The Science of Animal Training

This page contains information and articles to help you understand more about the science of behavior. This information will help you better understand the behavior of people and animals, whether you want to better understand with your kids, spouse, co-workers or German Shepard.

What is reinforcement?
All animal training uses some kind of reinforcement. This article will teach you the basics of reinforcement and explain several examples. You’ll learn the differences between positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement, including the two types of negative reinforcement.

What is clicker training?
Clicker training is a positive reinforcement based training system that uses a clicker to “mark” correct behaviors. This greatly improves communication, especially when working on training precise behaviors or when working with an animal at a distance.

Don’t Shoot the Dog (A book review)
If you are new to positive animal training or interested in learning more about the science of animal training, I highly recommend reading Karen Pryor’s book Don’t Shoot the Dog. This book will change the way you think about behavior, teaching, and training.

What is Applied Behavior Analysis?
Behavior analysis is a science that studies behavior. But what does it really mean to study behavior?

What is the purpose of the click in clicker training?
Do I have to give a treat every time I click?
Clicker training is an increasingly popular method for training animals. Many people ask whether they need to use a clicker and whether they need to give the animal a treat every time they click. These two articles answer those questions!

What is Stimulus Control?
Some basic information about stimulus control–when cues and environmental events become associated with or control particular behaviors.

Scientific Research about Animal Training

The following articles discuss research studies that have been done related to animal training.

If You Give a Horse a Cookie…
Do treats cause horses to bite more? This 2010 study surveyed horse owners to determine whether this statement, which is commonly heard around barns, is myth or fact.

An Elephant Never Forgets
A 1975 research study looked at whether elephants would remember previously trained tasks, even though they had not done the tasks in nearly a decade.

Aggressive Training Methods and Aggressive Dogs
Does dominance training work? How should we deal with aggressive dogs? This study examined the negative side effects of dominance-based and punishment based training methods.

The Columban Simulations: How Smart are Pigeons?
I’ll give you a hint–much, much smarter than you can ever imagine. This half hour film will guide you through a series of research studies done by B. F. Skinner and Robert Epstein that explored pigeon cognition and creativity.

Treating Resource Guarding Using C.A.T.
Resource guarding can be a difficult and dangerous problem for dog owners to deal with. This article and video discuss one method for treating resource guarding. The results are phenomenal–not only did the aggressive dog learn to tolerate other dogs, but he actually started sharing his toys and initiating play sessions!

How-to training articles

These articles and videos are great examples of how clicker training and humane, positive reinforcement based training techniques can be used to teach horses.

How-To Train Your Horse to Wear a Fly Mask

In this article (illustrated with LOTS of photos) Boomer and Dionne demonstrate how easy it is to teach you horse to wear a fly mask using clicker training.

How-To Train Your Horse to Take a Bath

This video of Apollo shows a step by step process to teach your horse to stand quietly at liberty to get bathed. Using clicker training, Apollo learned this in less than a week!
This article about Mouse’s first bath has more information about teaching young horses to take baths.

How-To Train Your Horse to Pick Up His Feet

This is an essential skill for any horse! Clicker training gives us effective and safe ways to train a horse to pick up his feet. This article outlines and discusses the basic steps I use to teaching a horse to pick up his back feet. This article contains more information, as well as a short video clip of a training session of a horse learning to pick up his feet.

Training Videos

For lots of great training videos, please check out my youtube channel.