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Pavlovian Conditioning: Teaching Your Dog New Tricks

Pets & Animals

Our habits are shaped by the repetition of daily tasks that we grew accustomed to over the years. Often, we’re not even aware of them until somebody else points it out. How we acquire these behaviors, patterns, or habits, whether simple or complex, can be explained by Pavlov’s Classical Conditioning.

This same concept can also explain how domesticated dogs can learn new tricks when given appropriate stimulation and adequate repetition. Learn more about this conditioning and how it will work on teaching your dogs some cool new tricks.

Table of Contents:

What is Classical Conditioning?

What are the general rules in training your dog?

  • Training should be enjoyable
  • Start with the basics
  • Train with positive rewards
  • Use his favorite treats
  • Start in a quiet area first

Top 5 quick and easy dog tricks to teach

  • Sit
  • High five
  • Rollover
  • Dance
  • Fetch

What is Classical Conditioning?


Classical conditioning was discovered accidentally by a Russian physiologist named Ian Petrovich Pavlov back in 1890. Owing to this, it is also often called the Pavlovian theory of behavior.

In his study with dogs, he predicted that they would exhibit the unconditioned response of salivation when food was offered, but what he didn’t expect was that he rather observed that salivation happens way before the food is provided. Just by hearing the footsteps of the assistant that was bringing their food, these dogs are already starting to drool.

He then discovered that it doesn’t matter what or who for as long as there is an association between that event or person to food, then it would trigger the same response among dogs. This piece of information prompted him to devote his life to understanding this conditioning.

This theory states that behavior can be conditioned due to its association of the unconditioned stimuli (US) with conditioned stimuli (CS). In his experiment, dog food was the US, and the bell’s ringing was the CS. So, the dogs were conditioned to associate the bell ringing with food. So, whenever they now hear the bell ring, they’ll start to salivate in anticipation of food.

By learning this concept, you’ll understand why in most dog training videos you see online, when certain actions are asked of them to perform, treats have to be given afterward.

What are the general rules in training your dog?

There are quite a few rules you need to follow when training your dog. Here are the general ones you should always keep in mind:

Training should be enjoyable – you and your dog should be able to enjoy your routine. Keep each session short, about 5-10 minutes, so as not to lose your dog’s attention over time. Offer treats or rewards accordingly, too. If your dog is not performing the command, you ask for several attempts, withdraw the treat. Then reward them if they do follow you. End each session positively by issuing a final command like “release.” It could be anything as long as it’s unique or makes sense between you two.

Start with the basics – your dog should be able to follow basic commands like sit, come, down, and stay. Remember, the more complex the task, the harder it is to keep your dog’s motivation going. So, you have to consider three aspects here: (1) the complexity of the task, (2) your dog’s motivation, and (3) the amount of reward given.

Train with positive rewards – avoid punishments in yelling, chain jerking, hitting, or any of the like. Keep in mind that the opposite of a reward is just no reward, not any other negative consequences that might affect your relationship with your dog and ruin the whole experience of training.

Use his favorite treats – when training, make sure you use the best treats for your dog. Use his favorite ones to increase the chance of a successful association. Treats should be bite-size and not bigger than your thumb. It should not require chewing, nor should it crumble, or else you’ll lose your dog’s attention and motivation fast.

Start in a quiet area first – start in a calm environment, especially for the first few weeks of training. Avoiding environmental distractions will keep your dog’s attention on the activity and not on other dogs they can play with or squirrels they could run after. Once the first commands are established after these weeks, you can transfer to a busier area. Here, you’ll test their ability to follow an order despite distractions because if they can, you have successfully built a strong training foundation.

Top 5 quick and easy dog tricks to teach

Dog tricks can range from simple commands like sit or rollover to more complex tasks like standing someone. The following are the top 5 basic tricks your dog should learn:

Sit – this is the most natural trick to teach dogs because it’s a transitional command that dogs could get easily accustomed to. It’s one of the fastest ways to earn treats, too!

High five – isn’t it cool to go palm-to-paws with your dog? This trick is done by holding your palm out right in front of your dog. It’s important to be on their eye level for easier execution. Then, as your dog works to raise their leg, give the command “high five.”


Roll-over – to perform this trick, you should first teach your dog the “down” command. Once that’s possible, hold a treat in your hands, move it close to your dog’s neck and move it slowly behind it so that their body can follow as they rollover. Give the treat within 5 seconds after the command and give a bonus belly rub, if you can, for a job well done.

Dance – this might sound complex, but it isn’t. To do this trick, start with the “sit” command and hold a treat near your dog’s nose. Then, slowly lift your hand so that they can stand on their hind legs. Once the legs are raised, give the treat. Repeat the process until your dog can pick up a faster pace and stand more steadily. After then, try moving the treat in your closed hand above your dog’s head in a tiny circle. Notice how they’ll follow the twirl. Once you see this, use the command “dance” and offer the treat afterward. Be more positive when praising them, too.

Fetch – fetch is best done in an open, quiet field where your dog has the liberty to run long meters and enjoy the training. You can use a frisbee or stick for this one. Find a starting point and upon throwing the frisbee or stick, say the command “fetch” and watch how your dog retrieves the item for you. Now be patient, this trick might be frustrating at first, especially when your dog doesn’t cooperate, but the result can be fulfilling once the training is done.

It doesn’t matter what dog breed they are; any dog can perform these tasks. Some may take more time than others, but it’s never impossible.