Instrumental conditioning, or operant conditioning as it is also called, is something that possibly happens in your home everyday without you knowing it.
And why do you need to know it? Because it will help you learn about your cat and to have use of when you want to teach your cat good behaviour.
Instrumental conditioning means that the cat is being rewarded or punished from a voluntary action, like opening a door and finding treats (reward) or walking up to a road and a noisy motorcycle comes by (punishment).
You have probably heard something similar before and that one is called Classical Conditioning which involves an involuntary action, like a human opening the fridge which makes your cat come to the kitchen because there is food inside the fridge. By giving the cat something now, will reinforce this behaviour and making the cat come each time you open that fridge door.
The big difference between these two is that instrumental conditioning is when the cat itself perform an action and finds out the reward or punishment.
How you can have use of this knowledge
Every home is different and so is each problem.
I can’t tell you a specific situation when this if purrfect for you to use, I would have to assess your situation first and I would love to do that if you want to book a support chat with me.
However, I would encourage you to try this at home:
I know many many many of you would like your cat to engage more with you in bed or on the sofa. This is where you can use this type of reinforcement because the cat will here be in charge.
But first – what do I always say? Yes, you need to have patience! That is so important when training your cat or just shaping its behaviour.
Keep your cat’s favorite treat IN the sofa or bed. Yes, you heard me.
Put the bag or container between cushions or mattresses and whenever your cat jumps up, you give him or her a treat. This will work with classical conditioning also (then you would make noises with the treat container to make your cat come, and then give. Difference is that it could teach your cat that he or she will get rewarded for what he or she just did, which might have been to chew on a table)
This takes time, but it is so rewarding for you when you start to see the progress and you will feel super proud of yourself because you did this!