Training 101: The Psychology Behind Training Your Golden Retriever

Roberto Manzotti

Are you looking to train your Golden Retriever?

The subject of Psychology has a lot to offer when it comes to training your doggy friend. In this blog post, I’ll explain a few basic concepts of Psychology that’ll help you understand the process of training a little better.

And, have a obedient little Goldy!

Training a dog is one of the biggest responsibilities that a dog owner has. We have decided to write a series of articles which will make training a happy and easy experience for you and your Golden Retriever puppy.

Let’s start, shall we?



Training Basics: Understanding the Concept of Classical Conditioning

In the early 19th century physiologist Ivan Pavlov conducted his Nobel prize winning research on the digestive system and his subjects were dogs. Apart from his work on the digestive juices, Pavlov made a strange discovery he dedicated his life to.

So, what was it?

Pavlov found that his subjects--the dogs-- used to salivate in the anticipation of food when the bell that announced the feeding time was sounded.

So, even though the food wasn’t physically present, the dogs had associated the sound of the bell with the food because it was always followed by it.

And, that’s Classical Conditioning.


The concepts of Classical as well as Instrumental Conditioning are now widely used to train all sorts of animals (and even babies)! So, I feel that the basic knowledge of these concepts will help you grasp the concept of training a dog.


How Classical Conditioning Works: A Quick Glance

psychology of dogs, classical condition


To understand the concept, there are four main things that you should know:

Unconditioned Stimulus (US)

This is something that evokes a natural response.
Here, the food acts as an unconditioned stimulus as it evokes salivation

Conditioned Stimulus (CS)

This is something that is paired with the unconditioned stimulus until it acquires the same response
In this case, the bell is always accompanied with the food and later acquires the same response to the food i.e., the dog salivates in anticipation of food when the bell is rung

Unconditioned Response (UR)

This is one that occurs naturally
Here, salivation is a natural response to food. Humans and dogs alike salivate at the sight of food

Conditioned Response (CR)

This is one that is acquired or learned through the continuous pairing of the conditioned and the unconditioned stimuli.
In this case, when the bell is paired with the food for a notable period of time, the dog starts salivating at the sound of the bell alone---even if it isn’t followed by food.

If you understand the concept of classical conditioning, it’ll be easier for you to understand the concept of training your dog as well.


Classical Conditioning and Training Your Golden Retriever Puppy

Classical conditioning is used to teach your puppy the most basic as well as the most complicated commands.

However, you should also keep in mind that your puppy can easily ‘unlearn’ commands as well---and that is one problem most dog owners face.

Let me go into a little bit more detail.


classical condition in training dogs

In this diagram, you can see that acquiring a conditioned response doesn’t take a lot of time but extinction also takes place rapidly.


The acquisition takes place when you continuously pair the conditioned stimulus and the unconditioned stimulus so that the former acquires the desired response, right?


Extinction takes place when you keep on presenting the conditioned stimulus without it being followed by the unconditioned stimulus.

This means you keep presenting the bell without giving your dog any food! Of course, your dog will stop responding after a given period of time.


Instrumental Conditioning: Do Reinforcements Really Work?

The concept of Instrumental Conditioning is one of the most widely used concepts in animal training.

And, you know what? It has also been used on you since your were a kid!


What’s Reinforcement?

Reinforcement is generally known to be a consequence or outcome of a certain behavior that increases the chances of it being repeated.

It is something that basically helps increase the probability of a response occurring again.

So, if you give your puppy a treat when he’s a good boy and he sits on command, you’re giving him positive reinforcement. That treat will increase the probability of your dog sitting again when you command him to.

working with positive reinforcement


Types of Reinforcement

There are two types of reinforcements that you need to know about:

  • Positive reinforcement: A favorable consequence to an acceptable behavior

  • Negative reinforcement: An unfavorable stimulus removed when an acceptable behavior occurs



I’ll go into detail about each one so that it is easy for you to grasp the concept.

Positive Reinforcement

Did you ever get something you wanted after getting good grades in school?

That was positive reinforcement!

Positive reinforcement means that you simply ‘reward’ your puppy with something that he’ll love after he does something desirable---like relieving himself outside the house or sitting on command.

This can be anything that your puppy likes such as your affection, a treat, a new chew toy, etc.


Negative Reinforcement

Did you ever get grounded when you were a teenager?

That’s negative reinforcement.

The concept includes two main things:

  • Removal of aversive stimuli

  • Removal of positive stimuli


In the case of the removal of an aversive stimulus, always know that you are subtracting something unpleasant from your puppy’s environment. For example, removing your puppy from ‘time out’ after he’s acting like a good boy.

However, in the case of the removal of a positive stimulus...


Suppose you left your puppy home alone for a few hours and came back to find that your puppy chewed all of your nice shoes. Now, you can take away your pup’s favorite chew toy for a few hours as punishment.

Conclusion: The Psychology Behind Training Your Golden Retriever

In order to raise a good and well-behaved Golden Retriever, you need to be an excellent trainer.

After all, dogs are a reflection of their trainer.

To be a good trainer to your dog, you need to know a few principles of Animal Psychology and how they work to understand the process better---the more you know, the better a trainer you’ll be.

So, you’ll raise an excellent puppy.

Raising a puppy for the very first time can seem like a monumental task but, with the right tools, it is easier than you think.


Want to learn more on how to train your puppy? Let us know in the comments!

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