Obedience Training For Dogs | Ultimate Training Guide

How dogs learn

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Dogs learn by repetition and correct timing. We’ll see this in detail further on but for now let’s see how dogs behave in the wild so we can use those behaviors and instincts to our benefit.

Dogs in the wild like Dingos or the African Wild Dog live in packs that are arranged in a rigid social structure that all dogs recognize and obey.

These dogs are very similar to our domestic ones in their social behaviors and hierarchy rules. So, let’s see how we can use these instincts to our benefit.

For a dog to be able to learn, or better yet, for you being able to teach your dog, you must be your dog’s Alpha Leader, there’s no other way your dog will be able to learn what you want. The Alpha Leader,to the dog’s eyes is his master and teacher; he is responsible to lead the pack to better hunting grounds, shelter, and to safety guaranteeing the survival of the entire pack. A dog will never learn anything a subordinate tries to teach him, that’s why you have to be the leader, always.

Remember that you and your family that interact with the dog in a daily basis will be considered by the dog as part of his pack, and all of the members of your family have to be higher than the dog in the hierarchy at all times, and that includes small children that must never be left alone with a dog, no matter the breed, in any occasion, even if for a very short time. To check if your dog is trying to become the chief of the pack, or just trying to go up a few positions (it’s a normal behavior but must be contended) check out how to be your dog’s chief or alpha leader.

4 seconds to teach your dog

Once you’ve established yourself as the Alpha Leader, you now have 4 seconds to teach your dog. No kidding, it’s true. Let’s see what I mean by this.

A dog has an associative memory that allows him to associate an action to a reaction, and this memory only works in the next four seconds from the time an action has been triggered. Let’s see an example to understand this concept a little better.

Imagine that your dog has urinated on your carpet, and you caught him on the act, you now have 4 seconds to correct him, and this time is critical because if you let by more time, the dog will be corrected/punished to late, and will associate that to the last action he made within the 4 seconds time. That’s why you must correct/praise your dog within the correct timing or you risk the dog associate those reactions with the wrong actions.

Many people correct their dogs in the wrong timing, making them nervous or just confused on what they did wrong, and because of that, even if the dog’s owners know the best techniques in the world to teach a dog, they will be absolutely ineffective if they’re not used in the correct timing.

This is why products like the pif 300 or shock collars are very effective in training your dog, because they give immediate corrections when needed.

Are these 4 seconds the same to every dog?

No. These 4 seconds mentioned are the maximum time you should allow yourself to correct or praise your dog. On average, working breeds like German Sheppard, Pit Bull, Malinois, etc, are very smart dogs and can get to the 4 seconds timeline easily, but for smaller poodle-like breeds, this timing should be between 1,3s and 2,5s. It doesn’t mean they are less smart, it’s just that they have a different awareness of the surrounding environment, and less willing to pay attention to details as the working breeds. Common sense and practice is key here, you should learn what your dog’s maximum timeline is.

Be careful when you’re trying to discover what is your dog’s timing because sometimes when we correct a dog for some reason, he can get that sad-look in is “face”, like he knows what he has done, and this might not be the case because no dog likes to be corrected, and they might get that look anyway, so if in doubt, stick with the 2,5s timeline for the average breed, and 1,5s for the poodle-like breed, that way you won’t make a mistake.

Bridging commands

Bridging is an advanced technique to give commands to your dog. It allows you to break the 4 seconds barrier and get to the 8 to 12 seconds maximum timeline.

Has we’ve seen previously, even the working breeds can get only to the 4 seconds time barrier to associate their actions to the respective reactions. So, how can we extend this time, say for example, praise or correct my dog from a distance until I get enough time to get near him? It’s quite easy. We make a bridge between commands. Let’s see an example:

Imagine that you’re at your backyard and your dog is 20 meters from you, and he finds something delicious on the ground (at least in his mind) but it’s not good to him. You yell at him “NO” to stop him from eating that, but he ignores you, and you can’t get to him in the 4 seconds timeline, so you say:

“NO” wait 0.5s “NO” wait 0.5s “NO” wait 0.5s, repeatedly until you get to him and do your correction. What you did just now was a bridge between commands, so that the dog never lost focus of the initial action that caused this reaction (correction).

Has we’ve seen in this post, we now have a clear grasp of how dogs learn and how we can use this timing techniques to properly teach our dog. Remember to never correct or praise your dog outside his timeline, because you risk correcting or praising the wrong behaviors.