What Learning Really Is, and How Dogs Learn

What Learning Really Is, and How Dogs Learn

What Learning Really Is, and How Dogs Learn.

You’ve just acquired Farley, a one-year-old mixed-breed dog, and you want to be sure he’ll fit in with your busy family. You’ve had a lot of recommendations about where you can get Farley’s training, but they all appear to have different perspectives on how to teach a dog. How do you decide which strategy is best for Farley?

Most people want a Mensa dog, which is the brightest dog on the street.

Mensa is a group of persons who have scored very well on intelligence tests. So, do you want Farley to join the Mensa? Are you certain? Those with exceptionally clever dogs who are underemployed are among the most dissatisfied dog owners. Do you really want a dog who can open any door, understands what it means to take out the baggage, hides the nail clipper, and recalls the fence’s weak spot?

The ideal dog, according to most people, arrives when called, drops even the most delicious food when requested, never climbs up on people, stays when instructed, and does a few tricks to entertain your visitors. And, guess what? To learn these things, he doesn’t need a PhD, and you don’t need one to teach him.

You’ll discover how to teach your dog things that will make your life and his simpler in this chapter. And you’ll see a distinction between what you believe you’re teaching and what the dog believes you’re teaching.

Not fiction, but facts

“An old dog can’t learn new tricks.” That is certainly fiction. Snowy, a 10-year-old Westie, learned to sit when he was ten years old. He had been the ideal dog for his owners up until that point. He was never truly taught anything. He lived in the country and had complete freedom to wander his yard, which he never left.
He leaped in welcome, but not on people, but in the air.

He learned himself to beg while sitting up. He only needed to learn to sit at the age of 10 since his living circumstances had altered. What’s more, guess what? He did learn to sit when requested, proving that even an elderly dog can be taught new tasks.

It is true that dogs, like people, learn more slowly as they mature. With the correct food and environmental enrichment, particularly social enrichment—increased possibilities for contact with other dogs and people—the loss in learning capacity (and cognitive function) in dogs, like in humans, maybe delayed to a large amount.

The Wisest Canines

All dogs are intelligent enough to learn that they need food, water, shelter, and, in most cases, exercise and medical care. Which canines are the most intelligent? It depends on your definition of intelligence. A Border Collie now holds the record for having the greatest word recall, retrieving almost 400 distinct things by name. This is an example of associative learning, in which the dog learns to link words to things. It’s an incredible achievement.

However, thoughtful conduct may be more remarkable. We all know how devious dogs can be, and this was recently shown in an experiment in which a dog could choose between receiving a reward from a dish that produced noise when he touched it or a quiet container. If no one was looking, the dog would choose the quiet container to avoid alerting the owner. He was being perceptive.

Border Collies are known for their intelligence. Poodles and Border Collies are the breeds that are considered the most trainable. Beagles and Basset Hounds are the least trainable breeds. However, when five breeds were given a series of learning tests, the variances within breeds (individual dogs of the same breed) were bigger than the differences between breeds. In other words, a dog’s breed does not determine his capacity to be trained.

It’s crucial to realize that trainability isn’t the same as intelligence and that certain breeds have been genetically chosen to be easier to train for particular tasks, such as herding sheep, leaping into the water after things, running after rabbits, or attacking other dogs or humans.

The characteristics of each breed are inherited as independent qualities, most likely on different chromosomes. When a Newfoundland crosses with a Border Collie, some of the offspring will enjoy the water like a Newfoundland and look at sheep like a Border Collie, while others may exhibit one or the other of these characteristics.

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So, what are dogs’ mental abilities? They can surely learn to correlate words with objects and activities. They may match to sample, which is a test in which the dog is given one thing and then must pick between that object and a new one; the dog is rewarded for choosing the known object. Picking out the red rubber squirrel from a bunch of toys is matching to sample if you show a dog a red rubber squirrel and then a pile of toys. Dogs, on the other hand, struggle to connect toys to photos of toys.

While dogs are unlikely to comprehend geometry, they can create mental maps. If you lead a dog on a leash in an L-shaped route away from a goal (food), when you set him free, he will take a shortcut back to the food (the hypotenuse of the triangle).

These mental maps survive as well. He can recall where a toy or goodie was buried for up to half an hour.
Dogs, on the other hand, are not very effective at overcoming barriers. If they’re within a V-shaped barrier, they can figure out how to go past it and collect a prize on the other side. They have problems comprehending that they must run around the barrier to earning the prize inside the V if they are outside the V.

What Exactly Is Learning?

Learning is defined as the process of gaining information via teaching. It’s a multistep physical process involving electrical impulses, chemical release, and protein creation at its most basic level.
Nerve cells acquire information and deliver an electrical impulse to the nerve’s end, where neurochemicals are produced, stimulating the next nerve.

The nerve will generate new proteins and ultimately establish new pathways if this process is performed enough times. In other words, as your dog learns, his brain changes. The more often a set of nerves is activated, the more probable it is that behavior will emerge in response to that input. Consider all of the procedures involved in building that memory the next time you say “sit” and your dog sits.

In truth, your dog is always learning, whether you explicitly educate him or not. Remember when he poked his snout in a candle flame as a puppy? He learned how to dodge flames without your help. He also discovered on his own that there was no other dog in the mirror. Every day, every walk you take with your dog teaches him something new. It makes no difference how old or young he is.

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Here are some examples of how dogs learn.

Conditioning Techniques

Pavlov’s dogs are well-known to almost everyone. The idea developed by Pavlov still holds true today, and we may benefit from it. Ivan Pavlov was a scientist who studied salivation and was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work on the digestive system. However, when collecting saliva from his canines, he saw that they were salivating even before they had eaten any meat.

It is not necessary to learn to salivate while tasting meat since it is an unconditioned reaction. It occurs without prompting. Pavlov’s dogs had established a conditioned response in which they linked the experiment preparations to the meat they were given and behaved as though they had tasted the meat. Pavlov discovered that the sound of a bell, as well as the sight of meat, could stimulate dogs to salivate if the sound was repeated immediately before the meat was delivered to the dog.

Classical conditioning is the process of eliciting an unconditioned response (in Pavlov’s experiment, salivating) by matching it with an unrelated stimulus (ringing a bell).
A training approach is known as “clicker training” is based on the same kind of conditioned response. Dog training using clickers is becoming more popular. When pushed, the clicker is a plastic toy-like device with a metal strip that produces a rapid, clear, constant, and distinct clicking sound, making it excellent for this sort of teaching.

Classic conditioning is the premise underlying clicker training: link a sound (in this example, a click) with an unconditioned response (the taste of tasty food). It will only take your dog a few minutes to build the idea that click equals reward. The procedure of forming that connection is straightforward. Offer your dog a single click and then quickly give or throw a reward.

After twenty repetitions, he will have learned that a click signals the arrival of a reward. The click has now become a reward in and of itself, since the sound signals to the dog that a treat is on the way.
You can now use this method to teach your dog nearly anything by combining it with another kind of learning called operant conditioning.

You just click as soon as your dog exhibits the desired action, and then follow up with a reward. “What you just done is precisely what I wanted, and your prize is on its way,” says the click.

Conditioning in operation

Operant conditioning is a sophisticated way of saying “training.” It differs from classical conditioning in that it does not depend on an “automatic” or unconditioned response. Because salivation is a natural reaction canines have to food, you can teach a dog to salivate when he sees you open a can of dog food.

However, whereas Pavlov was able to automatically stimulate a dog to salivate by offering meat, there was nothing Pavlov could have offered that would have automatically stimulated the dog to push a ball. Instead, the dog must learn to manipulate his surroundings in order to get a reward.

To ensure that NO is fair and understandable, the corrective NO approach must be understood, practiced, and mastered. A rapid snap and release is the leash signal necessary for a successful correction, with the release being equally vital as the snap. There is no yanking, pulling, or jerking involved. Your dog's feet should never leave the ground, and his head should never move if the corrective snap is correctly applied. Quickness is an important skill. EASY DOESN'T MEAN DIFFICULT. Twenty gentle, gradual, nagging corrections are preferable than one fair, rapid correction. Keep in mind the phrase "rapid snap." Yank, tug, pull, hard, jerk, and haul are all bad words to use. Attach the leash's clasp to your shoelaces to get a feel for the corrective snap. Place your foot flat on the floor with the buckle on it. Make a fast snapping motion with your foot. You've provided a decent adjustment if you can feel a pulse in your foot and the buckle is back on your foot. It's too hard if your foot leaves the ground. You are not releasing the correction if the shoelaces are securely held aloft by the leash. It's also vital to consider the correction's direction. The direction of the correction will indicate which motion is necessary to appropriately finish the activity. The suitable corrective method will be explained for each obedience requirement. You'll use whichever collar you're using at the moment to teach NO. Most directives begin with a flat collar and progress to a more corrective device after the command is comprehended throughout the reinforcement phase. Without the leash signal, head harnesses like the Halti or Gentle Leader may be successful. Maintain a steady tone of speech. There were no negative feelings, frustrations, or rage. NO is a distraction, not a punishment or a rebuke. When bad feelings are added to the correction, your dog may become defensive (or defensively hostile) against you and the obedience experience. Only use NO during obedience training to educate your dog. Before you use NO in real life to create patterns and behaviors, be sure your dog understands what it means. The HEEL zone is a place where you can do anything you want. at your left hip is a two-foot square. Draw a two-foot square on the sidewalk using sidewalk chalk and stand next to it to visualize this. A HEEL made with masking tape on the carpet is also a lovely sight! Your dog's head will stay inside the designated HEEL zone if this zone goes forward. When the zone comes to a complete stop, your dog will automatically stop and SIT, remaining in that posture until further instruction is issued. Before training your dog to HEEL, make sure you understand all of the procedures. The HEEL command's purpose is to get your dog's head to stay inside the square's bounds. By keeping the dog in the proper zone, this command starts the process of building self-control in the dog. The idea is to cultivate mental self-control rather than physical control. The HEEL Command should be taught. When it comes to "following the leader," the HEEL command is the first and most crucial command to teach your dog. Heeling suggests he's following you as a leader, paying attention to you, and walking with you rather than against you. Your dog will only be able to listen to you through other instructions and distractions if he is following you closely and paying close attention at HEEL.

With operant conditioning, the dog learns that any activity he engages in (i.e., anytime he “operates” on his environment) may result in a monetary reward (a treat, or a click followed by a treat, for example). Positive reinforcement is the term for this concrete reward for behavior.
Many dog toys use operant training, such as the Buster FoodCube, a plastic container that the dog must flip over to get a reward, and the Kong Wobbler, a plastic beehive-shaped toy that the dog must push about to release treats or kibble.

The Tug-a-Jug, which has a rope inside a plastic bottle, is a similar toy. Treats are released if the dog manipulates the rope in a certain manner.

The Skinner Box and Sorrow

Operant conditioning is commonly shown in psychology as a rat in a cage pulling a lever. Food is provided once the rat “operates” on the lever. This device is known as a Skinner box, after its inventor, psychologist B. F. Skinner.
Zorrow was a lovely one-year-old Doberman Pinscher who suffered a terrible leg injury and had to be kept quiet for six weeks—which meant a lot of restraint and not much fun! To assist Zorrow deal with idleness, his owners created a dog-sized Skinner box. For one piece of kibble, they trained him to press a switch panel. He could push with his paw or nose.

He had to push twice for a kibble later. They gradually increased the number of times he had to push the panel until each kibble required 10 presses.
He had to wait a long time to get his regular meals this way. He could handle his convalescence now that he had some mental stimulus.

Another principle that Zorrow showed was learning to learn. He would spend a long time mastering the Skinner box to receive food, but he would also spend a long time opening doors, containers, and bags to get to the food. He’d learned that if he kept trying, he could get food.

Getting a New Behavior to “Stick”

Most dogs, particularly Mensa dogs, soon learn that “sit” indicates a reward is on the way, and they will stop obeying if you don’t have one. The reaction will be annihilated in technical terms. To circumvent this issue, you must train your dog to gamble, much like someone who feeds the Las Vegas slot machines repeatedly in the hopes of a large victory.

That is, you want your dog to continue to provide the taught response even if he doesn’t receive a treat every time, in the hopes that the reward will materialize someday. You can convert him into a gambler by rewarding him every other time he sits (but only after he has mastered “sit” and is earning a reward every time).

But since every other time is too predictable, you’ll have to start giving out incentives at random intervals— every second, tenth, fifth, and so on. He can’t foresee when the reward will arrive, so he’ll keep responding in the hopes of being paid next time.

This is referred to as a “variable ratio of reinforcement,” which implies the reward frequency (rate of reinforcement) fluctuates. Using this method, animals may learn to repeat acts hundreds of times for a single reward. Nini, a Cairn Terrier, was trained to jump into the automobile when a reward was requested. Even though she lived to be sixteen and only received a reward about every fourteenth time she was requested to get in the automobile, she would still do so when asked.

Nini is eagerly anticipating her prize for getting inside the automobile. She only gets a reward every now and again, despite having a high reward response ratio. It’s also worth noting that she’s buckled up.
VMD, PhD T. Richard Houpt

What Punishment Is and What It Isn’t

When you wish to minimize the chance of conduct occurring again, you use punishment. if the punishment—such as a swat to the rump or a harsh word—occurs more than a second after the dog performs the behavior, he will not correlate the penalty with his conduct, and so will not learn what you plan to teach.

He will, however, learn something, and it may not be what you intended.
Here’s an illustration. Dorothy was fed up with her dog, Angel, straining on the leash, so she jerked as hard as she could on Angel’s collar every time the dog pulled. Angel, her tiny dog, loves children, and when Dorothy yanked, she was generally trying to say hello to a gathering of kids near a school.

The punishment was effective, and Angel received the message quickly—but it was the incorrect one. She linked the discomfort of being tugged with her attempts to greet the children. She believed she was being punished for this. Her attitude toward little children changed dramatically after just three repetitions. Meanwhile, Angel kept yanking on the leash.

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