Learning behavior in dogs: how does it work?

Learning behavior in dogs: how does it work?

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If you understand the learning behavior of the dog, it is easier to teach him commands and other desired behaviors. The four-legged friend perceives certain information about his sensory organs, processes it in the brain and stores it in the memory, where he can then call it up. The following tips will reveal what this means for you and dog training. "Teacher, I know the solution!" Reports this brave Basenji, who shows a little bit with his learning behavior - Shutterstock / Verbitskaya Juliya

Learning behavior in dogs can be divided into mandatory and facultative learning. What he needs to survive is part of compulsory learning. Anything beyond this, such as commands from people, tricks and dog sports, falls within the area of ​​optional learning. However, both follow the same learning processes; Associative learning behavior as well as learning through observation and imitation play a role here.

Associative learning behavior in dogs

Associative learning behavior is based on the principle of cause and effect or stimulus and reaction. Your dog combines a certain stimulus with a corresponding reaction within half a second. If he experiences that the same stimulus always follows the same reaction, he saves it as a rule and remembers it. If he wants to achieve this effect in the future, he knows that he must first take care of the cause.

As an example: You want to teach your dog the command "sit". At the beginning you say "sit" until your four-legged friend actually sits down and immediately reward you with a treat. If you repeat this often enough, your smart guy will understand that he will get something pleasant for him as soon as he sits down on the "seat" command. In the beginning you will need a lot of treats to motivate him, but gradually your dog stores the essential information - that it is pleasant to listen to your command.

In order to consolidate the associative learning behavior, i.e. to get dogs to internalize a certain cause-effect rule and to call it up automatically, the use of positive and negative reinforcement in dog training is helpful. In the former, the animal receives a reward and something pleasant is added. Something unpleasant is fixed in the latter. In addition, there is the (controversial, because working with aversive training methods) positive punishment. The dog gets an unpleasant effect on unwanted behavior. The negative punishment interrupts something pleasant.

For example, if your four-legged friend pulls on a leash while walking, the negative punishment is that you stop. If he relaxes, go ahead and apply negative reinforcement. In this way he gradually learns that beautiful walks are interrupted when he pulls on the leash, and continues when he stops. Positive punishment in this case would be a leash, positive reinforcement a praise, petting or treats when the dog relaxes.

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Social learning behavior through observation and imitation

The dog's learning behavior does not only work by collecting its own experiences and the resulting associations. Observation, followed by imitation, is also an important learning method. The social learning behavior of the dogs among each other is largely based on observation and imitation; the little puppies look at everything important in terms of dog communication and dog behavior from the older pack members and their parents. This includes dangers, information about potential enemies, but also about feed sources and other resources.

The young animals observe in the experienced dogs that a certain behavior is followed by a corresponding effect. If you want to achieve this effect, try the observed behavior yourself - and the learning process is in full swing. Over time, those willing to learn understand that it is worthwhile for them to pay attention to the behavior of their peers and, if necessary, to imitate it. You can take advantage of this for dog training by teaching your four-legged friend that it pays for him to watch you and, if necessary, to imitate your behavior or to show a corresponding behavior on command.

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