• Lisa Mullinax, CDBC


Raise your hand if you walk into a post office and are flooded with warm, happy feelings. No? It's just me? When I was growing up, my grandmother was the Postmaster for her town's post office and I spent many vacations watching her sort the mail and sell stamps and money orders while catching up on town gossip.

Those feelings are not only evoked by "her" post office, but any post office. My childhood experiences formed a positive association to the sights, sounds, and smells of post offices, even those I have never visited. This is classical conditioning: Pavlov ringing a bell, then feeding the dog until the dog would salivate at the sound of the bell.

And here's how it could come back to bite you.

Dogs are always forming associations. Regardless of whether you think you are using classical conditioning techniques or operant conditioning techniques, associations are being formed.

Animal trainer Bob Bailey is frequently quoted saying, "Pavlov is always on your shoulder." Regardless of what you think you are teaching, classical conditioning is always happening. The dog is always learning. Safe. Unsafe. Pleasant. Unpleasant.

So, if you say "Sit" and press on your dog's hindquarters, releasing the pressure only once his rear is on the ground, your dog might learn to sit on cue (an example of negative reinforcement - you release the pres