Training Bullytin #1
How Dogs Learn
Editor's Note: We are very excited to begin this new monthly column written by Jenelle Bell, CTC. Jenelle is a local trainer who has begun volunteering to work with our dogs and fosters.
There is no shortage of dog training advice in the world today. From TV shows to Twitter you can find a wide variety of information… and misinformation. Unfortunately, the majority of dog training advice fails to inform readers about the most important aspect of dog training--how dogs actually learn! If I could impart just one bit of information to all dog owners this would be it. Why? Because dogs are ALWAYS learning.
So, how do dogs learn? Answer: Consequences and Associations. Yep, it’s that simple.
Our beloved dogs are masters at identifying the consequences of their actions. And the key to effective dog training is to understand consequences from the dog’s perspective. Let’s look at some examples.
Watson sits quietly in the kitchen as his owner prepares dinner for the family. His owner becomes frustrated when Watson is underfoot and puts him in his crate. Watson’s quiet bid for food did not serve him well.
Meanwhile, Pinker barks, spins, and jumps at his owner during dinner prep every evening. He gets attention in the form of yelling, “No! Bad dog!”. He gets facial proximity, which is very rewarding to most dogs. And his owner finally gives Pinker a piece of food and tosses him in the back yard, where he spends the next hour chasing squirrels. Pinker seems to be working the consequences machine quite effectively.
Like consequences, associations are built on the contingency that one thing predicts another. When building associations, dogs rely on one event predicting another event. We’ve all seen it. You’ve had a fun weekend with your pup but now it’s Monday morning and you have to go to work. The alarm goes off early. You shower, shave, and put on your “work clothes.” By now your dog has the saddest bulldog face you have ever seen and is sulking on the sofa. The early alarm and work prep routine predict a long day at home alone. Fortunately, our sad pups recover as soon as we return home.
Leashes predict walkies. Can openers predict dinner. And, unfortunately, cotton swabs predict face fold cleaning. Some predictions have better outcomes than others.
Identifying behavior, consequences, and associations is the foundation of effective dog training. I’d love everyone to practice viewing their dog’s behavior through these two lenses. Can you pick out associations your dog has already made? Can you identify a behavior—consequence series you have with your dog? Can you find a behavior and consequence series you want to modify?
Next month’s Training Bullytin will discuss how we use consequences and associations to modify and maintain the behaviors you identify.
Happy Training, Jenelle Bell, CTC, Your Dog’s Champion (website coming soon!)