How your Dog Learns

Teaching your new dog or puppy is all about providing ‘feedback’ to their actions.

If the feedback or consequence is positive, your puppy will tend to repeat the behavior.  If the feedback is negative, the behavior should diminish.   Praise, affection and attention (even sometimes negative attention) are all ways to provide positive feedback.   Withdrawing attention is an excellent way to provide negative feedback.   Negative feedback need never involve any kind of physical punishment.

For your puppy to learn, this feedback must be Immediate, Consistent and Repetitive.

Immediate feedback is essential because dogs truly live in the moment.   Your dog will associate your feedback with whatever happened immediately prior to that feedback.   For example if you are teaching your puppy his name, its important to praise him the moment he responds by looking at you.   If you’re late with your praise, you may end up praising him looking away.   Likewise with negative feedback, if your puppy has an accident in the house, telling him NO minutes later will teach him nothing.  He will have no idea why you’re upset.   Catching him in the act at that moment, interrupting him and getting him outside is what will teach him the right place to ‘go’.

Consistency is equally important.  Dogs have a ‘slot machine’ mentality.  This means that even if they only occasionally get rewarded for certain behavior, they will continue to repeat it.   Jumping is a good example of this.   Any attention given when an adorable puppy jumps up on you is reinforcing that behavior.   So if sometimes you smile and pet your puppy (and who can resist doing this?), and sometimes you turn away, your puppy will continue to jump.

You may have Repeat this feedback multiple times before your puppy or dog ‘gets it’. So its important to be patient and know this is part of teaching your puppy.    You make the rules for your dog’s behavior.   Its not so much good or bad but desirable or undesirable – what do you want to live with?   Dog on the couch?  Its up to you.  But be consistent with your feedback!!   You’ll only confuse your puppy with inconsistent feedback.

One more important note – the feedback or consequence does not always come from us.  There are ‘self’ rewarding behaviors that we must manage.  Whenever your puppy pees, he feels better because his full bladder is relieved – just like us.  If your puppy pees in the house and you’re not right there to provide feedback, your puppy thinks, ‘I feel better now, I guess I can do this again, in this spot’.    Your job is to making peeing outside more rewarding than peeing inside AND preventing the accidents inside because each time that happens, your puppy is being inadvertently rewarded for that behavior.

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1 comment so far. Leave a comment.

  1. FD

    wrote on May 30, 2017 at 4:23 pm

    I am a first time dog owner, and I’m learning that consistency and positive feedback is essential for my pup. So I agree with you when you said feedback must be Immediate, Consistent and Repetitive especially in the first few months. Thanks again for sharing this post.

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