Pavlov’s Dog Experiment


Psychology is a scientific discipline that focuses on human psyche as an object for study. For centuries people have been trying to understand how the human brain works and measure its activity in its response to various situations. Many researchers played a part in contributing to the field of psychology in a significant way. One of them was a famous Russian physician Pavlov Ivan Petrovich. His famous Dog Experiment is well-known, even to those who are unfamiliar to the sciences. Pavlov’s research had a significant impact on many generations of scientists and helped them to initiate numerous discoveries in their fields. However, many disagreed with Pavlov’s methods, criticizing the animal cruelty involved in his experiments.

Experiments on Dogs and Results of Pavlov’s Research

Pavlov Ivan Petrovich was a Russian physician who dedicated his life to physiological research. In 1904, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work on digestion (Schultz, 2015). He spent his whole life researching digestive absorption using mostly dogs as objects for study. At first, Pavlov was observing and measuring digestive secretions in the digestive glands of dogs. In the process of this research he realized that demonstrated new significant results and, consequently, needed further research. Therefore, when Pavlov was studying “the function of saliva, which the dogs secreted involuntarily whenever the food was placed in front of them”, he noticed that sometimes the saliva flowed prior to the dogs being fed (Schultz, 2015, 203). The flowing was, in fact, the result of the dog’s response to the sound of their approaching masters. Pavlov assumed the dogs were associating the sound of footsteps with feeding and thus, salivation would occur as a reaction.

The experiment was simple: Pavlov showed a dog a piece of bread before feeding it to him. After some time, the Dog started salivating even before it had seen the food. As salivation was a natural reaction, Pavlov concluded it as an unconditional reflex; hence the dog required no training (Schultz, 2015). However, he wanted to see if it would be possible to train an animal to salivate on command. During the experiment, Pavlov rang a bell (which played the role of a stimulus, hence could be any other object) right before feeding the Dog; it caused an unconditional reflex of salivating. After training, as the result of this experiment, the Dog learned to salivate the moment it heard the bell ringing. Pavlov called this discovery a conditional reflex, as it required some training (Shultz, 2015). So, unconditional reflexes are those that one is born with, like swallowing, blinking, breathing, hearing, salivating, heartbeat etc. These are natural reactions of an organism that don’t need to be learned or trained; they happen regardless of what a person is doing. On the other hand, conditional reflexes are those that must be taught, like riding a bike, swallowing when hearing a specific sound or salivating when associating an object or sound with food.

Influence of Results of Pavlov’s Experiment on the Field of Psychology

The analysis of conditional and unconditional reflexes has made Pavlov “one of the most visible figures in psychology’s history” (Adams, 2019, 122). His research appears in every book in the field of psychology, sociology, and physiology. The result of his research is considered to be the foundation of modern science and the entire school of behaviorism (Adams, 2019). Pavlov changed the approach of studying psychology which, after his research, took a more scientific direction. Psychology and psychiatry started to be considered from a different perspective. It became more physiological, which had a significant impact on the development of modern Psychology. Pavlov’s work influenced the new theory of behaviorism which provided a significant contribution to the development of Psychology as we know it. The method of training animals to salivate that was used during the experiment proved the connection between the brain and physiology, which helped the study of Psychology to be recognized as a science. Pavlov inspired psychologists like Skinner, Thorndike, Watson, Johnson, Milgrim, and many others into developing the notion of behaviorism, who also contributed to the field of Psychology through their own studies. Moreover, many universities around the world have been offering scholarships of Pavlov for contributions in this particular field.

As it was mentioned above, Pavlov’s conditional reflexes gave a start to behaviorism, as a field of psychological study which, in turn, helped in studying the human-animal relationship (Adams, 2019). In its simplest form, researchers claim that human society has a lot in common with the animal world. Based on observations, they have concluded that psychological disorders are connected to the physical body and can be treated by recognizing their patterns. This conclusion helped to diagnose and prevent many mental diseases. In the 21st century, an analytical shift known as “animal turn” was established and focused on how animals interacted with each other inside the group of the same species and between species (Adams, 2019, 125). Even though human beings as species are different from the animal world and more advanced as a race, scientists still believe that the pattern within social behavior is similar to animal behavior. Researchers hope this will provide greater insight into the human brain and lead to a further understanding of how the mind works.

Experimenting on Animals as a Tool to Achieve Results

The results of Pavlov’s experiment had significantly changed the understanding of Psychology in his time. However, from a moral standpoint, it is essential that we acknowledge the consequences of these results. It took Pavlov many years to collect enough data to publish his conclusions. He “used a method of surgical exposure to permit digestive secretions to be collected outside of the body where they could be observed, measured, and recorded” (Schultz, 2015, 203). In fact, he placed metal tubes in the stomachs of dogs in order to collect secretion samples for experimental use. Many dogs he experimented on died in the process or soon after. This issue, even though it is not directly related to an academic research, is still relevant in a significant way. Many should admit that no matter how important the result is, the casualties in the process must be minimized or be completely absent. Even now, in the world we live today, one can see how animals are being locked up in laboratories and tested on. Numerous pharmaceutical, cosmetic, and tobacco factories use them to test their products; as a result, most animals die within a few months. Therefore, from a moral standpoint, the ongoing advances in technology nowadays should allow for people and corporations to develop mechanisms that would substitute testing on living creatures. Even though the results of Pavlov’s experiments were significant for science in general, such cruelty cannot be justified.


It is clear that Pavlov made a significant contribution to the field of Psychology. The results of his experiments influenced many other scientists to do further research in this field. His work helped to achieve valuable findings that are crucial for understanding the human brain and how it works. However, as scientists who seek to explore the natural world and all its intricacies, they must learn to respect all species and their right to live free from harm (similar to the rights of humans). It is essential that science take into account the social cost associated with animal cruelty and how so-called ‘scientific achievements’ are born from the bodies of mutilated species.


Adams, M. (2019). The kingdom of dogs: Understanding Pavlov’s experiments as human-animal relationships. Theory & Psychology, 30(1), 121–141.

Schultz, D. P. (2015). A history of modern Psychology (11th edition). Wadsworth Publishing. 425

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