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Thinking and learning in dog training.

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cute puppies

I was chatting to a fellow dog lover earlier today who pointed out that there was a whole lot of doing nothing during my training sessions with my own dog.

It got me thinking. And yes, I often do a whole lot of nothing. But there’s a really good reason for that! I promise.

You see, when I train my dogs, I wait for them to get it right. I wait for them to make the right choice. I don’t constantly nag them into the right decision, or point them in the right direction.

And for me, that creates a seriously powerful learner!

Take my scentwork session today, which my friend was observing…

Rio is excellent at indicating a scent. So I was introducing a new scent today, one which was to be ignored, a distraction scent which was coffee. But Rio was indicating strongly on the distraction scent, as well as the scent that he should be.

So I waited.

And I waited.

I never rewarded him for indicating on the coffee. Nor did I ever correct him for making the mistake. As soon as he indicated the correct scent (cloves for anyone who is interested) I rewarded him.

And guess what happened?

Throughout the session he learned that cloves=food, coffee=nothing.

As the session developed, Rio began to ignore the coffee more and more.

This session was only 5 minutes long!

Dog lover friend was rather amazed. She couldn’t believe that Rio was learning without me prompting or correcting.

But that is the reality of dog training. We don’t need to nag our dog into making the right decision. Dogs are super efficient. They do what works best for them.

Rio found the scent!

This type of more patient training works really well.

If we think of it in people terms, its a bit like helping your kid with his homework. If you tell him the answer to the problem, homework will be over quickly and your kid might know how to solve the equation in future.

Now, if you guide them through it, but let them do the math themselves, then they will learn how to do it. The learning is even stronger. Next time they will know how to do it, rather than be told.

‘If you give a hungry man a fish, you feed him for a day, but if you teach him how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.’


Don’t be a nag

I see it all too often in group classes. Owners nag their dog’s too much. Or they force the dog to do something.

It goes a little something like this…

‘Sit…….sit…..sit, sit, SIT!’…jerk on lead….force into sit’

Is that really teaching the dog to sit?

Has been forced into doing something ever made you want to do it more?

No, me neither.

Now there could be a number of reasons that the dog is not listening here. Most often the environment is too distracting. Or the dog has not learned the sit properly yet.

Either way, the dog is not going to learn to sit in that moment.

But if he chooses to sit, then have a party!


Choices are super important in creating a dog who will listen, focus, and behave as you expect.

I don’t know about you, but I want a dog who chooses to come back to me.

I want a dog who chooses the right scent.

I want a dog who chooses to stay with me in the agility ring rather than run off to play with one of the many, many dogs just metres away.

Sometimes, in getting your dog to make the right decision, you have to limit the options.

As well as making yourself THE best option

Which may mean keeping your dog on a long line while working on his engagement with you around other dogs.

It may mean stopping dead in your tracks when your dog is pulling on lead, and waiting until they look back to you. However long that may be!

And it definitely means saying a command once and waiting for it to happen! (within reason of course, but that’s another matter…).

Critical thinking and decision making are essential to true learning.

Dog training requires patience and consistency. With both of those ingredients, your dog can become a more powerful learner!