Classical conditioning refers to how an organism learns to interpret neutral stimulus and associate it with a given consequence. This form of learning is also known as Pavlovian and associative learning. This concept helps explains how a dog understands, relates and interprets the situation.

When a dog recognizes a given signal that provokes particular response and reaction. Probably the most famous example, a dog salivates on hearing a bell ring. The dog at first did not make any meaning from the bell. However, the trainer consistently associated the bell with food thus the dog salivates at the sound of a bell.

Principles of Classical Conditioning

First: A Signal.

Implying that the dog can either see, feel or hear and relate to the signal. The psychologists refer to these effects as neutral stimulus. It is argued that neutral stimulus means nothing without learning. It remains neutral and translates to no effect at all.

Second: Unconditioned Stimulus

The unconditioned stimulus triggers an unconditioned response in the domestic animal. It causes events such as an action or feeling which the dog does not require training to express.

Third: Repeating Sequence

This induces classical conditioning. The dog learns that an event follows a given signal and relates the two each time. Therefore, the signal alone causes a reaction.

Associating the two events

In classical conditioning, the brain connects the two events such that the events seems like they are the same thing i.e. the brain relates the two events causing excitement.


The sound of produced by leash clicking induces excitement similar to the experience and satisfaction that the dog derives from the walk itself. This reaction prepares the dog for a walk and sets in a happy mood.

The sound of the car engine as causes excitement and happiness that matches the joy a dog derives from greeting the owner’s son and eating

The vision of the specific body signals shown when the owner is upset also sets a feeling that equals getting in trouble. The two events produce the same response.

If the owner of the dog opens a bag containing chips and gives one to the dog, the dog will recognize this sound and will not hesitate to run to the owner on hearing the same sound.

Under normal circumstances, many people may carry the dog, handle him/her and even strangers may poke the dog without showing any resistance. However, the sight of a vet clinic can induce stress in many dogs because of the pain or the unpleasant sense of the previous visits.

A Dogs sixth Sense

Once one understands the principles behind classical conditioning, he/she is able to understand and appreciate some of the unique pet behaviors.

A dog that knows when she has done something that can attract punishment from the owner takes precaution by hiding under a table with the tail coiled between the legs. In this scenario, the dog understands the situation at hand. Therefore, she takes a precautionary measure to protect herself from any punishment that might be inflicted by the owner.

Through classical conditioning, dogs are able to learn and predict what happens following an event. It is thus arguable that the dog understands its mistake and what transpires under such circumstances.

In another example, a dog gets excited when the owner picks up a leash, the pet understands that under such circumstances, they are headed for a walk. He (the dog) understands the situation and relates it to a walk.

Another example presents a situation where the dog understands when the owners’ son is coming home before he even walks through the door. In the examples above, the behavior demonstrated by the dogs are not a clear manifestation of the sixth sense. However, these events explain the magic of classical conditioning.


One can train his/her dog to feel good for receiving a given signal, For instance the sound of a leash clicking. In this regard, the dog owner can capitalize on the response and use it as an advantage. However, the dog owner must be very careful to prevent misinterpretation of a particular signal. Moreover, instead of excitement or a cheerful mood, the dog might develop fear towards a certain signal, if improperly exposed. For instance, the dog may show aggression on hearing the sound of leash clicking. Exposing the dog to signals and the desired response should be done in a chronological order.

It is important to take young dogs for a walk. In this case, the owner feels protective of the young domestic animal. The owner tenses and unintentionally pulls the leash at the sight of other dogs. In this light, the dog emulates the same reactions and tenses just as the owner responds on seeing other dogs. Such experiences when encountered repeatedly sets the dog off and may only react when he or she is on the leash.


Pavlov underscores how neutral stimuli can be of significance to a dog if skillfully followed by something that induces a natural response. Therefore, the sound of a bell, which does not make any meaning can induce salivation if the owner consistently follows it by food. The simple but significant discovery made by Pavlov influenced how human beings perceived learning and was a landmark in understanding behaviorism.

Even though the human understanding has broadened in today’s world to include biological, cognitive and genetic factors, classical conditioning remains an important agenda in understanding behavior in dogs.

Classical conditioning not only takes effect in training but it influences the behavior at any age. It is argued that the with respect to the conditions and the signals from the surrounding, the dog will always develop response and adjust his/her response and interactions with the immediate surroundings. As the guardian and provider of the basic needs, human beings plays an important a role in how the dog understands, relates and interprets the events. This experience shapes how the dog feels about their environment.

In the words of Bob Bailey, a dog develops either a positive, negative or neutral association with the event depending on the level and the manner in which he interacts with the environment. Nonetheless, the unconditioned category of stimuli does not require any learning experience since their response is always natural. These stimuli include, but not limited to, escape from loud noise and learning to like food. In this case, the dogs do not require any training to understand and respond to the conditions (stimuli) mentioned above. In principle behind classical conditioning underscores that anything that is neutral, for instance, a place, event, word or sound when followed by a meaningful event to the dog provokes a positive or negative experience and determines how the dog will relate to the event.


Classical conditioning explains how people or animals relate a neutral stimulus to an associated consequence. Some authors refer to it as associative learning or Pavlovian conditioning. For instance, a dog is able to understand the situation when she does something wrong and hides under the table without the owner taking any action. The association between the signal and event follows three steps. In this regard, the brain connects the two events, and they feel like one i.e. produces the same reaction in behavior. From Pavlov’s experiment, it is clear that a meaningless event continuously followed by a meaningful event triggers a given response on a subsequent encounter.

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