How Dogs Learn




Dogs learn in 2 main ways – by association and through consequence.

The first, learning by association is always happening. Every moment of the day your dog is linking how they are feeling with what they are experiencing in their environment. If they feel happy and safe, they will form positive associations to the things around them. If they are startled or feel scared they will naturally link this feeling to what they see, hear, feel or smell around them at that time.

The second way of learning, through consequence, is really effective at shaping dogs’ behaviour. When their actions lead to rewarding consequences they will repeat them more often. An example might be your dog sitting in front of you and you reaching down to pet them.

If your dog loves interacting with you, they are likely to come and sit in front of you again.

If instead the consequence is something your dog dislikes, they will be less likely to do that behaviour again. Perhaps they jumped up on the countertop and slipped, spooking themselves. Your dog may be less likely to jump up again, but there is a fallout for unpleasant consequences. Remember learning by association is always happening, so in this example your dog might not jump up on the countertop, but they may also become wary of going into the kitchen or develop concern with slippery surfaces as a result.

This is why it’s important not to resort to punishing your dog if they are doing things you don’t want them to. You don’t want to scare your dog or risk that they will begin to distrust you. Your relationship is THE most important thing in the world.

Instead in training you are going to help your dog learn what you’d like them to do by rewarding everything you like, setting up their environment so they can make good choices and if they make a mistake, direct them to what you’d like them to do instead and put an action plan together to ensure they can’t make the same mistake again.

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