How to improve your dog training with Classical conditioning – Guaranteed!
Have you ever wondered why some dogs are so reliable with their training and obedience?
You know the ones that always come back when their owners call them, and look like they have the best of times hanging out with their owners whilst your dog doesn’t seem to give a “rats” about you and is more interested in everyone and everything else.
It all comes down to one simple term in regards to behaviour – Classical conditioning!
Sounds simple enough right, but the tricky thing is most dog people have never heard of it, and if they are lucky enough to understand it, often it’s after the fact; usually long after you’ve finished puppy school, or you’ve simply been going through the motions until you call in the reinforcement of a dog trainer.
In my upcoming ebook book I cover a lot of how you can avoid some of the pitfalls many dog owners (guardians) face and inadvertently reward (condition) their dog for behaviours they find difficult to “fix” or rectify.
An easy way to look at conditioning is the way we respond to the sound of a doorbell; we get up and answer the door. We do this as we are conditioned to the chime that the doorbell makes, to mean there is someone at the door. In this example, we choose to answer the door.
Classical conditioning is where it is an involuntary (subconscious) response. A common example of this when you hear Mr Whippy (gelato truck) music. You don’t even need to see the truck and it doesn’t even have to be in your street for you to know that music = ice-cream and if you’re a fan of ice-cream, you even start to salivate in the anticipation of the yummy taste of your favorite ice-cream. It is this process that is called classical conditioning.
Now if you can use that involuntary response to your advantage in your dog training and classically condition your dog when it comes to how you engage and effectively communicate with your dog, this is where the magic happens.
Many of you may have heard of clicker or marker training. This is the use of classical conditioning with the use of the “click” or verbal mark “yes”, where your dog understands that immediately after the sound of the “click” or the word “yes”, your dog knows it will be receiving a reward.
You can use this in your training to help “mark” the time your dog is displaying the exact behaviour you are after in that training session.
In this video you can see Zooka licking his lips (which is the involuntary response) just prior to receiving a treat.
You can see the use of marker training in most of the videos I have filmed with Zooka. You can see his response to his marker word “yes” in my recent Muzzle training video here
To start to introduce a mark, it is as simple as using your marker word “yes’ or clicking your clicker then immediately rewarding your dog. You want the reward to come after the mark, not before, but no more than 2 seconds during this time which we call “Charging the Mark”. This simply means giving your mark or clicker value from your dog’s point of view ie; Charging your mark up, a bit like a battery.
Now when you give your dog a mark, you must always follow with a reward (you can read more about reward value in my upcoming engagement book), or just like a battery, the use of your mark will drain charge and not longer hold value (work) for your dog. As much as possible, you want to only use your mark when you are in a position to reward in order to keep your mark “charged”.
When you dog is classically conditioned to the sound of your clicker or verbal mark, you will have the advantage of extending the time between marking and the delivery of the reward. This is extremely beneficial when working or training dogs at a distance.
Tip to remember:
Always reward after you use your mark, otherwise you may comprise or even extinguish the value of your marker through the eyes of your dog