Cat Behavior Terms: Classical Conditioning

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Animal learning theory must be well-understood in order to affect and comprehend cat behavior.

A common misconception is that understanding only happens when people intentionally train animals (e.g. in teaching dogs to sit or come). But learning never stops; every experience a dog or cat has will h

some bearing on how they behave in the future. Recognize how your cat learns new knowledge to appropriately train it.


Associative Learning

The two types of associative learning are classical conditioning and operant conditioning.

Classical conditioning was first defined as a learning process that occurs through links between an external stimulus and a naturally occurring reaction by Ivan Pavlov, a Russian scientist who won the Nobel Prize for his research. The learning process, sometimes referred to as Pavlovian or responder conditioning, links an input that was previously neutral with a biologically potent stimulus (like food) (e.g. a bell).


B.F. Frederic Burrhus For instance, when the can opener is heard, the cat will immediately run to the food bowl (which is connected to food). His research was based on the hypothesis that because classical conditioning was oversimplified, it could not adequately explain complicated behavior. The best way to understand an activity, in his opinion, is to look at its causes and effects.

Operant behavior is defined as behavior that meets two requirements: it is freely emitted by an animal, i.e., there is no obvious triggering stimulus, and it is susceptible to reinforcement and punishment by its consequences, making it possible to make it occur more frequently or less frequently, as necessary.

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How Classical Conditioning Works

A neutral signal is delivered before a reaction that develops naturally during classical conditioning. Salivation in response to food functioned as both the neutral signal and the naturally occurring reflex in Pavlov’s well-known dog experiment. By establishing a connection between the neutral stimulus and the contextual cue, the tone’s sound alone could cause the salivation response (the introduction of food).

Dogs don’t usually start salivating when they hear bells; rather, they did so when they realized that the bell was a reliable indicator that food will soon be delivered. An important evolutionary advantage is the capacity to spot warning indications of a predator’s approach, which gives an animal time to get away. Going directly to the source comes first when responding to early indicators of food.


Another well-known instance is John B. Watson’s experiment, in which Little Albert was put to classical conditioning. When a white rat was constantly accompanied by terrifying noises, the child started to cry. Initially, the child had no fear of the white rat. Other white, fuzzy objects that resembled rodents also filled the young child with horror.

The psychological school of thinking known as behaviorism owes a lot to classical conditioning. The underlying premise of behaviorism is that:

  • All learning occurs through interactions with the environment.
  • The environment has an impact on behavior.
  • It is useless to try to understand behavior by focusing on internal mental states like thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

Cats and classical conditioning

Since cats learn in various ways, a variety of tactics are used in cat training. Using the traditional conditioning technique, it is possible to teach cats to pick up on or condition themselves to a certain sound, smell, or behavior. Many claim that Skinner invented operant conditioning. After clicker training the cat and associating it with a food reward, you can also use the clicker’s sound to communicate the action you want the cat to take.

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