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How do dogs learn?

If dogs do something that brings a reward, it increases the possibility that they will do it again. All animals learn through, or perform for rewards - including humans!

The science is called operant conditioning .  Understanding reinforcement is key to understanding how learning takes place.  Each day is made up of a series of behaviours that are either reinforced or not reinforced.

When puppies are born they do not know how to behave in every situation they meet.  In order to adapt and survive they are equipped with the ability to learn and throughout their life they will make use of their experiences to develop a range of behavioural responses. 

Owners often find some behaviours ‘cute’ or funny in a puppy but once it matures that behaviour can become a problem. Jumping up to greet you can be cute in a puppy but not so good in a full grown adult dog.


 So why train your dog?


  • To help build and maintain the bond between you and your dog


  • To improve communication with your dog


  • To help your dog become more confident and resilient


  • To keep your dog and others safe


  • To allow your dog to be part of your daily life


  • To be a responsible dog owner


  • To have fun with your dog


Dogs have needs and desires that can be grouped into four categories:


  • The need to stay safe

  • The needs to maintain the body

  • The need to reproduce

  • The need to be in a social group


For all dogs, whatever breed, if their needs are not met they will attempt to find their own outlet for whatever behaviour they need to show.  It is not just physical needs that must be met but also their emotional needs. We must consider the emotional needs of each individual dog. 

What is Positive Reinforcement?  


It is a system that rejects any form of force or physical manipulation. We need to be mindful even when using positive reinforcement that we do not intimidate or coax dogs to "make" them do what we wish. Aversive training "tools", force, coercion or fear have no place in dog training.


If you looked up how to solve a behaviour problem you would find the range of options consisted of different types of punishment. Worryingly, there are all kinds of discussions about which implements to use (throw chains, keys, booby traps,  sprays, one’s hands), where on the dog’s body to strike him (on the muzzle, the backside, under the chin so he doesn't see it coming, on the part of his body that committed the “crime”), and what sort of collar to put around the dog’s neck in order to deliver pain or a correction efficiently.

We can teach any behaviour that we want the dog to do and change behaviour that we don’t want. We do not have to punish the dog. We just need to know how to make the right behaviour rewarding enough that the dog will choose to do that behaviour instead of an inappropriate one. 

We capture wanted behaviours and reward them.

We do not lure or coax dogs to do what we want.


Punishment does not teach a dog what he should be doing instead. If you are using punishment methods to train your dog, he may become fearful, distrustful, or aggressive, which will only lead to more behaviour problems.  

Never use physical punishment that involves some level of discomfort or pain, which may cause your dog to bite to defend itself or become distrustful of you.

C- Calm – we encourage calm so that dogs will be able to concentrate, learn, think and feel good

C – Connection – we need build up connection with the dogs handler when out on walks to help them feel safe 

C – Choices – choices can be as simple as “choosing” to calm, “choosing to sit” and not jump etc. When we use cues for various behaviours, it may briefly manage them, but it does not feel as good as when a dog “chooses” to calm. Also, when we ask for a Sit or other behaviours using verbal cues, the dogs often use up their tiny bit of self-control doing them and then “explode” and can often believe we are “joining” in.


C - Consistency - we must be consistent in what we do with our dogs to avoid confusion.

C – Confidence – once we have calm, connection and use fewer verbal cues, their confidence grows, and they are then ready to learn











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