9 Great Ways to Help Your Dog Learn

Dogs perceive the world differently from their human owners. As a result, they see, hear and learn differently, too. Understanding how dogs learn can enable dog owners to train them more effectively and efficiently. Follow these basic training principles to best utilize the way your dog learns:

Shyness and fear are problematic traits; they can lead to aggression and biting if not handled properly. One of the most frequent causes of shy or fearful behavior is poor socialization.

  • Dogs must be motivated to learn. In particular, they must be motivated to gain the reward being offered by their trainer, whether it be food, play, affection or attention.
  • Consistency is paramount. The trainer must respond with absolute consistency each time the dog behaves in a particular way.
  • Behavior to be learned should be broken down into pieces. For instance, when you want your dog to come when you call him, there are four distinct behaviors involved – and practicing each separately will give you the best results:

    1. Responding to his name
    2. Turning toward the trainer
    3. Running toward the trainer
    4. Remaining near the trainer until released.

  • Focus on one aspect of behavior at a time. Dogs learn most easily when they are asked to master one thing at a time. For instance, when training for accuracy, don’t also train for speed – that can be layered in later.
  • If a dog fails repeatedly, do something different. If a dog makes more than three errors in a row, do something that will help him succeed.
  • Expect fluctuations in performance. Learning happens in cycles and spurts.
  • Raise expectations when appropriate. When a dog achieves 80% success, a good trainer raises expectations and demands a change in behavior.
  • Train frequently and in short sessions. Dogs do their best with a behavior that is learned over time.
  • End training sessions with success. Always end your training sessions so that your dog is eager to train again.