The Basics of Dog Training: Do’s and don’ts for a happy, well trained pup

The Basics of Dog Training: Do’s and don’ts for a happy, well trained pup

As much as I love dogs, and as much as it pains me to say this ….no dog is perfect. There, I said it! (But don’t tell my dogs, because they are told that they are my perfect angels). Bring a puppy into your family without giving them any guidance and your life and home can become a bit of a tornado.This is why most of us train our dogs to some degree. You might not take your dog to a professional trainer, or teach them to skateboard (yes that’s an allusion to the picture above) but most dog owners at least attempt to teach their dog to pee outside,or maybe even sit and stay if they’re feeling adventurous!

So here’s the age old question: what is the best way to train your dog? There are many different tricks and tools that have been in vogue over the years, but all dog learning can be boiled down to two concepts that scientist and behaviorist have been studying for over a century: classical and operant conditioning. Classical and operant conditioning describe the ways I which our dogs learn things about the world, with or without our being aware if it. By understanding these concepts we can better understand how our dog is interpreting our efforts at training as well as their world in general.

As you will learn in the articles below, not all conditioning is equal. The use of aversive methods, often called corrections by those that support them, have been proven not only to teach less effectively, but also to increase the likelihood of fearful and aggressive behavior in dogs. Instead, training should focus on positive reinforcement with a bit of negative punishment added in. (Be sure to read the article on operant conditioning as these words mean slightly different things to scientists than they do to the Average Joe.) As a helpful visual, check out the graphic below. When working with your dog, try to stay in the green column and avoid the red column. I promise that you and your dog will be better off for it!

The Evolution of Man’s Best Friend: Why You Shouldn’t Treat Your Dog Like a Tame Wolf

The Evolution of Man’s Best Friend: Why You Shouldn’t Treat Your Dog Like a Tame Wolf

Watch advertisements for canine products and you’ll notice a theme. In commercial after commercial we are shown images of a majestic wolf juxtaposed with a friendly family dog and told that we must buy this product because it would be good enough for a wolf….and your dog has a wolf inside him!

It is true that today’s wolves and our domesticated dogs share a common ancient wolf ancestor, but domestic dogs diverged from their wild cousins thousands of years ago. In that time everything from their physical stature, brain structure, and digestive system to their social behavior have changed. Unfortunately, the perpetuation of many myths about wolves and frequent equation of wolves with domesticated dogs has lead to potentially damaging trends when it comes to our care for and training of man’s best friend.  

Luckily for those who want to do right by their canine family members, scientific research in the past few decades has provided us with a great deal of knowledge on which to base our relationships with our dogs going forward. While some of the finer details of canine history are still debated by scholars, the latest genetic research suggests that dogs diverged from a now extinct subspecies of wolf 30-40 thousand years ago making them the first domesticated animal. Our partnership with dogs started before we settled in villages and before we learned to farm. They travelled with us on our hunts and helped us find game. They provided protection from potential threats, both animal and human. And as is true today, all they wanted in return was kindness….and food.

The partnership between dogs and humans is one that likely shaped the course of human history, which is probably no surprise to anyone who has shared their life with the descendants of those first dogs.

For more information on the evolution of dogs and how they differ from wolves, you can read the articles linked below.

For an in depth read on canine evolution from its beginning to the present and the roles dogs play in our lives today, I highly recommend the book, Dogs: A New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior, and Evolution, by Raymond and Lorna Coppinger.

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