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Dog Waving Paw

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  • Writer's pictureBecki Gude

Understanding Dogs: The vital role of emotions in dog training

Updated: May 5

Dog training goes way beyond just teaching your dog commands. It's a journey that extends past verbal cues and obedience drills; it involves a unique interplay of emotions between you and your dog. Emotions really do matter when it comes to successful dog training, both yours and your dog's!


 

Here's why emotions are integral for successful training and for helping to shape a well behaved, happy dog:



Communication Beyond Words:

Dogs are incredibly sensitive to human emotions. They can pick up on your feelings through your body language, tone of voice, and your overall demeanour. When you train a dog with positive emotions and have patience, enthusiasm, and encouragement, it helps in conveying your intentions effectively. This can really help your dog understand what is expected of them and how they should respond.



Building Trust and Bonding:

Training isn't just about teaching; it's about building trust and a life-long bond. Training sessions are a platform for building a strong and trusting relationship between you and your dog. Feelings of trust and respect create a deep bond and a sense of security in your dog. When training is practised with positive emotions, your dog will feel more connected to you and will be more willing to listen and learn!



Building trust with your dog

Building mutual trust is a crucial part of training your dog


Motivation:

When your dog sees you happy and excited during training, they get excited too! Positive emotions like joy and excitement are huge motivators in dog training. It makes the process more engaging for them and makes learning new things fun! Using rewards like treats, toys, and verbal praise creates positive associations with the behaviours that you want to see more of. Dogs are much more likely to eagerly engage in and repeat actions that lead to positive emotional rewards , which can improve their overall behaviour tenfold (3).



Reducing Stress and Anxiety:

Just like you, your dog can feel stressed, frustrated or worried. But when you're patient and calm during training, it helps your dog relax and focus better. Dogs are highly attuned to their human's emotions, so the more relaxed you are, the more relaxed and able to learn your dog will be (2).



Consistency and Predictability:

Consistency is key in dog training, and emotions play a pivotal role in maintaining it. Predictability creates a sense of security and will make you a stable and constant figure in your dog's life. When you're consistent in your emotions and responses, your dog learns what to expect much more quickly, making it easier for them to understand cues and behaviours and learn more efficiently.


Positive emotions in dog training

Training will be more enjoyable if both you and your dog are experiencing positive emotions


Understanding What Your Dog Needs:

Every dog is different! Some like playful training, while others prefer calmness. Knowing and showing the right emotions help you communicate better with your furry friend. I have worked with dogs who learn fast when given feedback in the form of negative markers such as “oh oh”, or “try again”, and others that will shut down and become anxious when such feedback is given. It's important to tune into the emotions of the dog in front of you, be flexible when you can and not try train every dog you have in the same way.


positive reinforcement dog training

Building a solid bond with trust, patience and understanding is a game changer when it comes to training your dog <3


Do negative emotions effect training?


Research shows that using anger, fear, or frustration during training can in many cases be counter productive and have an adverse effect on your dog's behaviour, trust, and willingness to learn (2)(3). Trainers like myself often have to deal with the fallout of this kind of training as it can result in higher rates of aggression, reactivity and generalised anxiety in our dogs. Dogs don't actively choose to misbehave or be "naughty", there is usually an underlying issue that drives these behaviours.


negative emotions in dog training can lead to further issues

Training a dog through force and fear can be incredibly demotivating to dogs and can lead to further behavioural problems.

Pain, trauma and previously bad experiences can all lead to what we consider to be "bad behaviour" in dogs. Each of these issues should be addressed professionally through your vet or a clinical animal behaviourist and should never be attempted to simply "correct".


In a nutshell:


In short, emotions are super important in dog training. They help you and your dog understand each other better, making training a happy and successful experience for both of you.


Always use positive reinforcement training alongside taking into consideration your own emotions as well as your dog's. A calm, patient, and understanding approach will help your dog to succeed. By harnessing positive emotions, creating a nurturing environment, and understanding the importance of emotional cues, you can establish a strong bond and achieve remarkable success in and training your dog and shaping them into stable well adjusted pets.



 

Find a positive reinforcement trainer near you:

Professional Association of Canine Trainers: https://www.pact-dogs.com/find-a-trainer

Animal Behaviour and Training Council: https://abtc.org.uk/practitioners/


 

References:


(1) Ana Catarina Vieira de Castro et al (2020) "Does training method matter? Evidence for the negative impact of aversive-based methods on companion dog welfare" https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7743949/


(2) Nicola Jane Rooney & Sarah Cowan (2011) "Training methods and owner–dog interactions: Links with dog behaviour and learning ability" http://cdn-origin-etr.akc.org.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/01164443/2011-Training-Methods-and-Owner_Dog-Interactions.pdf


(3) Hiby et al (2004) "Dog training methods: Their use, effectiveness and interaction with behaviour and welfare."https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2004-10850-010

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