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  • Writer's pictureBobby Dwyer

The Psychology of Dog Training

We could go in-depth to dog psychology but that is for another long article in itself.

The general idea is that dogs think in simple, black and white, terms. There is no

gray in a dogs mind. As a trainer and handler, if you can think like a dog and not like a human

then you will be able to communicate with and teach your dog better than most.

Dogs require food, water, and air to live. We will be using food as a reward when

teaching new things to the puppy. With well bred working dogs, its rewarding for a

dog to perform what it was bred to do, i.e., retrieving, playing tug, running, etc.

One thing I see and hear from some trainers is that your dog needs to understand

you are the “alpha” and that you must be the pack leader by performing an alpha

roll, scruff shake, or any other intimidation tactics. This is the old method of

breaking a puppy and controlling it through fear. The only consistent result I’ve

seen come from this is a dog that is intimidated by you and, if cornered, might

growl or bite out of fear for themselves. The dog will receive enough pressure

throughout the training process so there is no need to apply pressure on a puppy or

older dog that they will not understand.

While our dogs do share some genetics with wolves, their understanding of the

world and social hierarchy are different. Make the relationship between you

and your dog a partnership, not a monarchy. One way to explain it better is

that in the military there is a tradition of ranking the military working dogs

higher than the rank of their handlers. This is done to prevent abuse and the

“show the dog who is boss” idea. To get our dogs to perform tasks we are

going to condition them to perform certain jobs. Ivan Pavlov discovered this by observing

his dogs would salivate when he would ring a bell. He started by ringing a bell

before feeding his dogs, then over time, he would ring a bell and watch his

dogs salivate even though no food was present. The dogs linked the sound of

the bell to receiving food. This is the basis of all animal training; something

happens, your react to that stimulus, and you receive a reinforcer or punisher.

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