Extinction and Spontaneous Recovery in Dog Training

Extinction and Spontaneous Recovery in Dog Training

What is Extinction and Spontaneous Recovery?


There are many different terms that you may come across in Dog Training two of which are Extinction and Spontaneous Recovery.


Extinction occurs when a previously reinforced behavior is no longer reinforced and as a result the behaviors no longer happens.
An example of extinction in canine terms would be;

“Dog Situation – Jessie begged at the table; her owners didn’t want Grandma to see this behavior.
Dog Behavior – Jessie came to the table, sat, put her chin on the table and stared at everyone.
Trainer Response – The trainer had everyone in the family stop feeding Jessie, and ignore her when she begged (food = positive reinforcement for begging).
Results (Consequences) – Within several meals Jessie stopped coming to the table; she got a treat in her food dish after the meal.” Burch et al 1999

In this example due to the family not reinforcing Jessie for her begging by using food, the behavior of begging deceased meaning that the family successfully used extinction to get rid of the unwanted behavior.

Spontaneous Recovery

A spontaneous recovery is when a previous behavior which was extinct happens again. Occasionally when using extinction a behavior may suddenly have a spontaneous recovery.
An example of Spontaneous Recovery using the example above:

“For Jessie, the Poddle that begged at the table, begging stopped when extinction was used. But once in a while, even though no reinforcement was provided, Jessie approached the table and started begging. It was was almost as if she was checking to see whether anything had changed.” Burch et al 1999

In this example because extinction was used the behavior wouldn’t continue for a long period if no reinforcement was given. Unfortunately, if one of the members of the family caved in and reinforced the begging through food then the effects of extinction would be undone.