- Ben Landkammer
Your Dog's Brain is a Supercomputer
Updated: Jan 7, 2020
Keep your communication simple and concise-cutting out the extraneous verbiage will help your dog understand and execute your commands with less confusion, leading to more reliability and success.
I'm no computer scientist, but I did go to grad school with a few. How's that for a disclaimer?
The most basic level of coding is binary-zero's and one's, which when used properly amount to lines of code-the building blocks of a computer program or application. Translated into training, dogs also think in binary terms.
"What a dog is looking at is what it is thinking about" is a phase that we often don't consider enough. Dog's can't multitask-they do whatever they are doing until either commanded to do something else, or distracted away. Similarly, the old 386 computer that we had growing up could only perform one task at a time-usually that was allowing me to play old arcade games that we had copies of on (gasp!) 5 1/2" floppy disks. Yep-the ones that were actually floppy. At the base level of coding of Astro, Hard Hat Mac and Frogger are a binary coding language using 1's and 0's.
Training a dog is very similar to writing code-we use repetition of very basic protocols and over time combine them to build the behaviors we are looking for. At the root level of this is our input, our 1's and 0's, our 'yes' and 'no'. We communicate through a language that we understand, but is foreign to the dog-English, German, French, Dothraki, Tolkien Elvish (I have some great, super nerdy trainer friends...), etc, and the only way to communicate what those words mean is through some kind of physical interaction, until the word is defined and understood in the dog's mind. To simply say 'no' every time the dog did something undesirable, while not communicating the word's meaning via a mode the dog understands, is a disservice to all involved not to mention an ineffectual waste of time. As such, when the dog does something desirable we reward physically-a treat, petting, a toy, giving space. When the dog does something undesirable we give a correction akin to another dog nipping the neck to add clarity to what we are asking, and we redirect the behavior in order to elicit the one we were actually looking for. It is in this manner that a true understanding of what is expected from the dog is established, which is the major component in that dog being stable and in growing your relationship.
Trains require two rails in order to get where they're going, the road has white lines on one side and yellow on the other, a motorcycle has two wheels. Without the second rail, yellow line and front wheel respectfully, each system would not be capable of what we ask of them-trains couldn't be used for mass transportation of goods, our highway system would be much scarier to drive on than necessary, and that Harley in the garage would not be rideable. Similarly, if we don't reward our dogs for doing what is asked and also communicate that when they get distracted, do something dangerous or decide to have a mind of their own that it isn't OK, we are only coding with 1's. It is critical to the dog's supercomputer brain that we use the full spectrum of inputs ('yes' AND 'no') in writing the behavior we seek-their operating system for life. As important as 'yes' is for communicating to the dog that you are happy with what they just did, without an understanding of what the opposite of that word means, its true meaning and value is lost.
Light ceases to be as meaningful without darkness, vanilla ice cream (while delicious) is missing a special something without chocolate (or cookie crumbles!), a game without rules quickly descends into chaos and ceases to be fun, and dogs become unreliable in commands when not given clarifying communication.
90% of what we do in training is reward the dog for the desired behavior, but without establishing what also can't be done and what isn't allowed, the training game and therefore life are made much harder-for it is only in playing the game by the rules that winning has any true meaning.
ALWAYS end a training session on a win and what you'll develop is a dog that looks forward to and works even harder in the next session, and who excels at life!
Have a new puppy on the way?! Call or email to inquire about Calibrated K9's Puppy Imprinting program! Contrary to popular belief, young puppies are sponges for information and take to training exceptionally well. Getting them into an imprinting program such as ours is the very best way to get the most out of your new pack member, while setting both of you up for a lifetime of enjoyment.