How dogs learn
Animal behavior is influenced by hereditary factors and learning. The greater the proportion of the behavioral responses is the training component, the easier it is to control your dog.
Traditionally, the physiological foundations of training are considered from the standpoint of the conditioned reflex theory of I. P. Pavlov. In accordance with it, all forms of animal behavior can be explained on the basis of the principle of reflex neural communication. Moreover, the essence of training consists in the development and use in work of the necessary conditioned reflexes. According to this principle, a previously neutral stimulus — for example, the “Sit!” Command, combined with the forced landing of a dog many times — acquires the value of a conditioned stimulus, launching the arc of the conditioned reflex and causing the required actions of the animal. Without going into the subtleties of physiology, I will say that the arc of the conditioned reflex is the closure of the temporal connection between the auditory and motor centers of the brain. The reflex is considered fixed if the dog, without hesitation, sits in the desired position, barely hearing a familiar sound signal.
Ethologists say that dogs learn from each other, from their master and his entourage. According to a wise proverb: “A bad example is contagious.” Therefore, make sure that the lessons that your pet is passively learning are positive. It is known, for example, that in a society of an ill-bred dog, a puppy “forgets” the team and “does not hear” the owner, acting like an uncontrollable relative. Young dogs are especially prone to training through observation and imitation. Experienced trainers often take a well-trained dog with them to the lesson, which by their actions provokes the puppy to carry out the commands. So, observing how an adult dog overcomes the barrier and gets a treat for this, the puppy learns this behavior on his own much faster than those who do not have a four “teacher”.
However, the dog receives most of the life experience using trial and error. The dog strives to repeat the action that entails the satisfaction of the need again and again, and tries to avoid the action that caused the discomfort. The trial and error method is widely used in training, providing targeted training of an animal to perform one or another activity (see “First days of a puppy in a new house”, “Initial education of a puppy”). In total, such training includes the manipulation of the system of punishments and rewards. Positive reinforcement of the desired action from the dog can increase the likelihood that it will play this action again and again. As a positive reinforcement, food, toys, physical caress, verbal praise and attention from the owner are used.
The conditioned reflexes are developed faster if the dog makes the necessary movements by itself, and they are reinforced by the trainer in time. You can cause passive movements in the dog – for example, by forcing it to sit down by clicking in the lumbar region. But the reflex to the word: “Sit!” it forms faster if conditions are created so that the dog begins to sit down on its own. The “non-contact” way of teaching this team is widely known, when the trainer forces the animal to take the desired position, holding a piece of food over the puppy’s head. In this case, the dog independently, “of good will” performs the actions that are required of it, and as a result, is trained much more willingly and actively.
How dogs learn When using food as positive reinforcement, give as little bite as possible – for example, a cube of meat the size of a centimeter or a granule of dry food. If your pet is especially fond of treats, you can try to cut even smaller pieces. Trainers argue that, while receiving a treat in the process of teaching teams, the dog should not be distracted by chewing, grabbing a large piece. For puppies aged 8–9 months, the use of small portions of goodies means more reinforcements during one training session with intensive training. It is important to accurately recognize the moment when you should reward the dog with a treat. For example, if when practicing the “Sit!” Command the puppy managed to jump up even before it got a tasty bite, which means that you were late with reinforcements and as a result encouraged a jump from a place, rather than a sitting position. When using the flavoring method in the initial education, reinforce the desired behavior every time it manifests. However, after the dog has mastered the trick, the use of goodies becomes periodic and in the end should come to naught.
Some experts argue that the choice of food reward depends on the difficulty of the team. For example, if a dog “cleanly” overcame a difficult obstacle, then he should get a bigger piece and your sincere praise. C. Payer says that the best result requires an appropriate reward – ten times more than regular reinforcement, which is a pleasant surprise for the dog.