Dancin’ Woofs Free Talk on Understanding Dogs
This is an overview of the talk given the first night of a Basic Companionship class. Check with us for upcoming dates.
Our talk on understanding dogs sets the tone for working with a dog in a Dancin’ Woofs class and it is open to the public as well. It starts at 6pm, unless otherwise noted. It lasts 1 hour and explores the basic building blocks to successful understanding and training of a dog.
The Training Environment
The moment a dog walks into our life, they are looking for information on how to understand our world and fit in. It’s a place where a human, or another dog that has been taught by a human, must provide all the information about how to live in a family structure, a house, and larger community of people. A dog must learn human lessons on: basic survival, what is a “good” thing, what is harmful, and human emotion. A dog is a mental and emotional sponge that somehow needs to learn how to live in harmony with its world. It is up to us to create a fun, learning environment to show them how we want them to conduct themselves, safely.
How Dogs Learn
A brief walk behind the eyes of the canine to look at life through their highly refined senses of hearing, sight, and non-verbal communication of body language and calming signals. Accounting for different genetic backgrounds and breed strengths, we explore different styles and predispositions toward learning, the importance of novelty and repetition, and effectively pacing distraction to strengthen behavior.
The Canine Mind
Exploring the physiological aspects of learning can offer us a vital perspective into understanding how information is processed in the brain. Learning comes from creating patterns (neuropathways) in the brain, connecting one nerve cell (neuron) to another. When clear, consistent repetitions of a single message occur in the same order, there is the opportunity to gain knowledge at a rapid pace. A positive learning environment is critical for the brain’s ability to take in information. When stress is increased, the brain releases chemicals that shut down these learning centers. The forebrain comprises the limbic systems and the cerebral cortex. The primary function of the limbic is emotional, flight, and fight; the primary function of the cerebral cortex is learning, consciousness, and intelligence. When one is activated, the other is inhibited. When a being is stressed, you dramatically decrease the ability to take in information and learn.
Clear, consistent communication, saying something once the same way each time, offers your dog a straightforward world to understand. Saying words more than once, or not following through on what you have asked, creates misinformation and can be very hard for a dog to interpret, causing stress and confusion. A dog’s world is more comfortable when everything is black and white. Dogs are excellent at picking up all of our emotions—happy, sad, angry, mad—through non-verbal communication by reading body language and using their highly refined ability to smell neuropeptides (hormones released in your brain for every emotion you experience). If you are consistently telling them they are “bad” through your tone of voice, thoughts, and facial expressions, they will have low self-esteem. Until you train your dog properly, when a dog is doing something we don’t want them to do, it is not that the dog is “bad”; we just want a different behavior. Therefore, keep the tone of your voice when saying “no” monotone. Understanding timing of a “marker” (marks the behavior within two seconds of occurrence), a “yes” for positive, a “no” or “auch” for a negative, truly helps the dog to connect the dots (i.e., what you just said is in relation to the behavior that just happened). The talk will address other aspects of training, including reinforcers, food luring, leadership roles, and hand signals.