A Puppy Learns With Our Input
A new puppy comes into a home. The person that lives with this dog decides to only call the pup to come for a treat, for a game, for a walk, or for anything that the dog would consider good. This person does this consistently and repeatedly, making it a habit. In addition, they also make a point never to call the dog to have his nails clipped, to leave the park and go home, or anything the dog would perceive as unpleasant.
This is a great example of how to teach valuable behavior. The pup learns that it pays to come quickly. It is fun and always reinforcing to come running when you call.
It is not uncommon for people to bring home a new pup and allow access to areas of the house unattended. During the first year of the puppy’s life, he starts to develop many behaviors that grow to cause problems. He chews off-limit items, anything that crosses his path (socks, shoes, table legs, etc.), and growls or bites when anyone tries to get these items away. He sleeps underneath or on the furniture and growls when you try to move him. He may be handled roughly by kids or picked up quickly resulting in running away as people approach or bend down to lift him.
It is critical, however, that your dog does not feel the need to guard. Your input is the key.
In this scenario the puppy struggles. He considers certain things and places in the home to be of great value and it is not inconceivable that he may become anxious and defensive if he feels he has to compete over them. He becomes uncomfortable with the kids or routine handling. He runs away instead of running towards.
Please know there is nothing wrong with allowing a dog to sleep on the furniture. This is a personal choice. It is critical, however, that your dog does not feel the need to guard. Your input is the key.
A Puppy Learns Without Our Input: Ham Sandwiches and the Laundry
You sit down on the couch with a delicious ham sandwich and are about to watch your favorite TV show when you remember that you need to put your clothes in the dryer. You get up and leave the sandwich on the coffee table.
As soon as you leave, the pup gets up, smells the sandwich, jumps up on the coffee table, and chows your sandwich down. Yum, yum.
The pup just learned that it pays to jump up on the coffee table and that he can take whatever food is lying about.
Think 100% management. If you cannot supervise what your puppy is doing, put him in his crate. In this case, you might just take the puppy with you to the laundry room.
A puppy who counter surfs and takes food whenever he wants will be a huge headache later in life. Ensure that your puppy does not have the opportunity to learn this habit.
This example illustrates how the consequences of the dog’s actions can affect his future behavior. They are all examples of a dog learning without our input or direction.
Cats and Dogs
If a new puppy approaches a cat in an offensive manner, one of two things may happen. The lesson depends on the cat’s reaction to the puppy. The cat might run or it might stick around and teach that puppy some manners.
If the cat decides to run, there is a big payoff for the puppy. He will thoroughly enjoy being in hot pursuit of that cat.
He has quickly learned that it pays to chase the cat. Dogs love to chase!
If you have a cat that runs from your puppy it is very important that you intercept this. The puppy should not be permitted to chase the cat and should not have an opportunity to chase the cat. This is your responsibility. Prevent access to chasing the cat with a leash or gate and be sure kitty has an escape route.
On the other hand, say a puppy is overly boisterous and approaches a cat. The puppy bounds over to kitty to get a game going. The kitty does not like the idea of wrestling and tells him so with a good right hook to the nose!
The puppy learns to mind his manners around Ms. Kitty. He may try a few more times to encourage kitty to wrestle but after a few BAMS to the snout, presto, the puppy learns approaching kitty in this manner results in a swat.
It is important that you do not interrupt a learning session like this unless the cat or puppy is in danger. It is also important that the cat has an escape route (employ the use of a baby gate) for when the puppy gets too rowdy. Providing both are safe, the puppy will learn from the cat what is an acceptable way to play.
Impact of the Environment
There are things in the environment that you have control over and things that you do not. Like it or not, the environment will play a role in your dog’s life.
You are teaching your puppy to sit in the front yard and there is construction going on just down the street and the noise is distracting and scary to the pup. This is not a good place to start training. The objective is to build your puppy’s confidence slowly. If your puppy is distracted and can not concentrate on sitting when asked, it sets your dog up to fail.
If you have been working on teaching your pup to sit on cue and he has mastered it in an area with minimal distraction, then it is time to take the show on the road and head out to work in an area with more distractions.
Where you work and the amount of distractions may need to be altered here and there depending on the pup and what is going on. It is important for you to be aware that not all locations and situations are created equal in the eyes of your dog. Be aware of this so that you can make the necessary adjustments as you work with your puppy.
Covering All Your Bases
Just because your puppy has good bathroom habits at your house (because you taught him) doesn’t mean he’ll have the same habits at your family or friend’s house. Teach your pup house training in all locations.
It is also important to remember that if you are going to be taking your dog out into public situations and expect him to listen to you, you have to train in these areas. Visit places such as the local shops, the vet, the groomer, and the car. Even the changing dynamic in the home when there are guests or repair people can effect your puppy’s behavior.
Speaking of family, it is important that everyone handles the pup consistently and responsibly. Often one family member can be the weak link in a pup’s training, perhaps unknowingly undermining work that others are doing. Bring everyone into the picture.
It is up to us to keep them safe and successful and for us to have realistic goals and expectations.
A Brief History of the Study of Animal Behavior and Its effect on Dog Training
Over the past fifty years or so, certain concepts have been developed through systematic research, observation, and experimentation in animal behavior that we find useful in training our dogs. These concepts belong to a teaching discipline generally referred to as the behavioral sciences or behavioral psychology, and for our purposes begin with a psychologist named B.F. Skinner. Skinner described a training method he termed “operant conditioning.” Much of his training was performed on pigeons and rats, although his ideas are perfectly applicable to dogs and even people. The present generation of ‘behaviorists’ who would probably say that their approaches to dog training owe something to B.F. Skinner, include such people as Karen Pryor, Ian Dunbar, and John Fisher.
Characteristic of B.F. Skinner and his followers is that there is an emphasis in their training methods on teaching animals to perform by a strong focus on reward for the desired behavior and a de-emphasis on any type of punishment for the undesired behavior. This will also characterize the approach to training used on this site. If you find you would like to know more about the people who have developed these concepts over the years, we have made a few reading and website recommendations in our Resources section.