How dogs learn

Whether you just got a new puppy or have adopted a senior dog a few months ago, there are a few key things to remember while training your new companion.

Schedules – Regardless of age, all pets respond better with schedules. Set feeding times, bathroom breaks and exercise offers several benefits for a happy, healthy pet.

Repetition – Having everyone in the home using the same commands will help your dog “remember” what you are asking them to do. Remember to keep your commands to 1-2 syllables. “Potty”, “sit”, “stay” and “leave it”are some of the best commands to start working on with your dog.

Reinforcements – Dogs can develop good and bad behaviors from the results of any given situation. Think in terms of what makes you happy, you will continue to do whatever it is to be happy. The same thing happens with your dog. Think of the following scenarios:

– constantly barking until food is given                                                                             – going “potty” outside then receives a treat

– cuddling/soothing pup during a thunderstorm                                                            – praising and petting pup after retrieving toy

– yelping as soon as you touch the paw to trim nails and nails don’t get done         – “shake” and getting a treat

In the eyes of your dog, all of these scenarios had a happy ending but the scenarios on the left can create more or worse problems down the line if not corrected. NEVER EVER hit, rub their nose or abuse your dog in any way for an unwanted behavior.  Positive reinforcement can alter the behaviors.  Rewards must occur immediately to be effective. Each dog responds to rewards differently. First, you must figure out what motivates your pup. By creating a setting where your dog wants to learn and perform the task that is asked, s/he will retain the command quicker. There are 3 positive reinforcement motivations: food rewards, toy rewards and praise rewards.

  • Food rewards don’t have to be top-of-the-line dog biscuits. A few kibbles of their dry food can be just as effective for a dog that is food motivated.
  • Toy rewards like their favorite squeaky toy can bring just as much joy to your dog. I’ve seen police dogs be trained with what looks like a rolled up towel.
  • Praise reward – I’ll give you a question. Dog is jumping up on you, what do you do? Pushing him off and say down or turn your back to the dog and ignore him? Correct answer is turn your back and ignore him. By touching and talking to him your are reinforcing an unwanted behavior by giving him attention. Acting like he’s not there will discourage him from doing it again.

These are just a few tips to get you started in the right direction with your pet. It is a good idea to find an obedience trainer to go to because not only will you and your dog learn to coexist peacefully, it will strengthen your bond together. Just remember to do your research to find the best obedience trainer for you and your family.


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