We, as humans, are an impatient bunch; especially so when it comes to our dogs. We basically want them to come out of the womb perfectly well behaved. We all know this is not realistic, yet somehow, are still disappointed when it doesn’t happen. We tend to acknowledge the fact that some training may be necessary, but even then want instant results. We are a product of the microwave, drive-thru society. When the dog exhibits undesirable behavior, we are quick to label them stubborn, rebellious, obstinate, ornery, or various other things. Before you blame your dog for annoying behaviors such as excessive barking, pulling you on the leash, or bolting in the other direction when you call her, first consider that there are reasons your dog behaves the way she does. More importantly, some of those reasons have to do with you and the other humans in her life.
Obviously, you're not entirely responsible for how your dog acts. Various factors like genetics, early experiences as a puppy in various environments, and learning through experiences outside of your control all contribute to a dog’s behavior. In addition to these elements, human-related factors can also greatly impact a dog’s actions and behaviors.
Whether we realize it or not, our dogs are learning at every moment. Dogs are extremely adept at learning through observation. A dog’s observation skills are far higher than ours, and they quickly discover patterns, routines, and associations (one thing leading to another). This type of learning is called Learning by Association or Classical Conditioning. Most of this learning through observation happens outside of structured training sessions. Our dogs are observing things every moment that they are awake, and piecing associations together. These associations become their perception, and as we all know, perception is reality. Dogs who have not had a single training session, still have been trained, by people through day-to-day interactions and experiences.
Human-directed factors, like a dog’s daily environment and routine, work together to either set a dog up for success or make her more likely to display undesirable behavior. Beyond that, how you interact with your dog and the training you provide either work for you and your dog or against you. Over the next few weeks, we will discuss what I consider the top three human behaviors that hinder our training with our fur babies. Stay tuned. See you next week.