Dogs make the most amazing companions in life. They tend to be much loving and loyal to their masters. They are not like human beings since their brains work a little bit different. The way they interact with and perceive the social environment around them is also quite different. This is where effective communication and interaction is vital.
In order to effectively communicate with dogs, we need to train them. However, training your dog may be one of the most challenging aspects of receiving a new canine into your home. But wait! Have you ever given a thought of the psychology behind dog training? Trust me it will make the whole process of dog training into a walk in a dog park!
Dog-Training Psychology Tips
Now hold on your hat as I take you through some of the most amazing ways of training your dog. Teaching your canine friend how to behave is just one of the benefits from knowing how the minds of others work.
You never know, if you’re good at it, dog training could be the start of a career in psychology or maybe you could create a new superstar dog. These are just some of the best ways to train your dog using the psychology learnings. Use them to cultivate good and desirable behaviors in a dog. The good thing is that they all work!
For these tips, I’ll be referring to some of my experiences training Cassie, a beautiful Papillon who is now 16. I’ve had her from a puppy. She can still run like the wind but has mostly lost her hearing. I have to clap to get her attention. However, thanks to her being highly responsive to gestures and other non-verbal signals, she still is a great and well-behaved companion.
1. Train with realistic goals
Set achievable targets for effective dog training. A balanced approach ensures the dog’s progress aligns with its learning ability, preventing overwhelm and maintaining an appropriate level of challenge.
Dogs perceive and interact with their environment uniquely, requiring an understanding approach in training. Setting achievable goals transforms the training process into something manageable and enjoyable.
For Cassie, I began with basic commands and gradually introduced more complex tasks, helping her build confidence and skills for a positive training experience.
2. Implement negative reinforcement
Negative reinforcement is a misunderstood concept in dog training, often mistaken for punishment. In reality, it’s a technique that focuses on removing a negative stimulus to promote a desired behavior. This approach encourages dogs to learn that the cessation of a specific behavior leads to the removal of something unpleasant.
For example, if a dog jumps excessively, waiting to provide attention or treats until it settles down teaches calmness. This method was particularly effective with Cassie, my Papillon. When she barked excessively, I withheld attention. Once she calmed down, rewarding her quiet behavior taught her that tranquility led to positive outcomes.
3. Master classical conditioning
Classical conditioning is a cornerstone of effective dog training, creating a predictable association between a stimulus and a response. This method is invaluable for teaching dogs to react in specific ways to certain cues, making daily routines more manageable and training sessions more fruitful.
A practical application is associating a bell sound with outdoor bathroom breaks during walks. Over time, the dog learns to associate this sound with relieving itself, making outdoor excursions more predictable. In Cassie’s training, the bell became a signal for mealtime, quickly leading her to anticipate feeding upon hearing it. This showcases classical conditioning’s powerful impact on behavior.
The science behind this associates a stimulus with a definite response. This means that the response takes place involuntary provided the stimulus exists.
4. Reward basic behaviors
Consistently acknowledge basic behaviors to reinforce them. This strategy builds a foundation for good habits and obedience.
Rewarding actions like sitting voluntarily, aligning with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, effectively reinforces positive behavior. Fulfillment of appetite, pleasure, and thirst are some of the basic needs both in animals and human beings. Basic needs can, therefore, be harnessed as rewards for training your dog. Pet your dog the moment they perform simple habits, for instance, sitting down voluntarily.
When Cassie followed simple commands correctly, I rewarded her with treats or affection, using immediate positive reinforcements to encourage beneficial behaviors.
You can start to pet them only upon command. This method works magic since you strengthen your canine acceptable behavior by fulfilling their basic needs. In addition, you will be conditioning your pet to relish both the reward and approach.
5. Combine treats with praise
Combining treats with verbal praise strikes a perfect balance in dog training, addressing both the physical and emotional needs of your pet. This blend of rewards keeps the training dynamic and ensures your dog remains engaged and motivated.
While treats offer a tangible reward, praise provides emotional satisfaction, reinforcing the bond between you and your dog. With Cassie, I found that alternating between giving her a treat and offering a verbal “Good job!” kept her eager to learn. This approach not only maintained her interest but also helped her understand that she could receive different forms of positive reinforcement for her good behavior.
6. Avoid excessive rewards
Reserve rewards for significant achievements or noticeable improvements. This strategy prevents a sense of entitlement and maintains motivation.
Undesirable effects such as begging are evident when you only use primary reinforcers like food or petting without any supplementation. Your dog may even start to think it’s the boss.
By limiting rewards to meaningful progress, dogs are encouraged to develop good behaviors. Rewarding Cassie for new skills or significant behavior improvements made each reward more impactful, motivating her to strive for greater achievements. The technique works on kids as well.
7. Use non-verbal signals
Employ gestures and body language for effective communication, particularly with dogs that respond better to visual cues. Non-verbal communication can greatly enhance the effectiveness of training.
Non-verbal cues are vital for dogs with sensory impairments or those more responsive to visual signals. As Cassie’s hearing abilities changed, hand signals became an essential part of our communication, demonstrating the value of non-verbal communication in training scenarios.
Adapting training techniques to each dog’s unique characteristics and learning style, along with an understanding of dog psychology, ensures a successful and enjoyable training process.