Pavlov and Training Dogs


Dog owners know that if you train your dog enough, they can do a variety of tasks and tricks, from pooping and peeing outside to some dogs being able to search for people in the rubble of a fallen building. Ever wonder how we know that training your dog actually works? We can thank Ivan Pavlov and his research team for that one.

He researched a psychological training system known as classical conditioning. Classical conditioning is when you link a strong biological stimulus and pair it with a neutral one to make a certain connection in the subject’s brain. Pavlov researched this effect in a variety of different dog breeds, mutts included. He noticed they would salivate when the researcher would arrive to feed them. Pavlov then decided to announce the arrival of the researcher with a bell. After a few days of doing this the dogs were salivating not because they were going to be fed, but by hearing the bell because they expected to be fed when they heard the bell. The study of classical conditioning led to the study of human behavior (behaviorism) as well as the study of animal behavior (ethology).

The interesting aspect of classical conditioning is that in some cases, only one trial was needed to correlate an unrelated stimulus and make it a conditional stimulus, though most agree repetition helps solidify that connection. This is the reason that most dog owners will use treats to reward dogs when they perform a task their owners want them to do: they link the performance of the act to the reward of the treat. Now that you know that, happy training!