How Dogs Learn: 3 Ways To Change Behavior
3 ways dogs learn:
1) By osmosis; 2) Through repetition; 3) From experience.
Osmosis: When a person drinks water from a cup without any filter, it will not taste good to them because they have no way of knowing if there are bacteria or other contaminants in the water. Similarly, when a dog ingests food without filtering it through its digestive system, it does not get sick. If you feed your dog something that is contaminated with harmful organisms such as salmonella or E.
coli, your pet may become ill and die.
Repetition: A behavior that a dog learns over time is called “repetition.” For example, if you give your dog a treat every day, it will eventually learn that the treat is tasty. It might take awhile for your dog to remember all the times you gave him treats, but eventually he will.
Experience: Experience is what makes us human beings unique. Our brains are designed to make connections between things and make predictions about how those things behave in certain situations. That’s why we tend to see patterns where none exist.
We call this “Pareidolia.” For example, you may see a face in the moon or some other object and find it interesting. In your mind you are predicting that the moon is actually a face because that’s how our brains work.
Dogs are different from us in many ways, but one of the many similarities we share is the human brain. As such, dogs predict how the world around them will behave using their limited amount of personal experience. For example, when a dog experiences a treat being given to it at a certain time, it may predict that the treat will always be given at that time.
This also works in reverse: if your dog gets sick after eating something, it will learn to expect that behavior to occur after eating food in the future. It can take anywhere from several months to several years for your dog to learn these things. Eventually though, it will make predictions about the world around it.
When this happens, it is very difficult to change its behavior. That’s why it can be frustrating to train a dog as an adult–it already has years of experience under its belt and changing a learned behavior can be near impossible.
How dogs learn to develop behavior:
Dogs do not have complex brains like we do, so their behavior is much simpler than ours. The main way they learn is through repetition. If you take your dog for a walk and it relieves itself on the sidewalk, you will probably scold it and not walk it for a few days.
Your dog will then connect the act of walking with not being walked for a few days, and in order to avoid this consequence it will try very hard not to relieve itself while on its walk. This is a negative punishment, and is one of the most common ways that dogs learn.
There are two other major ways that dogs learn:
Positive Punishment: This is a slightly different version of punishment in which a behavior leads to something undesirable occuring such as a loud noise. An example of this would be if you scold your dog when it relieves itself on the floor. When the dog relieves itself again in the future, it will connect the sound of you scolding with that action and try extra hard not to relieve itself again.
This is an extremely effective way of training a dog and is a lot more positive than simply ignoring the behavior completely.
Negative Reinforcement: This is when a behavior leads to something good occuring. An example of this would be when your dog sits and you give it a treat. In the future, your dog will sit when you have a treat to give out because it has learned that if it sits, it gets a treat.
This is a much less effective way of training a dog because it only works if you have something the dog wants.
As you can see, there are many ways that dogs learn, and all of them can be used to effectively train your dog. However, these are most effective when used in combination with one another. If you scold your dog for relieving itself inside, then ignore it when it does it again, the dog will not connect the two and learn from the negative reinforcement.
By combining all three types of training, you can raise a well-adjusted dog that is easy to train!
Sources & references used in this article:
Evaluating a website to teach children safety with dogs: A randomized controlled trial by DC Schwebel, P Li, LA McClure… – International journal of …, 2016 – mdpi.com
The Blue Dog: Evaluation of an Interactive Software Program to Teach Young Children How to Interact Safely With Dogs by DC Schwebel, BA Morrongiello, AL Davis… – Journal of pediatric …, 2012 – academic.oup.com
Evidence-based maternity care: can new dogs learn old tricks? by M Curl, JA Lothian – The Journal of perinatal education, 2013 – connect.springerpub.com