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How Dog’s Learn

This month let’s talk about how dogs learn.

To be successful in your training efforts, you need to understand a bit about how dogs learn. First of all, dogs are not machines. You can’t just flip a switch and expect the dog to do what you want. Dogs are very individual in their responses to training. Some dogs learn very quickly, even with poor instruction. Others require lots of patience and repetition in order to understand basic ideas. Just like people, some of you pick up on instructions and ideas very quickly; while others will need more time in order to understand the information.

I caution you very strongly against comparing the progress that you and your dog make against the progress of other dogs you may know. There are always teams that make phenomenal progress. Then there are those who come along a little slower at first. Certain breeds are known for being easier to train than others. However, any individual dog within that breed may not conform to that expectation. So be wary when someone makes a generalization such as, “Everyone knows Goldens practically train themselves,” or, “It’s absolutely impossible to obedience train a Scottish terrier.” All dogs have the capacity to learn and to become excellent companions.

Don’t expect your dog to learn in an organized, orderly fashion. Just when you think she understands something one day, she’ll give you a completely blank look when you ask for the behavior the next day. For another exercise, you may really struggle and be ready to give up when suddenly your dog “gets it.” Learning occurs in fits and starts, not in a straight line.

Above all, PATIENCE, PRACTICE and CONSISTENT EFFORT will go a long way towards achieving your training goals.

Finally, never, ever say, “This dog is stupid.” I have yet to run into a moronic canine. More likely, your training skills aren’t well developed. You may be making mistakes and blaming the dog. As you learn to become a better trainer, your dog will become better behaved.

Remember, training should be a fun time for your dog. Getting frustrated with your dog only upsets you and your dog. Several short training sessions a day works much better than 30 minutes to an hour of trying to keep your dogs attention on repetitive commands. Keep your sessions to 10-15 minutes max.

Don’t yell at your dog. Louder is not better. Repeating the command a hundred times does not work. The dog needs to be shown what you want him to do and then immediately rewarded for that behavior.