What is the definition of classical conditioning as it applies to dog behavior?

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Just about everyone has heard of “Pavlov’s dogs,” but you may not know how to apply the principles to train your own dog.

This principle is used in clicker training, because although it has been very popular for over 10 years now, the clicker has no meaning to your dog until you classically condition your dog to the sound of it.
Russian Ivan Pavlov used a bell and meat powder. He would ring the bell and then send meat powder through a tube to the dogs he was working with. He discovered that by pairing the sound of the bell with the meat powder he could trigger a response from the dogs. This can also be done with a clicker, because the sound of the click is immediately followed with praise and a food reward.
When your dog successfully completes a command, you click the clicker and immediately follow it with a treat. If she doesn’t complete it successfully; for instance, if you are teaching her “sit” and she doesn’t get her butt all the way to the ground, you don’t yell or punish—but she hasn’t heard the clicker, so she knows no food or praise is coming. Within a short period of time your dog will associate the sound of the clicker with the treat, and she’ll be motivated to complete any command and will look forward to the sessions because she’s after the food reward.
Once this is accomplished you will have classically conditioned your dog to the sound of the clicker.
While food is a motivator–almost every dog likes a treat—it does need to be something of value to the dog; if you give her something that she really doesn’t like, you won’t have a very successful session. It’s also better, obviously, if the dog is a little hungry; not so hungry as to distract her, but enough to make her want that food!

Other motivators are toys, especially effective for dogs with large prey drives, as those breeds can be motivated by chasing moving objects and praise: Dogs generally love to please their owners, but obviously this method works best if you have a strong bond with your pet.

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