Beginning with Bunnies: The theory side

As mentioned previously mentioned, I’m making spending time with my bunnies easy and a great excuse to learn how to write non-fiction. Here, I’m going to attempt to explain the idea behind the process, and the reasons behind what I’m doing.

Firstly, I want to discuss the reasons I’m using the type of training I’m using. All learning theories can be simplified to two basics structures. Classical and Operant Conditioning. I’ll try to keep this simple, but I do have a tendency to get excited and used jargon.

So, what are the basics?

Classical Conditioning is also often referred to as Pavlovian Conditioning, or told through the story of Pavlov’s Dog. This is because while researching what happens in the dog’s digestive system, Pavlov realised that when the bell rang to start the tests, the dogs would start salivating. Normally, this would only happen if the dog had food and was eating it. What had changed?

The bell signalled the start of the tests, so we’ll call that the Conditioned Stimulus.

The food came out after the bell. The food is the Unconditioned Stimulus, because it causes the thing to happen without needing to be told.

The salivating is the response. In this case, the Unconditioned Response.

So, if you have the Conditioned Stimulus happen right before the Unconditioned Stimulus, it means that it becomes something to respond to in and of itself. For example, when Wonderful Boyfriend says ‘I’m going to make carbonara for dinner,’ I will start to feel that combination of sensations you get when you smell something delicious. Now, because I’m a person and have a frontal lobe and all the cool things that come with it, I can have that without having to have the sentence right before the dinner. To begin with , you need to make sure the timing of the Conditioned Stimulus and the Unconditioned Stimulus are really close together and really consistent.

What does that have to do with bunnies? In order to let them know they did the right thing, I’m using the word ‘good’ and then giving them a treat so they get the good feelings from eating delicious things. That way, when I get them to do something I want them to do, I can tell them they did it right and they’ll want to do it again. Which brings us to the other kind of kind of learning model.

Operant Conditioning using a more complicated system that works on the combination of two pairs of terms. One refers to if you’re adding something or taking something away, positive or negative, and if you want to increase or decrease the behaviour, reinforcement or punishment. Now, I want to be really clear. Positive does not equal good, and punishment does not equal bad. Repeat that. Positive is not good, just adding something. Punishment is not bad, just discouraging something. Got it? Great!

Clicker training, or any other named positive reinforcement technique, relies on adding something to make the behaviour happen more often. I want Dusty to come to his name, I call him and when he looks at me I give him a treat. As he gets that idea, we can move up to expecting him to take a step towards me before he gets the treat. That’s called taking square one with you, and if we ever lose a bit of it then we can go back a step so he can get the answer and we can make it make sense.

Negative reinforcement is taking something away to make a behaviour happen more. This is what I predominantly use in horse training. The trainer whose method I’m currently have great success with can be found here. Check it out. Because the horse is still in control of what makes the stimuli occur, you get a good response that can lead to some pretty interesting and rewarding shifts in thinking. I’m not using this with the bunnies as the primary focus purely because they are more likely to shut down mentally to survive than horses, so keeping them with me and wanting to find answers.

Positive punishment is adding something to make something less likely to happen. A simple example is changing when you do something because of how someone reacts. So, if you’ve ever heard one too many disparaging remarks about your hobby and so stopped talking about it, that’s positive punishment in effect.

Negative punishment is taking something away to make a behaviour happen less. Every time someone takes a toy off a kid who is doing something naughty, that’s negative reinforcement.

When it comes right down to it, all training uses one or both of those two models as a basis. And from there, really it’s just the pretty details.

They bunnies getting some good preparation in for our adventure.

They bunnies getting some good preparation in for our adventure.