Dog Training 101

Understanding Basic Learning Theory

To understand basic learning theory is to understand how to get your dog to do what you want and how to eliminate unwanted behavior. It’s the knowledge and understanding on how to effectively provide consequences to reinforce or extinguish behavior. The ability to control resources to change behavior.  

What do dogs care about?

Simply put, dogs care about success in acquiring good stuff. Good stuff falls into the category of anything your dog desires. They are opportunists.

You probably are aware just how clever your dog can be when it comes to acquiring something he really wants. This behavior is on display every day, sometimes right under your nose. Ever leave a plate of food unattended only to return to an empty plate?   

Controlling resources

For most dogs the acquisition of food is their number one resource, but there are others as well. The acquisition of toys and chews, human interaction, and the chance to play with other dogs. The list may also include going for a car ride, a walk, chasing a squirrel, sniffing the ground, or possibly even a trip to the vet. 

These are all examples of resources that could be used to reinforce desirable behavior. You control all of them and can make them contingent on your dog’s behavior.

In other words, use what your dog wants to reward desirable behavior. Doing so will tip the odds in your favor that desirable behavior will be repeated. Dog training is about changing behavior, to change it you must pay for what you want by rewarding it.

Supplying consequences

The power of your training is always about knowing how to effectively supply consequences. In dog training, consequences refers to what happens after the behavior?  Was it good, bad, or nothing at all. This is what will determine if a particular behavior will be repeated or not and you control all of it.

The power of your training is not about what you say or the tone of your voice, it’s about what you supply afterwards. Did the behavior produce something good or was good stuff taken away? This is what will determine If behavior is repeated or extinguished.  

Eliminating behavior

Eliminating unwanted behavior is a two-pronged approach. First, ask yourself, “What would I like my dog to do instead?” Sitting, lying down, looking at you, or just being calm are all examples of desirable replacement behaviors.

Next, determine what’s reinforcing the unwanted behavior and extinguish it by taking away the reinforcement. Now replace the unwanted behavior with a preferred behavior of your choice.

When desired behavior is rewarded, and undesired behavior is extinguished your dog will naturally begin to transition to desired behavior.