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.


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