Bay Area's Best Dog Trainers! Rated 5-Stars by Customers.

An Introduction to the Four Quadrants of Operant Conditioning


Spectrum Canine, The Bay Area’s #1 Dog Trainer, Call Now (510) 405-4766

Are you a new dog parent learning about the various methods and techniques of dog training?

If yes, then you must have come across the terms Classic and Operant Conditioning. There’s hardly any discussion on dog training where one or both of these are not mentioned. While most people are somewhat aware of the model of Classic Conditioning, emerged from Ivon Pavolv’s famous experiment on dogs, very few know about B.F. Skinner’s theory of Operant Conditioning.

In view of the fact that Operant Conditioning is a widely used method of dog training, we deemed it necessary to discuss what it entails.

What is Operant Conditioning?

Developed by the American psychologist and behavioral scientists B. F Skinner in the 1950s, Operant Conditioning is a learning process whereby specific behaviors are reinforced through consequences. While the theory applies to all the living beings with a central nervous system, it is most widely used in dog training.

The theory of Operant Conditioning was based on Skinner’s believe that “the best way to understand a behavior is to look at the causes of an action and its consequences.”

Skinner identified four ways behaviors can be reinforced. These are called the four quadrants of Operant Conditioning.

What are the Four Quadrants of Operant Conditioning?

The four quadrant or principles of Operant Conditioning are:

  1. Positive Punishment
  2. Negative Punishment
  3. Positive Reinforcement
  4. Negative Reinforcement

Sound pretty simple? In Operant Conditioning, the meaning of these terms is different than what they might implement.  

Positive in Operant Conditioning means to add something whereas Negative means to remove or take something away. Reinforcement refers to a consequence that cultivates or encourages a (desired) behavior while Punishment means any consequence that discourages or reduces (an undesired) behavior.

Here’s what the four quadrants of Operant Conditioning mean, according to Skinner:

  1. Positive Punishment – This means using something (an aversive stimulus) that discourages a behavior and reduce its frequency.
  2. Negative Punishment – This entails removing a desirable stimulus to discourage a wrong, annoying, or undesirable behavior.
  3. Positive Reinforcement – This quadrant of Operant Conditioning talks about adding a (desirable) stimulus to encourage a behavior.
  4. Negative Reinforcement – It involves removing (an aversive) stimulus to increase the likelihood of a behavior being repeated.

The Sum Up

The quadrants of Operant Conditioning are often misunderstood due to their confusing terminology. This leads to their implementation in wrong ways, which then gives a bad rap to Operant Conditioning.

Operant Conditioning is an effective method of dog training. However, the key to its successful implementation lies in knowing when to use its various principles, depending on the dog’s personality and the results you want to achieve. It can be tricky for many people, especially new dog parents. This is where a professional dog trainer can help. Get in touch with an experienced dog trainer to get your dog trained through Operant Conditioning and also lead the tactics of how to use these principles in everyday life to encourage or inhibit various behaviors.

Need Dog Training?

Schedule A free phone consultation.

Complete the form below or call (510) 405-4766.