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Dog Training 101 ~ Approaches To Training

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Obedience theory involves a moral judgment in that the dog is good or bad, cooperative or uncooperative. Training follows a pattern of increasing the amount of force in stages if the preceding one fails. This method can escalate the amount of conflict with you and your dog and, in general, be ineffective.

Reinforcement theory forms its basis on the idea that behaviors that are reinforced positively will be repeated. The behaviors we don’t want we simply ignore and they will extinguish themselves. We would simply take the spectator role and wait for the desired response, then reward it. In time we would associate a signal while they are performing the behavior then receiving the reward. The goal is to set up a situation where latent learning can take place. The problem with this theory is that some behaviors are self-rewarding; the barking dog who loves to hear his voice will continue to bark no matter how much we ignore them. Or the digging dog that finds satisfaction laying in and playing in loose dirt will continue because the behaviors lead to a reward in the dog’s mind.

Cognitive theory is similar to reinforcement theory in that we do reinforce all desired behaviors that work toward our goal. It acknowledges that the dog is a thinking animal and will make a decision based on past experiences. We allow the dog to make those decisions and learn the result of those behaviors. Some behaviors bring reward and some behaviors bring corrections. When we embark on a training program, our first job is to remove as much of the outside stimulus as possible. We show the dog what we want through play and fun games, then once they know what is expected of them, we correct undesired behaviors and praise their efforts. No correction will ever be effective unless the dog is taught how to respond after the correction. With all the distractions removed, the dog has a limited amount of choices to make in regards to the exercise. Now we use reward as a motivator for the dog to make the right decision. At this time, the reward is used like bait, luring the dog into compliance. Cognitive theory goal is to create a dog that is in anticipation of the reward. Now when the dog reaches the decision point, we hope they will realize the two possible choices; desired responses will bring reward, praise, play, food or fun, and undesired behaviors will bring undesired responses from the handler either ignoring the dog, no attention, no fun, maybe even a little unpleasantness. The dog, having remembered that they were always rewarded for compliance in the past, will probably choose to comply. Cognitive theory goes one step further in that once the dog accepts reward as a motivator, then the dog has no choice but to work for their basic needs and activities. In another words, for the dog to have access to play, they must first work by complying to some exercises, or to receive food they must also work during a training session. Even for the dog to have access to go to sleep, they must perform some obedience exercises. In this way we integrate the idea in the dog’s behavior that work is a part of daily life and hopefully they learn to enjoy working for you.

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