One of the things I was taught when first learning how to be a dog trainer, was how to be a human teacher. A lot of people assume a dog trainer just trains dogs, but my job involves not a lot of physically training the dogs myself, but of teaching their owners how to do it. One of the first things I realised was that people have different learning styles; the way they take in information and how they best process it varies a lot. During my own learning, I was taught how these different styles could be categorised through something called a learning cycle.
When I was having one of many rabbit hole ponders while hiding in the bath from my toddler, I wondered what sort of learning cycle dogs had and as a result what sort of learning styles do they have? Breed also could play a massive role in the learning style of dogs. Traits we have selectively bred for to serve a purpose can influence how a dog interpretates and processes a training session.
Learning styles to consider with your dog:
· Is your dog an active participant in training?
· Are they pushy?
· Get impatient with waiting for you to set up?
· Does it take your dog time to warm up in a session?
· Do they take a moment to think about what you are asking them to do?
· Are they likely to shut down when they feel under pressure?
· Does your dog anticipate the next move?
· Do they like to have the behaviour broken down into little steps?
· Like to repeat the behaviour you’re working on?
· Does your dog get frustrated when they don’t get it right the first time?
· Appear stubborn when the end behaviour isn’t clear?
· Default to known behaviours when struggling with a new one?
Here are a couple examples of how breed can play a rule in your dog’s learning style:
Terriers – very live in the moment, bred to get stuck in and move swiftly onto the next task.
Ancient and livestock guardians – independent and problem solving, bred to think for themselves.
Gundogs and herding breeds – very focused, bred to follow instructions and need to be given tasks. handler
If you look at these examples, we can postulate terriers might be quick to get bored with learning the same thing for too long, independent breeds might need an alternate reason to do something they don’t see the point of and herding and gundogs want clear instructions.
We can’t make a dog learn – we can only facilitate the internal process. So, understanding how your dog learns will go a long way in helping to make that process as easy as possible. But what does that even look like? I’ve listed below some suggestions for helping to maximise your dog’s learning style to your advantage.
Think about your own learning style and consider if you might be accidently imposing the way you learn onto your dog, who might learn differently from you.
Ready your training area before bringing your dog in; have treats cut up, equipment to one side and within easy reach, a location with the space you need to train in.
Have a list of goals of what you want to accomplish in the training session.
Break down the session into steps and adjust for your dog’s learning style i.e. whether your dog needs a warm up, or switching up what you are working on in the session to keep your dog’s focus.
Be aware of your own emotions and their effect on your dog or your dog’s emotions during training. Don’t be afraid to stop the training if you need to.
Film your training session to be able to review later and spot any errors and assess your dog’s body language during the training.
Have a warm down and finish to the session – I like to use a finish cue and sniffing.
Sit down after and review how the session went and how you can improve it in the future. Remember, that mistakes are there to learn from.
Have a think about what your dog’s training style might be and how their breed can influence that way they learn. Put things into place to set up future training sessions to use their learning style to the best advantage.