Pavlov’s Dog & Classical Conditioning

The so-called Pavlovian dog stands for an experiment with which the famous natural scientist Ivan Petrovich Pavlov proved the phenomenon of classical conditioning.

The Russian professor Ivan Petrovich Pavlov (born September 14, 1849, and died February 27, 1936) not only received the Nobel Prize in 1904 for the elucidation of digestive processes but was also the discoverer of classical conditioning in dogs. In this phenomenon, an innate unconditional reflex becomes conditional, i.e. intentionally evoked, reflex through training. To prove that the principle of conditioning actually works, he conducted an experiment known as Pavlov’s dog.

Pavlov Discovered the Phenomenon of Classical Conditioning

Dogs salivate more while eating. The increased salivation is a natural and compulsive reaction to the food stimulus – i.e. to the smell and sight of the food. This involuntary reflex of the four-legged friend cannot be suppressed. In his research on digestion in dogs, Pavlov observed that the animals not only salivated more during feeding but also as soon as they approached the kennel.

In fact, a dog has no reason to drool at simple audible footsteps—unless it has learned to associate the insignificant stimulus of footsteps with the gift of food. Pavlov now wanted to prove the theory of this learning process in dogs – conditioning. So he set up a simple but pertinent experiment: Pavlov’s dog.

Supporting Experiment: Pavlov’s Dog

For his experiment, he used a simple bell to create an acoustic stimulus by ringing his dogs. As the scientist observed, this sound alone did not trigger an increased salivation reflex in the four-legged friends. He then fed his dogs just after the bell sounded, exposing them to the stimulus of the food, which made them salivate more, and the stimulus of the ringing at the same time.

After a certain period of getting used to it, Pavlov only let the bell ring: as he had expected, the dogs reacted to the sound stimulus alone with more salivation because they had learned that after the ringing there was food. So he had successfully trained his dogs to have a conditioned reflex response to a stimulus that was actually insignificant for dogs. The animals could no longer suppress this habitual reflex, just like an innate one. Thus, the principle of conditioning was scientifically proven. Without this discovery, an essential part of today’s behavioral training in dogs would be missing.

Mary Allen

Written by Mary Allen

Hello, I'm Mary! I've cared for many pet species including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, fish, and bearded dragons. I also have ten pets of my own currently. I've written many topics in this space including how-tos, informational articles, care guides, breed guides, and more.

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