How Do Dogs Learn?
There are many misconceptions about how dogs learn. The most common is that dogs can reason and
they have the ability to decipher between right and wrong.
This is wrong since dogs do not have the capacity to reason logically, their reasoning is based
solely on intuition. Teaching the dog to distinguish between right and wrong is a very important step in
good dog training.
So, how do dogs learn? Dogs learn by association and memory. If a dog associates a good consequence
with certain behaviour the dog is likely to repeat the behaviour. Likewise, if a bad behaviour is reinforced by
good consequence or no action, the dog is bound to repeat the behaviour.
Helping the dog to make the association between the behaviour and the consequence is the first step
in learning. In order to achieve this it is important that a reward be given to the dog immediately after good
behaviour. This will make the dog to associate the reward with the good behaviour.
Good behaviour + Reward= repeated behaviour
Bad behaviour + Reward = repeated behaviour
Bad behaviour + no reward (correct the behaviour) = cease behaviour
The dog also learns by memory, since the dog learned to associate the good behaviour with a reward.
In future, the dog will remember that acting in a certain way resulted in a reward thus prompting the dog to repeat
the said behaviour.
Dogs have a short attention span which means that they can only think of one thing at a time, thus
for association to be effective you have to be able to catch the dog’s attention and drive out any other thoughts
occupying his mind.
If the dog fails to behave in the way that you expect then the reward is withheld. This will help
him to learn that when he does not behave in a certain way then no reward is given to him. This is important in
teaching the dog that his behaviour is wrong and unacceptable or that he did not react as expected.
The rewards act as motivators to encourage the dog to act in a specific way. These motivators
should be something that will catch the dog’s attention. Most time food (treats) is a good motivator. During
training, the dogs are given cues which when followed will result in the reward.
It is important that the cues are given in a way that the dog will understand. This will make it
easier for the dog to follow them. In clicker training, the clicker
sound is used prior to the reward. In time the dog will learn that after the clicker sound, he gets something
Thus, when training a dog using a clicker you
make the clicker sound when the dog does something right and immediately after the sound offer the dog his
This form of learning that uses consequences to modify behaviour is known as operant conditioning.
The consequences are for the individual with the said behaviour.
Some types of behaviours observed in dogs are programmed straight from birth. Such behaviour is
known as innate behaviour and is necessary for the survival of the dog in nature, Behaviour if this king may
include things such as mating instinct, running after moving objects, marking of territory using urine sprays by
males and nesting behaviour shown by females about to whelp.
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