Since this is our first Dog Training blog entry, it seems fitting to discuss another 'first' - 'first learning'.
Whether it is in a Puppy Play & Learn class or when your newly adopted adult rescue dog has that 'lightbulb' moment where she understands that she can MAKE COOKIES HAPPEN (!!!), first learning can have a *powerful* and long-lasting impact. In any learning experience, the learner is not only gaining information about how the world works -- X behavior generates Y consequence -- she is also developing emotional associations with the experience as a whole.
Our classes at the MSPCA are based on the use of clicker training (the training geek in me can not resist elaborating that we're using operant conditioning with an emphasis on positive reinforcement). One of the hallmarks of clicker training is a focus on moving in realistic and achievable steps toward our training goals. In combination with positive reinforcers like food, toys and play this process ensures that 'first learning' is an enjoyable experience for our dogs (and us!).
You may have already experienced the effects of first learning. Is there a trick or behavior that you had a lot of fun teaching your dog early in its life with you? Chances are that behavior is still one of the strongest in your dog’s ‘toolbox’. When you ask for it with a verbal or physical cue, your dog probably responds immediately and most likely with a happy grin and wagging tail. She probably also offers that behavior when she wants something from you.
Here’s some video of my 5 year old dog doing ‘Mat’. He learned this at 9 weeks of age in my kitchen using a dishcloth. Now he will happily do it anywhere. Mat is just one of many useful behaviors we introduce in our Puppy and Manners classes and, as with all of the behaviors we train, we introduce it with the goal of you and your dog having a terrific first learning experience.
The particularly wonderful thing about first learning is that, even if our dogs may not have always had the happiest 'firsts', regardless of how old your dog is now or your past training we can start anew and kindle that joy and enthusiasm. Nothing makes us happier here in the MSPCA Dog Training Program than having the pleasure of helping you and your dog enjoy learning together.
Here's to having many more enjoyable 'firsts' with our dogs!
(Check back in next month when we'll be discussing 'Wag It Games" -- an exciting new compilation of dog activities that should give us dozens of opportunities for fun firsts with our dogs!)