Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Using ABA to train dogs

In my career as a dog trainer, I will use a range of behavioural analysis techniques to train dogs in a variety of ways: for instance using positive reinforcement to train sniffer dogs and negative reinforcement to train guard dogs to bark at intruders.

In training sniffer dogs, I will be employing classical conditioning and reinforcement. Using classical conditioning, I’ll make a dog (we’ll call him Scooby) associate his favourite tug-of-war toy with the drugs or illegal substances I want him to find by making the toy smell if those substances. Then I’ll hide or bury the toy in really easy to find places. Scooby will then (hopefully) go searching for the toy by following the scent of the drugs associated with it. When Scooby has found the toy, I’ll play with him to positively reinforce that he’s performed the correct behaviour. This will make him more likely to sniff it out again every time he can smell it, (Adams & Johnson, 1994). Slowly, I’ll remove the tug-of-war toy and just hide drugs, which Scooby will then sniff out because he thinks he’s going to find his toy. When he finds the drugs, I’ll be sure to reward him with a game of tug-of-war straight away, so he still associates the scent of drugs with playing. Whenever Scooby is then in a situation where he is supposed to sniff out drugs, (assuming they’re actually there) he’ll be willing to do so because he knows he’ll be rewarded with a nice tug-of-war game afterwards.

When training guard dogs, I may have to use negative reinforcement. In electronic training, electric collars attached to dogs which give dogs shocks when triggered by pressurised mats, and are stopped by a dog’s (we’ll go for Lassie this time) bark (Schilder, & van der Borg, 2004). If intruders step on these mats then a shock is given to (poor) Lassie. The shock acts as an aversive, painful stimulus causing Lassie to bark, warning off intruders. But when Lassie barks for long enough, the shock stops! This means the shock acts as a negative reinforcer; to remove the aversive stimulus, Lassie learns she must bark whenever she experiences it, which strengthens the chance of her barking when it happens, and scaring off intruders at the same time.


Adams, G. J., & Johnson, K. G. (1994). Sleep, work and the effect of shift work in drug detector dogs Canis familiaris. Applied Animal Behavioural Science, 41, 115-126.

 Schilder, M., & van der Borg, J. (2004). "Training dogs with help of the shock collar: short and long term behavioral effects". Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 85(3), 319–334.

Katherine Stevens

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