How does training work?
As much as it seems like it, training isnt magic. Not to say there isnt some magic to communicating with your dog, but the way it works is really just a bit of simple psychology. A few key words here will be Conditioned and Unconditioned Response (CR and UCR), and Conditioned Stimulus and Uncondititoned Stimulus (CS and UCS). a Conditioned Response is a behavior or reaction learned through rewarded repitition, while an Unconditioned Response is an inherent reaction. The same goes for CS and UCS, Conditioned Stimulus is an object/person/place/time/or sound that has to be given meaning, while an Unconditioned Stimulus is an object or event which automatically triggers a reaction, such as food.
So, whats important about CR and UCR? Well lets learn by example here! Take a dog thats totally untaught and ask him to SIT... Nothing, just a interested/confused/blank look. Now take a piece of food and show it to him, he will begin to salivate and become excited. Now take that food and guide him into a sit (saying SIT as he does) and feed him as soon as he sits. Consistantly repeat this process a couple dozen times and then go away for a few minutes, then come back and say SIT. The dog will sit and look at you expectantly, salivating and showing signs of excitement. All dogs want food, and will become excited and drooly for it (obviously the ammount is dependant on how hungry they are), this is an Unconditioned Response(they are born with this behavior) and food is an Unconditioned Stimulus (triggers a reaction without being taught). On the otherhand SIT means nothing, just a noise with no meaning attached. However when the sound SIT is combined with the action of sitting and immediately they are rewarded with food (UCS), SIT becomes a Conditioned Stimulus and the action of sitting becomes a Conditioned Response. In short they associate the sound SIT with the action of sitting and the reward of food. Sit means food.
This was discovered by Ivan Pavlov during the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. Essentially he found that if he put food in front of his dog it drooled, but if he simply rang a bell with no food, nothing happened. Then he would ring a bell as he fed his dog, repeated this again and again, and soon found if he just rang the bell his dog began to drool without food present.
In short, we train dogs by association. Association, Association, Association, make sure that word is well and trully stuck in your mind because you will be needing it! Forget dominance and submission for a bit, forget pack structure, forget the old motto "your dog wants to please you". Dog training is Association, we teach dogs to associate a command with an action with a reward "I hear Sit, I sit, I get food/praise/playand that makes me feel good". Dogs strive to feel good, food makes them feel good, praise makes them feel good, play makes them feel good...chewing up the table leg or the couch or your favorite flip flop makes them feel good.
So with Association in mind with training, what do we have? A dog doing things because they want to feel good, and according to Pavlov, with enough consistant repitition soon the action itself will trigger a feel good response. And if a dog is working because they feel good, there is no struggle, no battle with stubborness or dominance or whatever.
But some of you are saying "I dont want my dog to do something cause I give them a treat for it, I want them to do it because I'm the leader and I said so." I used to feel the same way! Then I realized thats just not how dogs work. Oh Leadership is infinitely important, if your a good confident leader then your dog will look to you when a potential problem arises and will be more eager to follow your lead instead of trying to deal with it their own way. But they wont sit because the master says sit...you ever seen a dog tell a dog to sit? No. Leadership effects many aspects of day to day life with a dog, but following orders aint one of them.
Dogs dont want to please you, oh they love you and they care about you, but their thought process doesnt add in 'pleases my human' during their decision making. You might say "but my dog follows all my commands without food, I praise him and he knows he did good." Exactly! He does what you ask him and he is rewarded with praise...and that praise fires off neurons in the brain and causes a release of oxytocin (the feel-good hormone, love hormone) and he feels good from the petting and happy voice. You can be pissed, if you can still manage a sorta happy voice and petting he will respond positively. They just dont consider our happiness into the scheme of command response and reward.
Now dont think I'm saying they could care less about us, any dog person who's had a good relationship with their dog knows how they will do things to comfort us if we are angry or sad, and if we are happy they feel it too. They read or emotions and do what they can to help, they want us to be happy...it just doesnt play a role in following commands.
So! Association, we're up to date on that now. Well almost. Theres also negative Association, and that is very important. Negative Association can range from removing a treat and saying "No", to leash or E collar corrections. So why is this important? First off we need a way to communicate "thats not what I want you to do" and also "Do Not Do That". If your dog is about to get into the trash, with a trained negative Association to "No", you can tell them "Do Not Do That" from across the room, without having to fuss or yell or throw something. And they will stop. And then they will probably say "What do you want me to do?"
Basically, you use a negative association to outline acceptable behavior and guide your training. Heres the trade off though. To teach a negative association you either have to be patient and very very consistant, or use more force. the less consistant you are the more force you need. You can teach a negative association in 5 minutes with an E collar set on high, or you can consistantly teach it by the removal of good stuff consistantly over the course of 2 or 3 weeks. Honestly, neither of these provide acceptable results in my opinion, on the one hand "No" causes a reaction in a dog like they've been kicked, and the other is simply hollow and weak. I prefer to mix leash corrections with removal of good stuff. Leash corrections for the more serious bad behaviors and removal of good stuff during training. This way No means No, but you dont gotta panic!
So how about all that other stuff that gets mentioned in dog training? Dominance and submission and pack structure and all that? For the most part, dont worry about it. In pet training and most of your behavioral issues, these things wont even matter. But I'll explain!
Dominance has suffered a spectrum shift in the past couple years. Used to be every little behavior had some play in dominance, now dominance doesnt even exist! Heres the deal with dominance, its a shifting, changing aspect in the social lives of dogs. Its also tentatively considered a genetic trait. It does exist, but not to the extent it used to be used. It shows itself when a softer dog gets froggy with a stronger dog, Soft Dog says "Go away thats my ball!" and jumps at Strong Dog, who says "Dont you dare tell me what to do!" and beats up Soft Dog, and Soft Dog says "I'm sorry...its your ball". This doesnt mean Strong Dog is "the Dominant Dog" this means Strong Dog showed a bit of dominant behavior by rebuking Soft Dog instead of giving up the ball.
Take my dog Twitch as an example. Twitch pretty well takes the lead wherever she goes, she'll roll up into a place that already has its pack of dogs and its own establishment so to speak and she will assume Queenship and woe to the dog without a second thought in its head that tries to say otherwise. But I wouldnt call her the "Dominant Dog" just because she exibits a fair bit of dominant behavior. She wont go and try to take a ball or a bone from another dog, or kick them off the couch. She isnt overlord, she's not the Fuhrer, she's certainly the boss but she doents try to seize control of everything, she just sets the rules. A Dominant dog must control everything without any room for doubt. You dont get this in pets often, its more common in working dogs. He responds to correction with correction.
Dominance has been overused and played out, used in place of every behavior and assumed responsible for everything that is really a lapse in leadership. If your not handling a situation and the dog steps up to do it themselves, thats not dominance...thats common-sense!
Submissive is another one. I wont attack a particular trainer, but the term "calm submissive behavior" is well...wrong. A dog that rolls over when you stare at them is submissive, a dog thats just sitting there while your doing your thing isnt submissive. Submissive is a genetic temperament first and foremost, its shows in those dogs that roll over when given a hard decision, or those dogs that go "Oh my god I'm so sorry dont hit me please dont hit me!!" and lay down and sometimes pee...just because you hollered for someone in the other room. It can also be a behavior shown under heavy force, such as when a very strong dog demands something from a soft dog and the soft dog crouches and rolls over, instead of slinking away, or fighting or just standing there. You Do Not try to make your dog show submission to you, if your dog is showing submission you are putting far too much pressure on the dog.
Pack Structure is another confusing term. It’s been decided that the standard model of Canis Familiaris hierarchy is flawed. This model was based on the behavior of wolves, which in all fairness is an understandable place to look for guidance on dogs…but it’s not the best idea and here is why. Dogs split from wolves at least 36,000 years ago. That’s a long time…Even looking at it with the grand scheme of evolution in mind…that’s a good minute, and that is more than enough time for some serious evolutionary changes to guide our beloved Canis Familiaris away from old Canis Lupus.
So, gone are the days of Alpha Dog and Pack Leader, Dog pack structure is way more complex than that. Honestly it’s much more like our social structure, if you look at ours in a more raw form. Take away jobs and government and money and all those defined establishments and you have people going about life and interacting in an uninhibited way. You have leaders and followers but most fall in between, content to follow someone confident when needed but not beholden to them and willing to take the lead when its given to them. We don’t blindly follow the Alpha, or the Master, and the leaders (the good ones) don’t have to be domineering and in charge all the time. I’m sure most of you have had someone in a leadership role defer to you in an area that they are not comfortable, even in a government, the president/ king/ emperor/ what-have-you has advisors he defers to in different situations. Leadership is fluid, it can be handed off and regained when the need arises. This seems pretty obvious, but it’s a brand new concept in the dog world.
Now you may be asking "But without all these things to go by, things that seemed to work, how to I keep my dog from running wild?" Simple, Boundaries. Just set boundaries for your dog, no, I dont want you to jump on me, I'll pet you when I choose to, when I say play times over its over. No, I wont feed you at the table while I eat, you do not dart through the door way. And no, this isnt being mean unless your mean about it, this brings control and order to your dogs world, and dogs thrive in an orderly world. You probably have heard these before spoken about its role in dominance...its not dominance, its respect. Respect, earned through training and made visible through basic boundaries is what leads to a happy life with your dog.
Everyday is an adventure