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How dogs learn

Dogs learn much the same as we do – through experience, trial and error. They understand the connection between behavior and consequence. There are three common ways to get them to perform a behavior: luring, shaping and catching.

  1. Luring is physically getting your dog to move in a particular way by manipulating where his nose goes. This is accomplished by using something he wants (reward) and will follow like food or toys. This method is used for behaviors like “sit” and “down”.
  2. Shaping is the stringing of several learned behaviors together. A good example of this is the behavior “go to bed”. Teaching a dog to go to bed on command is actually four different behaviors; go to where your bed is, get in your bed, lie down, and stay. Your dog will learn each of these behaviors separately and then will learn to do them together.
  3. Catching means waiting until your dog does what you want and rewarding him so he is likely to do it again.

In the beginning, we keep the dog communicationsimple. We teach the dog when he is doing what we want and when he is not. We do this with verbal commands called markers:

  • Positive marker = yes.
  • Negative marker = no.

You can substitute any sound for either marker, as long as yes is different from no and you remain consistent. Some people use clicker training and the “click” becomes the positive marker. Some use the sound uh-uh instead of no. I use the words yes and no simply because I have found that they are what people are more likely to remember and use. If you want to get really fancy you can add a head shake (up and down for yes, side to side for no).

Shake your head every time you use the verbal command. Eventually you will be able to just shake your head and your dog will understand (provided they are looking at you). If you are using positive training, then you will give a reward along with the positive marker. As the dog becomes more proficient, you will phase out or replace the rewards with praise. If you are using correction training, you will give a physical punishment along with the negative marker. You cannot phase out or stop giving punishments unless the dog does what you ask. Remember, dog training is simple, but not always easy. It takes time and patience. Good luck!

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