Setting Dogs Up for Successful Learning

I am always on the hunt for good life similarities to dog training.  This week I stumbled upon more as my son is wrapping up his first week at kindergarten.  At his orientation last week prior to the first day of school, we were walked through some simple ways to help our children develop a love of learning and there were a couple points that struck me as being parallel to the concept of how we can better help our dogs to learn.

First presented to the parents was the idea of creating an environment conductive to learning.  For a child this looks like providing a quiet place to study at home.  For my dog owner clients this looks like….you guessed it….providing a quiet place for their dog to learn!  This especially rings true with puppies.  If you are trying to train your puppy in some new behaviors at home, do not select the noisiest and busiest room in which to do so.  Puppies can be very easily distracted, so finding a quiet area where you can garner their attention to work with them is essential.  Once they have mastered the behaviors without distractions, then you can gradually add distractions in as you work with them.  However throwing lots of distractions into the mix when they are in the first stages of learning a new behavior does not set them up for success and certainly will not create an environment that is conductive to learning.

Second was helping your child develop good study habits.  How do we do this with children?  Practice, practice and more practice.  We help them to practice the learning process.  You would not say to your child that they only have to do homework or study on Mondays and then the rest of the week they don’t need to do anything.  We see the same concept of dog’s developing good habits by practicing behaviors that they have learned.  Probably many of us have experienced that moment when we ask our dog for a behavior, let’s say it was “roll over”, and the dog looks at us like we have two heads because the last time we asked them for that behavior was a year ago!  So we must practice training and helping our dogs learn, even if for just five to ten minutes a day.  This also provides wonderful mental stimulation for the dog on a daily basis.

Lastly, and not presented by the school principal, but a parallel I drew this week from numerous conversations with my son when he got home from school, was ENJOY RECESS!  I found this week that when my son has talked to me about his day, the majority of the conversation centers around recess.  In this “play environment” is where he is building relationships with other kids, letting out excess energy and frankly just having a fabulous time.  I think the same is true for our dogs.  In the midst of “study” and learning new things, there must be time created for “recess.”  This can be a time for dogs and owners to strengthen their bond, for dogs to release pent up energy and also just have fun.  One of my favorite books on this topic was written by Karen B. London and Patricia B. McConnell and it is called “Play Together, Stay Together.”  It is chock full of great play ideas for owners and dogs.

So remember to think through some of the concepts listed above when working with your dog.  There are so many wonderful similarities to child learning and dog learning and helping to set them up for success in this process is a key factor in training our wonderful dogs.

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Positively Expert: Cathy Bruce, CPDT

Cathy Bruce is a VSPDT and a CPDT and the owner of Canine Country Academy, LLC in Lawrenceville, GA. After a successful career as a Broadway singer/actress, she decided to pursue her love of dogs. As a dog trainer, she strives to educate owners on how to better communicate with their dogs using only positive methods.


9 thoughts on “Setting Dogs Up for Successful Learning

  1. marcy

    We have two new puppies. We are trying to crate train and potty trian them both...but are not having much luck. the little chihuahua keeps gping in the crate no matter how early we feed her and no matter how many times. we let her go out to potty. We have even started waking up early to take her out halfway thru the night, and often it is too late. They're carets are very smalll as instructed so that they have enough room to stand up, turn around and lay down. there is a bit of room left, but not much.We take them out and award them when they potty in the grass and try to catch them in the house, but it happens so quickly as if they are doing it when they see you look away! 🙂
    Any suggestions and how do I get the little chichuahua to quit pooping in her crate?
    They are being given at least 7-10 times a day of outside time. We love the puupies and really want to be successful with our training.
    We even have one of those grass potty pads by the back door with a bell, but they have yet to learn it.


    hi i just wanted to say that i have been watching Victoria S. in It's me or the dog for a few months now and i can say it has help me a lot with my Johnny(shih tzu). I want to thank Victoria S. for showing us the public how to help our pets to become the best they can be. My daughter actually teached Johnny the concept to seat moving her hands upward just as victoria does in the show. I taugh him to go to the next room by telling back and moving my hands, it actually doe work but he likes to go around me sometimes.
    well i guess i need to work harder on that. but hes picking up a lot of the things we are teaching him.
    KEEP ON DOING A GREAT JOB AS YOU HAVE BEEN DOING NOW, hope your program continues succeding as of now.
    i have a question i have seen many website on shih tzu but it gives me different answers, can you tell me what are the types of food i could give my shih ztu(homemade). i would really appreciated it.

  3. Lisa Fekete

    Great advice on training! I love playing with my dogs, but I never considered play to be connected with their training! Thank you for more training tips and the new evidence of the importance of play!!

  4. Cathy Bruce

    Marcy, I'm not sure who gave you the crate instruction, but it would be a good thing to get you in touch with a trainer in your area to help you with the housebreaking. If you would like to email me offline with your information I can try and hook you up with someone in your area.
    Cathy Bruce, CPDT-KA

  5. Cathy Bruce

    Thanks Lisa! I think play is definitely an important part to any relationship. It also gives the dog's brain a break from having to think in the context of "working.." What's that phrase......all work and no play....! Putting the play back in gives us all better life balance, not to mention the fact that for some dogs play can be seen as a HUGE reward!
    Happy training!
    Cathy Bruce, CPDT-KA

  6. Summer

    Please help me. I have a small dog, she is Pomeranian, shih tzu, and blue heeler. She will be six in October, the problem is she is getting really aggressive. Whenever my mom goes into my room to wake me up she starts growling, at one point she even bit her hand. She nips at the kids' heels and gets worse when I'm not home. I don't have the money to bring in a trainer to help me with this problem, so I was hoping that you would be able to give me some free tips that might possibly help. Thank you in advance.
    Summer Stephens

  7. JAn Meyer

    We have a an adopted 2 yr. old Border Collie?Lab mix who is a wonderful boy. Over the past months, he has become hard to handle when stopping for gas and or driveup windows. He gets treats at many of hte windows, but when getting gas he barks non-stop even just at the noises there. I have tried giving him terats with a leave it command while we are att he gas station, without limited success. I am at a loss at what to do next besides not taking him in the car when I might have to stop. He will bark at certain people while waiting in parking lots, but will stop when instructed to.

    Any help would be appreciated. Thanks. very much.

  8. Alicia

    Hey, we just got a sweet little female saint bernard puppy, 10 wks. We know puppies are teething, but how can you stop her from biting my family? We've heard many solutions but with our stubborn puppy, they don't work. Any advice would help! Thanks. -Alicia

  9. Sabrina

    Hello. I just adopted a 2 yr old poodle and lhasa apso mix from my local shelter. He is a very energetic little dog so I take him on 2 short walks and 1 long walk every day. I also spend an hour or two playing ball with him. However, he has a habit of biting, nipping and scratching me. He does it a lot during play time, and also after i give him a bathe and am trying to wipe him down. Sometimes, he even does that and jumps on me when I wake up in the morning or just get up from sitting on the couch. I have tried training and working with him, but so far he does not even respond to me calling him to come to me every time (stubborn dog). Please help.

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