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How a Happy Dog is Better Able To Learn

10/05/2021 - Advice

At Nosey Barker, we truly believe that a happy dog is better able to learn. Which is why all of our dog training techniques and activities focus on making dogs - and their human companions - feel happy, fulfilled, valued and accomplished.
The science behind happy dogs and learning

Dogs learn by association - and actually, if you think about it, so do dog parents. We learn to associate certain scents, sights and sounds with feelings and experiences. For example, I associate the sound of the sea with relaxation, the smell of spices with deliciousness and the sight of a speed camera with dread.

Our dogs are just the same (although they probably don’t care about speeding and much prefer sausages to spice)
So why is it that objects, sounds or scents are given different associations in the minds of people, dogs and other mammals?
Well, it’s all down to the activity of the brain working in combination with happy (or stress) hormones.
When something good happens in life - a treat, a kind word, a toy - the brain stimulates the release of happy hormones. Dopamine and endorphins make mammals feel confident, energised and ready for another great experience.
In a stressful situation (pain, fear, confusion) the brain tells the body to release adrenaline and cortisol - these hormones prepare the body for fight or flight. All of the body’s physical energy is concentrated on the muscles while its mental energy focusses on escaping from the perceived threat.
How a dog’s mood affects behaviour
Have you ever noticed that when people are distressed, they find it hard to listen to instruction - they need to calm down before they can think clearly, communicate and make sensible choices? Perhaps you yourself have been in a situation where you’ve felt so stressed that you couldn’t function (exam’s? driving test? accident?). When humans are stressed, we’re more likely to make mistakes. Ditto for dogs.
Dogs are mammals, just like us. They may have four legs and a hairy back, but their body’s happy hormones and stress responses work the same way that ours do.  When they are happy and relaxed, their brains are engaged and ready to learn. If learning makes them feel good - they’ll want to do more. That feeling of happiness lasts way longer than a training session - it extends into home life too.
Happy dogs are not only better able to learn, they’re less likely to make mistakes like chewing the furniture, toileting indoors or pulling on the lead.
If, on the other hand, a dog learns to associate a place/smell/sight/sound/experience with pain or fear, his or her mind will shut down as stress hormones course around their body. The stress hormone cortisol, can take days to leave the body once it’s been released. So a bad experience can impact on the way a dog feels - and behaves - for quite some time.
Reward based dog training with Nosey Barker is all about making sure that dogs and dog parents learn to listen to each other, trust each other and to feel comfortable and confident wherever they go.
Things that will make your dog happy
Every single dog will have a different set of happy things. Your job as a pet parent is to figure out what makes them happiest. Obviously they can’t tell you with words, but their body language rarely lies.
Look at things like posture, the position of their ears, the way they carry their tail, facial expressions and head carriage. What makes your pet’s ears prick up and their tail wag fast and wide?
Good physical and mental health play a big part in helping your dog to feel happy, contented and ready to learn.

  • Feeling safe
  • Free from pain
  • Being well nourished
  • Having the right amount (and type) of exercise
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Mental stimulation
  • Companionship
  • Opportunities to express their natural behaviour
To boost their wellbeing - add these into the mix as often as you can
  • Edible treats (keep an eye on the overall daily calorie count though!)
  • Toys
  • Cuddles
  • Sniffing
  • Praise
  • Play
  • Training
  • Interesting walks - some should be lead based and some off lead (provided its safe to do so)

Building happiness for dogs and their humans
The bond between a human and a dog can be truly life enhancing but it needs to be worked on…just like a marriage. Some human-dog partnerships need more work than others (especially if one of the parties has had a tough time)  but it’s always worth it.
Whether you have a new puppy, a rescue pet or a long term pal, dog training is a great way to enrich both of your lives. Working with a dog trainer will help you discover what makes your dog happy, how he or she learns and just what the two of you could achieve together if you want to.
A happy dog is better able to learn the lifeskills he or she needs to live a safe, rich and rewarding life. That’s a scientific fact and it applies to happy humans too. What will you do to give your pet the life he or she deserves?
Contact Nosey Barker for personalised dog training in Essex
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