Canine Psychology & Shaping Behavior: Part 2 – Stimulus -Behaviour – Outcome

We recommend that if you haven’t already, you watch the following prior to watching this video and reading this article:

Welcome to Part 2 of Canine Psychology & Shaping Behavior

In a nutshell, dogs are essentially the sum of their experiences with a bit of instinct thrown in to spice things up. In our last video: Your Dog’s Brain Capacity we talked about how dogs depend heavily on experiential learning to develop. It is that faculty for experiential learning that helps them make decisions in the future about whether they will want to participate in that situation again, and whether or not their behaviour will change the next time. These are the fundamentals of shaping behaviour, and have 3 key elements: Stimulus – Behaviour – Outcome.

Stimulus: Something occurs that incites an action or a feeling in the dog. Some basic stimulus examples:

  1. Mum/Dad walk into the lounge room
  2. The dog’s leg goes numb while lying on the hard floor
  3. Another dog growls at them at the park

Behavior: The response to the stimuli. Essentially, what the dog does/does not do, or feels, when it experiences the stimuli. Some basic behavior examples:

  1. The dog wags its tail at the sight of Mum/Dad
  2. The dog stands up and gingerly goes to lie on the sofa
  3. The dog growls back at the other dog

Outcome: This is the result that is triggered by the combination of the stimulus and behavior. The outcome will dictate how the dog learns from this chain of events/actions/feelings. Overall, was it a “good” experience or a “bad” experience for the dog? If the dog considers it a good experience, the behavior will likely be exhibited more in the future. If however the dog considers it a bad experience, they will be less likely to exhibit that behavior in the future. (At this point if you are thinking about the “degree of good or bad”, you are on the right track, but we will get to that in later articles). Some examples of Outcomes:

  1. The dog gets a scratch on the belly from Mum/Dad and an attaboy for being just too adorable.
  2. The cat jumps down from the windowsill and ferociously scratches the dogs head for even getting close to the sofa.
  3. The first dog backs off and shows deference

So, looking at these examples by the numbers 111 222 333 what do we see?

Mum/Dad walking in, wagging the tail, and getting a scratch/attaboy is probably considered by the dog to be a “good” experience, therefore the wagging will be more likely to happen again.

The numb leg, followed by moving towards the sofa, then getting hammered by the cat, is likely to be perceived as a “bad” experience, probably even worse than the numb leg, so the dog will likely look for a new spot to lie down and avoid the sofa all together.

Finally, being growled at, growling back, then being given position as the dominant dog is likely also to be considered “good”, or at least successful (though it can be quite stressful for non-alpha dogs in the long run) and will likely lead to that behaviour being exhibited again.

These 3 key elements of experiential based learning are the building blocks for shaping behavior. This knowledge will go a long way to helping you understand what your dog is thinking, AND how they are learning and making decisions about the behavior that they will exhibit in the future.

If you are thinking now “how do I give my dog more effective learning experiences” (become a better dog faster) then watch out for the next video: Principles of Motivation!

Found this article interesting or useful even? Please take a look at Chateau Canine’s Social Responsibility Initiatives and see how you can change a street dog’s life, just by buying a toy / treat / food for your own dog! That sounds Barking Awesome doesn’t it 😉

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