top of page

Classical Conditioning

Last post I talked about operant conditioning, so today brings us to the topic of classical conditioning.


Classical conditioning is also known as pavlovian or respondant conditioning. If you’ve ever heard of Pavlov's dogs you’ll know what this is all about. 


In 1897, after Ivan Pavlov noticed that the dogs in one of his prior experiments started drooling when they saw the handlers who fed them and not when the food was presented, started another experiment, where he paired several neutral stimuli (such as the sound of a metronome) with food. He found that when a stimulus was presented in the presence of food, the dogs eventually started drooling with just the stimulus being present. The dogs started to associate the stimulus with the food and reacted accordingly.


Classical conditioning pairs a reflexive, automatic response with a neutral stimulus. This new stimulus then starts triggering the initial response. So with Pavlov's dogs, salivating with the bringing of food was the automatic preexisting response, and the metronome was the neutral stimulus that got conditioned.


In R+ training, we classically condition the clicker/Bridge signal.


Before the conditioning,  the sound of the clicker means nothing to the horse, the food however does and produces a involuntary response in the horse.(both and emotional and physical reaction)The sound of the clicker is what we consider the "neutral stimulus" it does not elicit a response in the horse by itself. The food is what we call a "unconditioned stimulus" and the response it elicits in the horse is a "unconditioned response" because it's a naturally occurring response to a stimulus that did not require conditioning.


During the conditioning we present the sound of the clicker and immediately follow it with the food which elicits the unconditioned response.


The horse then learns that the presence of the click = the presence of food, and such

after the conditioning process the horse associates the click with the food. This actually causes the click to elicit the same emotional response as the food in the horse! The Neutral stimulus has now become a "conditioned stimulus" and produces a "conditioned response"


Classical conditioning occurs all the time often unknowingly to us. Does your horse dislike a certain part of the trail or barn because he walked past it and something scared him a few times? Does he whinny at you when he hears the buckets banging in the morning? Fear of the farrier? running at the sight of dewormer tubes? needle phobias? Those are all responses formed via classical conditioning.


Once we understand how and when our horses are forming those responses and associations, we can better prevent negative associations from forming, Counter condition them if they do form, and form positive associations to further our horses education.

20 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


Rated 0 out of 5 stars.
No ratings yet

Add a rating
bottom of page