Think Like A Dog When Training

How Dogs Learn: Think Like a Dog When Training

This information is from and presented by DoggeyRehab

Communicate in a Dog’s Language 
Training our dogs is easier when we understand how they learn. To dogs, fetching our slippers and getting in the garbage are not “good” or “bad” behaviors. They are just ways to get what they want. Fetching slippers earns them praise and the garbage has tempting smells. Our dogs do what works to get what they like.

As dog owners, we like some behaviors (such as fetch) and want our dogs to do more of them. We dislike other behaviors (such as garbage raiding) and want less of those. To train our dogs to do more of the behaviors that we prefer, we have to think like a dog—or at least communicate in ways they can understand. Dogs learn in two ways: by making associations and by the result of their actions. Sitting on command, coming when called and even jumping on people is conditioned behavior.

Learning by Association
Learning by association is called classical conditioning. A stimulus occurs, there is an involuntary or instinctive response, and an association is made. An example of classical conditioning is introducing a puppy to a crate. When we give him a food treat for going inside, he learns to associate the crate with something he likes. Because of this pleasant association (crate + food), getting into the crate becomes a pleasant experience for our pup.

The associations formed during classical conditioning are very powerful. A good association can motivate learning if a dog is relaxed and happy. If he is anxious or fearful, an unpleasant association can hinder learning. These emotional states affect how dogs learn and our training outcomes. When we are aware that our dogs learn by association, we can strive to make training a motivating experience.

Learning by the Result of Actions
Whenever your dog is learning by association, he is also learning by the result of his actions. Operant conditioning is when your pet learns that something he does has a consequence. If he comes when called, he gets a treat. If he sits to greet people instead of jumping, he gets petted. Our dog chooses the behavior and decides whether to repeat it based on the consequence. He repeats behaviors that are beneficial and he tends to avoid things that don’t work out so well.

Canine Communication & Living in the Moment
Besides recognizing how dogs learn, we also need to know how to communicate with them. We may share our lives and hearts with our dogs, but we don’t share the same language. We also need an appreciation for a particular canine characteristic—living in the moment.

1. While dogs can learn to associate particular sounds and words with certain behaviors, they do not comprehend explanations of what we want. Imagine going to a foreign country and everyone speaking to you in a language you don’t understand. That’s what it’s like for dogs.

2. Dogs are very observant. They learn body language and signals quickly. Be aware of your behavior when you are training. An upbeat and relaxed trainer will get better results because the environment encourages learning.

3. Dogs live in the moment. For a dog to learn that something he does has a consequence, the consequence must occur immediately. For example, if your dog sits on command and five minutes later you reward him with a treat, he will not make the association between sitting and being rewarded.

4. Dogs do not comprehend the moral concepts of good and bad. They do not do things out of revenge or because they are angry with us.

Know What Motivates Your Buddy
All dogs learn in much the same way, but they are also unique beings with individual personalities. Your training lessons will be influenced by how your particular dog feels about the experience—whether he has a positive or negative association with it. Be aware of his natural behavior, body language and what motivates him. When you choose training tools and techniques that suit your pal’s temperament and drive, learning can be fun and rewarding—for both of you.