So you have a new furry family member and you want to know how to train a puppy. You have quickly enrolled in your local puppy school hoping they will help you create your dream dog. When deciding what puppy school to enrol in, what were the deciding factors? For most people it is location and schedule that are the motivating factors. However, if you really want to know the secret to training your dream dog, you should be looking at what do the trainer and training provider know about looking after the emotional health of your puppy. That starts with making sure they are certified by the Pet Professional Guild Australia, who have checked out each individual trainer and certified that they have relevant qualifications and experience and are committed to the latest scientifically proven methods that are ethical, positive and effective.
How to train a puppy whilst considering emotion
The most important tip that I wish every pet parent knew when training their dog is “what they are feeling is what they are learning”. This does not matter what you are training them to do. If you are socialising them to playing with other dogs then how did they feel during this encounter? If they felt overwhelmed, then they are learning to feel overwhelmed when encountering other dogs. Perhaps you are working on separation and home alone training; how did they feel when you left the room or left the house? If they felt frustrated or distressed then they are learning to feel frustrated and distressed when separated from you.
To put the science nice and simply: When your pet experiences something new, it builds a neural pathway in the brain. If it experiences something again it is more likely to travel along that neural pathway. For example, let’s say you go on a road trip. The first time you need to build a bit of a road map (let’s imagine a world without GPS). If you go on that road trip again, you are more likely to travel that road again. But this will also be influenced by how you felt on that first road trip. If that feeling happens again on the second trip then the emotional association is going to get stronger each time you travel that road.
Emotions drive behaviour
What we do also know is that feelings and emotions drive behaviour. The majority of concerning behaviours to pet parents have an emotional basis, and once we change that emotion to be more desirable for the pet and the parent the desirable behaviour easily follows. So whenever starting a training session or exposing your puppy to something for the first time, always ask yourself “what are they feeling?” as that will be the most powerful thing they are learning. It is why the science now also only supports the use of methods based on positive reinforcement, because if we punish a dog what are they likely to be learning?