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How do Dogs Learn.

All dogs need to be taught good behaviour and recieve lessons in basic control. These lessons should include responding to its name, how to greet and behave politely around people and other dogs, returning when called, walking nicely on the lead, sit, down and stay on command, and remaining calm when being groomed or examined by you and your vet.

Before attempting to train any dog it is important to understand how dogs learn. A basic understanding of this can help you teach dogs the good habits you want your pet to learn and avoid them acquiring bad habits.
Dogs have been bred to carry out specific tasks for many centuries so much of their behaviour is instinctive and inherited, however like most animals, dogs tend to learn and repeat things that are rewarding for them and generally ignore behaviour that brings no praise. This can be summed up as:-
Positive Reinforcement: - You can get your dog to repeat good behaviour with praise and reward.
Negative Punishment: - If you want your dog to stop or behaving in a certain way then you should try to ignore this bad behaviour and not praise or reward it.
It is also useful to associate these two reactions with a sound or word e.g. .Good or Bad and if you are consistent in their use your pet will soon get the idea.

Punishment:- Dogs learn from experience so using punishment for bad behaviour does not work; your dog will associate punishment with whoever is administering the punishment and not his bad behaviour. If they receive a reward for some behaviour they will do it again. You cannot explain to your dog that this reward is for some behaviour you approve of, but by repeatedly rewarding this good behavior with praise and rewards they will soon associate the two actions.

Attention Span:- Dogs tend to have a short atttention span and short bouts of teaching, several times a day (usually around 5 minutes is sufficient). Ideally try teaching any new behaviour somewhere with no distractions. Dogs will learn quickest when they can focus on you and the task in hand. It is best to start training in a familiar place such as the living room, where there are no new things to interest your dog. As they become more experienced you can introduce distractions e.g. take the training outside where the distractions will affect their behaviour and some retraining will be necessary, by gradually stepping up these distracting environments your dog wiil become well behaved in most circumstances.

Rewards:- Reward based training can begin as soon as your puppy has settled into the household. Use positive methods for all education, from house-training to coming back when calledMost trainers use rewards when training,so it is useful to know what your dog considers rewarding. Most dogs like food treats or stroking and praise, however some breeds would rather have a game of chase, or fetch, or a game with a toy. If you decide on food treats, try to make it something extra special, something they really like.

You can also read my article " Why Train My Dog"

David W Bates

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