Effectively training your dog to be a happy, healthy and well behaved member of your family is about more than just learning tricks or commands. Training begins with understanding the basic psychology of your pet.
Understanding the basics of dog psychology can help you and your canine companion engage in more effective communication, and help make the training process easier on you both.
Remember Your Dog Is… A Dog
One of the key facts we try to remind pet owners is that dogs are not humans. They do not think, feel or operate in the way that humans do. One of the key differences that impact basic pet training is that dogs lack the framework of time. Despite what many owners believe, dogs are unable to hold an image in their mind for an extended period. When we leave dogs alone, they don’t spend this time thinking of their owner or mourning for their return, as they cannot hold an image in their minds for that long. While your dog may recognize your scent when you return, they have not been thinking about you the whole time. There are many owners whose training is disrupted because they believe that their dog is spending time in their crates or secluded areas, pining for their owners. This is not true, and it is a fallacy that needs to be broken before effective training can begin.
Understanding the Pack Mentality
One of the key driving forces in most dogs’ behavior comes from their focus on the pack mentality. A dog’s drive to belong to a pack is extremely powerful. Dogs yearn to be part of a pack, and in your household you and your other pets are all pack members. When you leave your dog tied up at home and he sees his companions leave, your pet can become frustrated, bark, whine or even become destructive. Dogs will typically develop a drive or a passion to get to their pack and to continue to belong to this group. A dog’s inherent desire to be part of a pack is one of the most powerful incentives in his life and this drive is something that you can harness during training. Fulfilling your dog’s need to be part of the pack can go a long way when it comes to eliciting positive responses as you learn to communicate with and train you dog.
How Your Dog Learns
Dogs may have different levels of intelligence, or an ability to solve problems on their own, but they all learn by trial and error. To truly have a grasp on your dog’s behavior, you must also understand how your pet receives, interprets and acts on the messages that are delivered to him, particularly in training.
The way your pet develops habits, learns commands and interacts with others in his surroundings all comes down to simple associations. A dog forms a connection and then he begins the intellectual process of analyzing these connections. This is particularly important in training when you attempt to give a dog a stimulus (or a signal or command) that can form a connection in his brain. Eventually he can then learn that the appropriate response or habit will be to perform the command. You are helping your dog make a connection between the signal and what it means, and this is how he learns.
Eventually, dogs can start taking one reaction to the stimulus and use it as a stimulus for the next response. For example, your pet may learn that when he hears your car come in the garage, it means you are home for the evening and that he should pick up his leash so he can go on his nightly walk. This more elaborate correlation is known as ‘chaining.’
While dogs operate with a different basic psychology than most humans, owners who understand the differences between human and canine psychology are often able to find much more success in their training. While it can be frustrating when your dog doesn’t respond in the way you believe they should, but remember that you are each seeing the world quite differently.