Three Pavlovian lick suppression studies with rats were conducted to compare the role of the conditioning context in excitatory backward and forward conditioning. The experiments explored the possibility that excitatory backward conditioning, but not forward conditioning, is mediated by the context. That is, in excitatory backward conditioning, the conditioning context may function as an excitatory mediator, which supports second-order conditioning of the target cue. This possibility contrasts with traditional accounts, which suggests that common processes underlie excitatory backward and forward conditioning. Experiment 1 found that conditioned responding following backward conditioning was attenuated as a result of posttraining extinction of the training context, but the same manipulation elevated responding after forward conditioning. Experiments 2 and 3 found that posttraining and pretraining associative inflation of the context (presenting unsignalled USs) increased conditioned responding to the target of a backward conditioning procedure but either had no effect or reduced responding to the target of a forward conditioning procedure. Thus, excitatory backward and forward conditioning appear to differ in their dependence on the status of the conditioning context.