How a Dog Learns

Dogs learn through repetition and outcomes of behaviors. Dogs will associate a behavior, experience, or cue with its outcome. We want to create as many positive outcomes as possible for our puppies, so they build confidence in themselves and in making decisions.

  • Trial and error is the most common way that they learn.
    •  Example: A dog that is investigating a porcupine might not get hurt the first couple of times. However, the time they get hurt by a quill they will learn not to bother the porcupine again.
  • Dogs will continue behaviors that offer reward or favorable outcome.
    • Example: A puppy that investigates the counter-top because it can smell something good jumps up and steals the food. They are more likely to counter surf again in search of a reward for their behavior.
  • Any behavior that is met with praise and reinforcement teaches the dog to repeat the behavior.
    • Example: Your puppy is barking in their crate out of boredom and you continue to ignore them. Then, they choose to be quiet and you let them out of the crate. You just showed them they have to be quiet to be let out. 
    • Example: When you call your puppy’s name from across the room they come over and will receive a food reward. Your puppy gets out of the house later that day, but you are able to safely recall them by calling their name and they respond expecting a reward that you give them the moment they return to you.
  • Reinforcement history leads to repetition and recollection of desirable behaviors
    • Building a history of reinforcement for skills and cues is best done at home and in environments with low distraction, first. The pup is comfortable, calm, and more capable of engaging with their handler in these environments.
    • Once the pup is successful and confident with a certain skill or cue, at home, you can continue to build reinforcement history in new environments at a steady pace of increased stimulation.
    • Example: Your puppy is pulling on the leash on outings. So, you practice 2-3 short sessions per day at home, to reinforce the puppy in heel position. Then, you move onto loose leash walking in the home by marking the pup as you step and the leash remains loose. Eventually, you increase the duration between reinforcement, so that you are taking multiple steps between marks and the pup maintains the loose leash. From here, you can shift to the driveway, then eventually a low distraction environment, as the pup's consistency grows. 
  • Dogs learn to avoid behaviors that have negative outcomes or correction.
    • Example: Our trial-and-error friend sees a porcupine again and chooses to move out of its way.
  • Our curriculum focuses on utilizing positive reinforcement methods and training techniques such as redirection to teach the puppy desirable habits and behaviors.
    • If a puppy continues to exhibit an undesirable behavior despite utilization of positive reinforcement methods and redirection, connect with your Puppy Advisor regarding best practices and next steps.
  • Keep young puppies or puppies with known behavioral challenges under supervision, so that you can proactively manage and prevent these accidents, and be available to promptly remove or redirect if the above occurs.
    • Never correct behaviors like housebreaking accidents, counter surfing, getting into the trash, or destructive chewing after they've done it. This will not be effective or constructive.