How Dogs Learn


Let’s explore the 2 main principles of learning:

1. Learning through association (classical conditioning, Pavlovian dogs)

This means that we’ll be using treats and toys to create positive associations with objects, situations, sounds or words.

Example: the “Name Game” -- creating a positive association: your dog’s name leads to good things (treats).

Your dog learns to associate one event with another (name -> treat). One event predicts that the other one follows.

This is a powerful tool we can take advantage of when working on changing how a dog feels about a situation, sound, person, etc.

2. Learning through experience (operant conditioning, BF Skinner)

We teach our dog that their behavior has consequences. The consequences can be positive or negative.

Example: Verbal or environmental cue -> followed by a behavior -> leads to reinforcement or punishment.

Verbal cue "sit" -> dog's bum touches the ground -> dog gets a treat.

How we train:

Positive reinforcement

A reward is given after the dog does something we want him to do in order to encourage our dog to repeat the behavior. For example, if a reward is given after a dog sits, the dog will learn to “offer” a sit in hopes that he will get a treat.