How did B.F. Skinner influence dog training?
B. F. Skinner was one of the most influential of American psychologists, and he was the person who developed the theory of operant conditioning—what we know as clicker training for dogs.
In fact, he invented something called the “Skinner box,” a small, soundproof chamber. An animal would be placed in the chamber and, since it was cut off from all outside influences and distractions, it responded only to the controlled conditions within the box.
Skinner, who was heavily influenced by the work of John B. Watson as well as early behaviorist pioneers Ivan Pavlov (Pavlov’s Dog) and Edward Thorndike, believed that the only scientific approach to psychology was one that studied behaviors. He believed that reinforcements or punishments made it more or less likely that the behavior would be repeated. Although Skinner rejected the idea that the mind was separate from the body, he didn’t deny the existence of thoughts—but he regarded them as private behaviors to be analyzed in the same way as publicly observed behaviors. For humans, his theories are incorporated various treatment programs.
In 1948, Skinner published his actual ideas on child-rearing in Walden Two, a fictional account of a behaviorist-created utopia in which carefree young parents stroll off to work or school while their little ones enjoy all the comforts of community-run, behaviorist-approved daycare. In 1971 he wrote Beyond Freedom and Dignity, which suggests that the concept of individual freedom is an illusion. Skinner later sought to unite the reinforcement of individual behaviors, the natural selection of species, and the development of cultures under the heading of The Selection by Consequences (1981), the first of a series of articles in the journal Science.
He spent most of his professional life teaching at Harvard University (after 9 years in the psychology department at Indiana University), and died in 1990.