Ever wondered how Fido learns all the commands so quickly? Well here may be a set of answers for a change!
Whatever Fido learns, is always linked with a set of associations. There are two ways in which a dog associates behaviors and learns – classical conditioning and operant conditioning. Classical conditioning means ‘pairing an unconditional stimulus to a particular response.’ For example, the dog knows when the leash is out, its time for a walk. This is because he has paired the act of ‘going out’ to the ‘leash’. He is classically conditioned to go out when the leash is out. Another classic example is that of the relationship of our dogs with food! As soon as the bowl of food comes out, you might see your dog drool. Here, he has paired the bowl of food to tasty chicken and rice that he loves the most, hence, forcing the mouth to salivate.
On the other hand, ‘operant conditioning’, also called ‘stimulus-response training’ simply means to pair a stimulus (a command), to a naturally occurring act. For example, when we teach a dog a ‘sit’ command, we pair a naturally occurring behavior, in this case, putting the rear end down, with a sound (the ‘sit’ command). In operant conditioning,, the response to an act can be controlled by the handler, where as in classical conditioning happens automatically, rather, naturally.
There are many types of learning methods that are mixed and matched, used by trainers and behaviorists around the globe. Here are a few:
Guided Learning: Just like the name suggests, the dog is physically guided to do a particular act. For example, pushing the dog’s rear end onto the ground to teach him the ‘sit’ command. This is also one of the methods used in agility training, where the handler physically takes the dog on the lead and show what is to be done next.
Observational Learning: A lot of puppies gradually learn their toileting habbits by looking at an adult dog, just by observing the act. A lot of behaviors are also learnt by pups observing the owner’s reaction to particular things, such as getting scared of a particular sound or being playful and happy in a particular area.
Trial and Error: Dogs experiment quite a lot of things in their growing years. For example, attention seeking behavior. Dogs being social animals love the attention of their owners, so they start experimenting behaviors that lead to personal rewards. Yes, that ‘puppy face’ your dog makes is also an experiment and of course we all fall for it! If ignored, they will try a new behavior and try everything possible that works.
Shaping: Shaping is used by a lot of animal behaviorists for training most animals, including, whales, dolphins, even cows, and is a personal favorite, as it forces the dog to think! It can be defines as ‘successful approximations to an end goal’. Also known as clicker training, which is widely used in the USA. The dog is rewarded for any behavior that loosely approximate to the end result. For example, while teaching a dog to jump through a loop, we would click and reward the act of even looking through the loop for starters!
So here you go, start clicking already! Let’s see what your Fido learns next.