How does your dog learn? An insight into the dog mind.

Dog Professionals, last updated 10th, Oct 2020, DogSpot

We love all things dog. In our endeavour to bring education to pet parents, we collaborated with Canine Behaviourist and Training expert Mitali Salvi. In conversation with DogSpot founder, Rana Atheya, she spoke about how dogs learn in the everyday and how the dog mind works. Read on more insights.

How do our dogs learn? Isn't this something wonderfully intriguing to be acquainted with. Verbal communication, behavior training, reinforcements, NO commands, are some of the many techniques we use wrong! While we embark on the journey of exploring the minds of our dogs, we must know the right basic techniques. 

Our dogs are very unique. Our understanding of dogs is always evolving. They give us a lot of perspective into our own behaviours. We must therefore make a more conscious effort to watch their psychological development. Growing with them using the right knowledge will empower us to make a deeper connection.

Here are some frequently asked questions on how our dogs learn anything new:

1. What reinforcement time frame should I keep in mind for my dog's behaviour?

You will have to keep in mind that a dog has a 1.3 second associative memory. This means that they can link to a particular behaviour to the consequence of that behaviour for only 1.3 seconds. You have this small window of opportunity to either reward or correct a behaviour.

When we try to punish them or yell at them after the act has already happened. They do not understand our reaction. Unless we don’t catch them in the act and react within that 1.3 second, it is not productive to react.

Be careful of the association that your dog is making during any of these events. Your dog will most likely make a connection only in the 1.3 seconds. Any appreciation or reaction to their behaviour has to take place quickly. Bring home a crate so that you don’t miss out on their activities to make a proper connection.

2. What is the best language to use to train dogs?

Whenever you say a word make sure the action also takes place. It doesn’t matter what language you are using to give them a command. You have to ensure consistency (100% of the time), and once you use the command, make yourself ready for their action. 

We have to consciously ignore the temptation to use random words that sound right to us. The words we use for dogs have to have an exact meaning and are simplified for the dog to follow without getting confused. 

Be mindful of the words you use, else you will unknowingly teach them to ignore you.

3. How do I make sure that my dog learns the ‘NO’ command?

Your dog needs to always know that your NO is actually a command to stop doing that activity. We more than often end up saying ‘no’ again and again while our dog is still in the activity you want them to stop doing. This makes our dog think that no means that it's okay to continue that activity.

Make sure you stop your dog right after the NO command by either stopping them yourself or pulling them away from the action. But always use this command mindfully.

4. Why does my dog jump on people/beg for food/other behaviour mysteries?

Your dog always does something because they are getting some pleasure out of it. Reinforcement for a dog does not always mean food. Some activities are reinforcing in itself such as digging, jumping, barking, and many more give pleasure to the dog. 

Dogs are extremely intelligent beings. No dog is doing any behaviour without a reason. Always try to understand what the dog is gaining out of that behaviour. For instance, if your dog is barking in the room alone, most of the time you will open the door - even if just to tell him to be quiet - and without realising we train them to bark if they want to see you again.

This form of connection and attention is what provides motivation to the dog’s mystery behaviours. 

5. How can I make sure that my dog is not around the dining table when I eat?

An easy practice will be to guide them to their bed when you are about to eat. Give them positive feedback when they sit on their bed and some treats maybe to reward. Train them to make the connection between staying on their bed away from the dining table while you eat and getting a reward.

6. How can I ensure consistency with my dog?

A behaviour is either acceptable or it isn’t. For example, it can’t be ok to allow your dog to jump all over you on the weekends when you’re in casual clothes, but not during the week when you’re dressed for work.

Consistency is a bit easier for singles or couples, and toughest for families. The more people interact with the dog, the greater the likelihood of inconsistency. Families should work actively with trainers and conduct a few meetings to discuss and agree upon what will be universally unacceptable behaviour on the part of the dog. Everyone needs to clearly understand what the rules will be for a training programme to be most successful. 

7. What accessories should I use to train my dog? 

Apart from the mainstream treats we keep in our hands to train our dogs, it is a good idea to invest in a treat-pouch and a clicker for training. These are game changers - Instead of begging your dog to perform, you will start rewarding behaviour for a long lasting training.

8. How should I make the best use of a crate for my dog?

One must know that the crate is not a punishment place/ or a place to lock up the dog. The crate is a place for the dog to relax and have some personal space. Make sure there is a lot of activity to mentally and physically stimulate the dog when they are outside the crate. For a young puppy, take them out every hour to do their business. The rule of thumb is to use crate for hours not more than - Dog’s age in months*1.5 times. 

At the end of the day, training your dog is more about training yourself to be consistent and not provide confusing cues. It is important to remember that dogs are creatures of habit and expect that their carers will lead from the front. 

Dogspot.in went live with Mitali Salvi, Dog Trainer & Behaviorist in conversation with Rana Atheya, Founder- DogSpot.in.

Mitali Salvi is a Dog Trainer and Behaviour Specialist. Her journey into the world of the dog started in 2012 and has trained over hundreds of dogs dealing with various issues ranging from housebreaking, socialization, various types of aggression, anxiety, lack of obedience, leash walking, etc. Her love for dogs comes from an early age where she has grown up with 11 dogs at her farm in Ratnagiri.  She has recently come back from the US after completing an advanced dog training and behavior specialist certification.

We hope we answered all your queries regarding the topic. In case you have any further questions about the topic, please feel free to leave it in the comments below. An expert will be happy to guide you!

Transcribed by: Prekshita Patwa

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