Understanding the Nature of a Dog

February 15, 2018

I think it’s vital to understand the nature of a dog because it’s a key factor in how to teach and train it. A good trainer practices the art of manipulation to make clear-cut comparisons.

All expert trainers of any kind of animal have one thing in common. They understand the nature of the animal they’re trying to train, be it a horse, elephant, llama, or dog. I read an article 30 or 40 years ago in a Tri-Tronics pamphlet called Understanding Electronic Dog Training. At the time I wasn’t really interested in how to use an electronic training collar, but what they had to say about how a dog’s natural drives influence his behavior, intrigued me.

To understand your dog better, look at things from his point of view. He doesn’t have and can never have the ability to tell the difference between right and wrong. He is not a moral creature – he is, in fact, amoral. Having a set of morals would require the ability to think.

When referring to the dog’s intelligence, substitute the word intelligence for the word memory.  Another way to put it is a dog doesn’t know something until it’s happened to it. Because he can’t think, he runs off of memory. The dog’s mind operates on memory based on contrasting feelings of what it likes and doesn’t like and then decides between the two, always choosing the memory that was the most pleasant and repeating it.

By understanding this, the use of manipulation to give comparisons is the way to go. Whether you are in a teaching phase or a training phase, this principle always applies. You mold behaviors in a way that is beneficial to your work by making sure that the dog always gets what it wants. A good example of this would be teaching a puppy to sit for food, satisfying one of its natural drives – to eat. First, you put food in your fingers and present it to the puppy in a way that causes his hindquarters to touch the ground. The instant this happens, the food is immediately provided so in a few repetitions, the pup starts recognizing the motion of your hand coming up and begins to sit. Getting fed immediately makes the memory connection that butt on the ground means food. If the pup doesn’t sit, the pup doesn’t get fed. This is a clear-cut comparison using manipulation to gain a response.

Retriever regards,

John Amico, Deep Fork Retrievers