Stages of Learning

30November 2009

There are four basic stages of learning for dogs.
1)  Acquisition
2)  Automation
3)  Generalization
4)  Maintenance

During the Acquisition stage of learning, a dog learns the a particular new behavior is rewarding through prompting and shaping.

Shaping  is basically teaching a dog through small steps.  An example of this would be trying to teach a dog to go on his matt or place.  Place the matt a few feet from the dog and wait for the dog to look or take a step toward the matt, reward.  Next the dog steps away from the matt, you do not reward.  It is basically like playing the game “Hot or Cold.”  As the dog moves closer to the matt, keep rewarding.  When the dog works out in his mind that this is what you are looking for and makes it all the way to the matt, greatly reward for a job well done.  This is using shaping.

Capturing a behavior is basically waiting for your dog to do something you like, then rewarding him for it.  An example of this would be waiting for your dog to naturally “wipe” his feet after going number two, and rewarding him for the behavior.  Capturing a behavior is catching your dog in the act of a desired behavior and rewarding them for it.

During the Automation stage of learning, the dog automatically will give a specific behavior to a cue without being lured or prompted.  An automation response is when the dog moves into the down position every time you say “down.”

During the Generalization stage, the dog learns that the response should be the same, no matter if a different person gives the cue, or if the cue is given in a different location.  Dogs do NOT generalize well.  Owners should practice all known cues in as many different places with as many different people as possible.

When a dog is complying consistently with a cue in many situations 90-100% of the times, he is in the Maintenance stage of learning.  You can feel comfortable that your dog has an understanding of the cue once he has reached the maintenance stage.  When the dog makes a mistake, you must go back to practicing an easier version of the cue, or “Go back to Kindergarten.”