We talk about classical conditioning in dog training circles a lot, and I’ve been hearing the term CER more and more frequently in larger conversations, which is AWESOME.
Most people know that classical conditioning is one form of associative learning that makes up part of what we call learning theory.
And most recognize the name Pavlov, and know that he did some experiments a long time ago that involved some bells and some food and some drooling dogs.
But I think we can do a little bit better, because I am a big believer that the more we understand about a process, the better equipped we are to use that process to our advantage (lest it be used against us).
We can build a Conditioned Emotional Response to some, initially meaningless, stimulus or event, by pairing it with something that the dog already has a response to.
And that is how the clicker or other event marker is conditioned.
The click starts out as just some meaningless noise. Then by pairing it with food. The click starts to initiate food-like responses. And the more this happens, the stronger the response.
But what if the event or stimulus is not actually neutral… what if the dog already has some experience or association with that thing, and so it already has meaning (and what if it’s a bad meaning).
That’s where counter conditioning comes in.