepared to talk!



Next class starts: February 1, 2015

Registration starts: January 22, 2015 9:30am PST

Late Registration ends: February 15, 2015 9am PST

For details on each level (Gold, Silver, Bronze), please see the FAQ page.


Topics covered:

Week 1 -- Learning theory: Why are we getting so scientific, and how can this all matter? Do I need to know all the jargon? How thinking this way actually turns out to make you a better and more independent trainer. 

Week 2 -- Operant conditioning: Jump in! Are you sure you know what reinforcement and punishment are? What about secondary reinforcers? Do you need one? Let's talk about what operant conditioning is and what it isn't, and get it all sorted out!

Week 3 -- Operant conditioning, con't: Premack, and how it relates to chaining behaviors together, extinction, and why that isn't the same as punishment, shaping is just your hot/cold game from childhood, and deciding when in the process we teach dogs cues!

Week 4 -- Classical conditioning: Pavlov is on your shoulder! No matter what we do, we can never escape the effects of classical conditioning, and we wouldn't want to! Every time you teach your dog what to do, you also teach her how to feel. Let's use this force for good! 

Week 5 -- Learning not covered by Skinner and Pavlov: Latent learning, observational learning, concept formation, match to sample and others! Useful in training? Let's get creative and see!

Week 6 -- Putting it all together: So when do I use which principle? Troubleshooting using these lessons in real life, thinking about thresholds, and what happens if you still can't figure out quadrants? What are the big take-homes?

Prerequisites and Equipment

Equipment needed:  None

Space required (working participants only): none specified