What are the different educational methods of the dog?


When we welcome a dog at home, we will cohabit with him according to certain rules. The sharing of the place of life, the exchanges and the interactions between the inhabitants of the house, constitute this set of rules that the dog will have to learn. Let’s see together what are the different dog educational methods to achieve this.

Dog education

As it concerns learning of our little friend, it is sometimes difficult to understand how to go about it. Anxious to do well, however, we can make mistakes if we do not know exactly what we are talking about.

It is therefore necessary, from the start, to differentiate two concepts, education and training.

It is customary to say that education refers to learning the rules of life that the dog must learn, to live in harmony with you and your family, including other pets. As for dressage, it is the learning of specific behaviors that respond to particular situations.

Thus, we educate a dog to teach him to live “in society” and we train him to do specific tasks, such as guide dogs for the blind, drug sniffer dogs, etc.

Whether for one or the other, there are different methods, which rely to different degrees on the results of behavioral conditioning research, among which we distinguish more particularly:

  • The responsive conditioning;
  • Operant conditioning.

Pavlov and responsive conditioning

We owe the knowledge of responsive conditioning the work of a Russian physiologist, Ivan Pavlov.

While working on digestion and the salivary glands, he notices that his dog, which he feeds at set times, tends to salivate as it approaches mealtime. He then successfully developed a series of experiments aimed at subjecting a dog to different sound stimuli, just before taking food, in order to “condition” him to salivate when he heard this sound.

He will take this experience further and will succeed in demonstrating that with training and by association, stimulation alone (sound) manages to trigger the conditional reflex (salivation).

It was through this experience, known today as ” Pavlov reflex », Which he highlights conditional reflexes and learning by association.

Skinner and operant conditioning

We owe this concept of “operant conditioning” to the psychologist Frederic Skinner who drew on the work on animal intelligence of one of his colleagues, Edward Thorndike.

With an experiment carried out on rats and pigeons, known as the “Skinner box”, he demonstrates that behavior is dependent on the effect it produces and that it can be influenced, modified or shaped by reinforcement and punishment.

Unlike Pavlov’s responsive conditioning, where behavior responds to stimulus in a passive subject (the stimulus is independent of its action), with Skinner’s operant conditioning, it is the behavior that brings the stimulus, which makes him an active subject of his learning.

Good to know : The terms “reinforcement and punishment” do not have the same meaning here as in everyday life. Reinforcement is an action that aims to increase the appearance of a behavior and punishment, an action that aims to decrease that behavior. Both can be positive or negative.

The 3 main methods of dog training

There are a number of dog training methods, and with the evolution, manners and a better understanding of dogs, it is very likely that more will emerge in the years to come.

We can however distinguish 3 main methods of dog training, for what they are the best known and most popular.

1 – The traditional method

The traditional method dog training is based on the principle of responsive packaging and on the theory, which we know today to be erroneous, of hierarchy between the species: the dog must be dominated by the man, at the risk of being so by the dog if he does not submit him.

Based on an observation of wolves in captivity, this alleged hierarchy (domineering Alpha wolf) has since been invalidated. The observation of wolves in the wild shows, on the contrary, a social behavior of division of the tasks, without established hierarchy and without competition.

Thus, in the traditional method, man seeks to obtain behaviors in response to orders which the dog must obey. With accessories (leash, whistle, collar, bell) associated with rewards or punishments, the dog goes learn appropriate behaviors.

Critics of this method evoke the use of coercive accessories (choke collars, electric collars), sanctions and punishments, sometimes violent and traumatic for the dog. When others insist that this method does not take into account the nature and sensitivity of the animal.

The defenders of this educational method defend themselves from any mistreatment inflicted on the animal and stress the fact that these marginal practices have been improperly introduced by some educators, while the notion of punishment should be understood by reprimand verbal and never by blows.

These controversies and a more detailed understanding of canine behavior have led to this method being less popular today, giving way to other approaches.

2 – The positive education method

It relies on operant conditioning and positive reinforcement, but also, according to some dog trainers, on the theory of hierarchy of species and domination.

This method aims to use dog motivation to adopt an appropriate behavior, because he knows he will be rewarded (flattery, caresses, sweets). The “bad” behaviors are redirected towards the expected behaviors (negative punishment).

Negative punishment should be understood as stopping the inappropriate behavior so that the dog learns that it will only be satisfied by adopting the desired behavior.

For example, when you walk your dog on a leash and he pulls to his side, stopping and interrupting the walk leads him to understand that his behavior (pulling on the leash) induces a negative reaction. (end of the walk). He will stop doing it so that his ride is not taken away from him.

Thereby, the dog becomes an actor of his learning by learning that his actions have positive or negative consequences and will tend to learn more easily the appropriate behaviors that lead to a positive consequence and to avoid those that have negative consequences.

The method of positive education totally eliminates coercion, fear, intimidation of the dog and claims to take into account their personality and sensitivity.

Clicker training, or using a clicker that emits a crisp, precise sound, as the dog adopts the expected behavior and the distribution of a reward immediately after, is a very popular variation of the positive method. dog training.

3 – The method of natural education

Invented by ethologist Joseph Ortega, based on the observation of wolves in the wild, the natural education method is based on positive reinforcement, observation, understanding and respect for the animal.

During these observations, Ortega notices that the Cubs adopt specific behaviors with their mother. On a signal from the latter, the cubs run to her when she returns from the hunt, sit down and lick their lips when she lifts her head, lie down when she goes to bed, etc.

The instinctive behaviors of Cubs are induced by their basic needs (feeding) and can be triggered by codes (signals sent by the mother). He then imagines a method of education for dogs, based on these observations.

The natural method assumes that each dog has their own personality, their own emotions, their own abilities and that they vary from one individual to another.

To educate it, it is therefore necessary above all to understand it, to be able to empathize and use natural motivation and instincts. You have to create a bond of trust and friendship, while remaining in control of the situation.

The punishment, the restraints, the reprimands are totally excluded from this learning method. While the treat, the reward, the hugs, the play, are used to induce the desired behaviors or promote the spontaneous behaviors that are desired. Successes are valued and failures are simply ignored.

The dog learns in a playful way, without constraints, without stress and this method, which has become very popular in recent years, is particularly suitable for very young dogs.

There are still other methods, variations and adaptations, but what you need to know, whichever method you prefer, is that the success and well-being of the dog you want to train will be conditioned by the way of applying the dog training method.

Respect, kindness, gentleness and complicity are essential for learning to be successful and your dog to thrive.All the studies show it!