In the 80’s dog training and behavioural training frequently consisted of three days of lessons and one follow up lesson..
These lessons consisted of teaching the dog to sit, lie down, come, stay and walk at heel.
In recent years much has changed!
In the beginning the methods were heavy handed, a dog was tamed, drilled, forced and punished; the handler was the absolute master.
Then things swung in the opposite direction, you could almost say it was the “flower power” period. Dogs were allowed a maximum of freedom and training was always positive with lots of rewards. This could have been due to the fact that more and more women were entering the previously masculine world of dog training and preferred a softer approach.
Now we are gradually moving towards a more balanced approach when educating our dogs. We consider dogs to be conscious beings able to make decisions and choices and consequently able take the consequences.
We now seek to balance control, support and release and maybe a better balance between male and female trainers and behaviourists?
The 3 points to remember
A dog’s behaviour is influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, ‘nature and nurture.’ However it is becoming more and more apparent that there are also emotional and thought processes involved..
Classical conditioning, as demonstrated by Pavlov is no longer sufficient, and certainly not the only way that a dog can learn. The cognitive theory took into consideration the fact that a dog has a brain and can use it. Now we are starting to recognise the power of emotions. Each of these theories was first ‘discovered’ in the human world and then tried and used for dogs and other animals.
Social learning is important and often underestimated. Dogs learn from each other, from other animals, but also from us. Dogs are very observant and when they are not given sufficient challenges or learning opportunities then they will watch and learn from us. It is sometimes amusing when we realise that we then may have to spend time teaching them that sitting on the sofa, emptying the rubbish bin and opening doors is not the behaviour we desire.
Dogs possess numerous cognitive and social skills that allow them to live alongside humans. They form a picture of the world by thinking, feeling, perceiving their desires. . They can think and learn and can perceive and process information, learn, think and solve problems. Dogs have their own kind of intelligence, not to be seen as being the same as human intelligence and we should not consider them as stupid children who wont learn. Their level of intelligence depends on their situation and their surroundings. Animals have different cognitive processes that will help them to adapt to their environment and allow them to survive. People have abstract thoughts and make surprising associations and dogs can not do this, however dogs are sometimes brilliant in their ability to understand what people mean and in their enthusiasm to work. They will follow our focus of attention and they recognize our emotions *, (on the basis of our facial expressions, body posture, our tone …)
Studies Miklosi and Pongracz
Dogs are social creatures, by nature the are pack animals so they will naturally seek to respect the group rules, they will learn by observing and have awareness of cause and effect and recognise unfair treatment (when a reward is offered to one but not to another for the same task).
The more radical behaviourists often see no place for this process of cognition in dogs and animals. However dogs, like humans, have the ability of associative learning and can experience emotions. Fear is avoided and pleasant experiences are repeated because dogs do remember and use memories to make future decisions.
Behaviour, emotions and thoughts: three points to remember when working with dogs.
We still have much to discover in the world of dogs and animals! Many hypotheses, scientific research, etc … are ongoing and more will follow.
Is your dog stupid?
Many people claim that their dog is stupid, stubborn or does not want to learn. Often the dog is kept in ignorance, or the dog is simply too intelligent for the owner to cope with.
It is very important to stimulate the senses right from puppy hood, exposing puppies to different stimuli in different environments.
Then it is important to train the dog and allow it to gain experience, to challenge their thinking, to allow them to make their own choices, to build up self-confidence and self-reliance so that they learn to deal with situations and different contexts, instead of merely being told what to do or forced to behave or react correctly (in our opinion) to a given situation..
When you educate and train your dog the key is to find a balance between giving choices, support and release.
The ability to make choices and take control is important if we are not present, for example if the dog is home alone when we are working.
Nowadays we know that the well being of an animal increases when they are allowed to make choices and have some control over their life and surroundings.
What else makes a dog happy?
- Playing games
- Eating when they feel like it
- Going for walks at their own pace and being free
- Knowing where they stand
- Feeling safe
- Free of pain
- Determining their own rhythm of life e.g. being able to sleep when they feel like it
- Being able to relieve themselves whenever necessary
- A happy owner
- Using their nose to explore
When we are training and educating our dogs we should pay attention to the things that they enjoy. It is not always about what we want. They deserve this; we should seek to work together with our dogs after all they make the effort to understand us. From time to time allow your dog to decide on the direction to take when out on a walk. Work together instead of in the manner of an exercise at the dog school. Let your dog take the initiative for once and do not presume that this means he is dominant!
Dog training ‘to do’ list
- Stimulus but not over stimulation.
- Allow your dog to use his brain, for example scent work/tracking
- Allow the dog the time to work things out for himself
- Allow the dog to make choices, offer support but let them learn from mistakes
- Guide the dog in training as a parent would guide a child.
- If the learning process is clouded by fear and extreme stress offer support with herbs or medication
- Do not be a control freak and have patience.
- Adapt your expectations and training if the dog can not follow.
- Adapt to the learning pace of your dog.
- Practice successful and positive exercises, always end your training sessions with a successful experience.
- Give your dog enough time to learn.
- Allow the dog time to settle before starting to train, especially in a new environment.
- Allow your dog to interact with other dogs. He / she will learn from them..
- Keep things short and simple in the beginning.
- Support your dog and give regular feedback.
- Ensure that your dog is relaxed and able to learn. An animal that is highly stressed cannot learn..
- Reward initiative; let your dog know that his participation and input during the training sessions are important.
I am still in favour of rewarding desired behaviour. However I also believe that a dog should not be made totally reliant on our help in training, education and behaviour but should learn to act on their own initiative and make decisions so that in our absence they can function and know how to behave.
Training and educating dogs is a two way street between dog and owner!
It is all about collaboration!
Enjoy yourselves, have fun!
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