HOW DOGS LEARN

 

By teaching the dog various words and their meanings, a channel of communication is opened between human and dog. We need to teach our dogs a way in which we can communicate effectively, and building a working vocabulary will accomplish this in the most efficient manner.

 

Learning Theory

 

There are two main principles of learning that are used in dog training, classical conditioning and operant conditioning:

 

Classical Conditioning

 

Classical conditioning refers to the strict association that the dog has toward something. It is how the dog feels about something, whether that feeling is positive, negative, fearful, etc. The main point to consider is that classical conditioning is always in the background of any interaction you have with the dog. If the dog does not like the interaction it is less likely to want to do what you ask. If the dog likes the interaction it is more likely to want to do what you ask.

 

Operant Conditioning

 

Operant conditioning is based on the reaction of the dog to a particular stimulus and how that stimulus affects the learning process. The science of operant conditioning is broken down into five main principles:

Positive Reinforcement

Adding a pleasant stimulus to increase the likelihood of a behavior repeating.
Example: Giving the dog a treat when it sits.

Positive Punishment

Adding an unpleasant stimulus to decrease the likelihood of a behavior repeating.
Example: A collar correction when the dog is not in heel position.

Negative Reinforcement

Removing an unpleasant stimulus to increase the likelihood of a behavior repeating.
Example: Tightening a choke collar until the dog sits.

Negative Punishment

Removing a pleasant stimulus to decrease the likelihood of a behavior repeating.
Example: Refusing to play with the dog if it plays too rough.

Extinction
Once a behavior fails to work enough times, it fades away until it disappears.

 

Training Methods Comparison

 

Correction Based Training

 

Traditional, correction based dog training relies mainly on positive punishment and negative reinforcement. In other words, it relies on manipulating unpleasant or painful stimuli to achieve training results. Although these methods can certainly work, they are much more difficult to employ. The timing needs to be perfect, and the undesired behavior needs to be addressed every single time it occurs.


There is also the fact that punishing bad behavior does not teach the dog what you want it to do. To be successful at this type of training, you need to punish every version of every behavior that is not the correct behavior. These methods work by the dog wanting to avoid the punishment, of which the desired behavior is but one option. There are other ways of avoiding the punishment, including avoiding the owner (the punisher) and aggressing toward the owner.


Additionally with correction based training methods, there can be an unintended negative association created toward many things. Anything the dog is focused on during the application of the correction can be classically associated with the correction. The most common types of negative side effects that can occur are fearfulness and aggression.

 

Reward Based Training

 

Reward based training is not new. It has been used for thousands of years. Evidence of this has been found on in training texts that date back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. In modern times, the only species where punishment is still routinely used is dogs, horses, and humans, because they allow it. Most other species will not allow punishment to be used on them.


What we do is reward the dog for what we want it to do. This is much clearer to the dog. There is only one way for the dog to get it right and that is what we focus on. When the dog is focusing on what the correct thing is, they are no longer doing the undesirable thing. The desirable behavior is then replacing the undesirable behavior and the undesirable behavior becomes extinct.


This makes training much more enjoyable for dog and human alike. The dog wants to train. The human achieves fast results. The dog-human bond is enhanced because of the positive classically conditioned effects of this type of training. Because of the positive classical conditioning, we avoid confrontational problems and aggression problems that can sometimes be created by punishment based methods. Dogs that stay here for training run as fast as they can to the training room so they can start training for the day.


Anything the dog likes can be used as a reward. We use food treats in the initial stages of training because food is the fastest and most efficient way to begin new behaviors. As the dog's training progress and we do not need to reinforce things as often, we can start using everyday things to reinforce the learned behaviors.


The dog learns what it needs to do to get what it wants. When the dog is at the desired training level, there is no need to take time out for actual training anymore. The behaviors we have taught the dog are things that will be used in everyday life and the things that the dog wants in everyday life will continue to reinforce and maintain those behaviors.


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